Congress often is focused more on the quantities of aircraft — the “above-line costs” — rather than the supporting items — the “below-line” costs.
“This is just not the way to align our fleet.”
Navy is establishing a new program executive office for common parts, such as radios and other systems used in multiple platforms let by a program executive officer to raise the procurement of such systems to a higher visibility.
Throwing money and spare parts at the Navy is not going to solve the readiness problem, but the sea service needed to change its way of fostering reliability and maintenance, balancing sustainment with new capability.
Fleet readiness centers have made progress in improving the readiness of Navy and Marine Corps aircraft. The Navy has looked to industry for best practices to sustain high aircraft availability and every supporting function had to own the outcome.
“It’s really about bringing accountability to everyone involved.”
One factor in improvement was bringing the management, planning, logistics and maintenance all at the same site. Navy established a reliability control board to identify the factors that degrade aircraft readiness.
For one example, the Navy found that a component of the E-2D’s APY-9 radar was lasting only 600 hours rather than 6,000 hours.
In another example, an F/A-18 that had been inducted into a fleet readiness center had not flown a single hour since it emerged from its last induction six years prior.
Fleet readiness centers delivered 36 F/A-18 strike fighters in fiscal 2019, each of which was completed in 60 days and flown within seven days after delivery.
The 80% readiness goal for the F/A-18 fleet set by SECDEF was met and exceeded by the Navy. The goal of 341 of 550 aircraft to be mission-capable was exceeded, reaching 379 aircraft by the deadline.
“People are starting to believe we can do it. It’s not all about efficiency.”
After a year of reforms across Navy squadrons, maintenance and supply depots and other key readiness-enabling commands, Super Hornet and Growler readiness each stand above 80 percent of Primary Mission Aircraft Inventory PMAI at 343 and 95 aircraft, respectively.
To achieve the 80% readiness goal, the Naval Aviation Enterprise NAE implemented the Naval Sustainment System-Aviation NSS-A. The NSS-A initiative leverages best practices from commercial industry to update and improve aspects of Naval Aviation’s maintenance practices in squadrons as well as at intermediate and depot Fleet Readiness Centers.
Additional reform efforts greatly improved supply chain management, engineering practices, governance activities and safety. Initially, NSS-A focused on getting the Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet fleet healthy, but quickly grew to include the Navy’s EA-18G Growler fleet due to the similarities in the two platforms. Ultimately, the Navy and Marine Corps will apply NSS-A reforms to recover and sustain readiness and improve safety for each type, model and series of aircraft.
After a decade of regularly maintaining between 250-260 mission capable MC F/A-18s, the Navy is now sustaining over 320 MC Super Hornets and surged to attain service goals of 341 MC Super Hornet and 93 MC Growler aircraft this month.
“This has been a year of results for Naval Aviation, developing and implementing the NSS and then drove readiness numbers that haven’t been seen in over a decade. Results are incredible and the improvement is inspirational.”
“The tremendous efforts of our Fleet Readiness Centers were vital to achieving our readiness goals. Aviator flight hours is the leading indicator of aviation readiness moving in the right direction.
“This is the first year in some time that we have executed our allocation of flight hours completely. That stands as a sign of health that we have a lot of ‘up’ aircraft, and that the parts are moving. We’re getting healthy and we’re on the right track.”
The Air Boss said achievement of the 80 percent goal was an important milestone, but not a completed mission.
“To be clear, there is no finish line to the NSS effort. We don’t get to choose when we are called to fight. Sustainment is the key. Continuously improving the reforms implemented by our military/industry teams will be critical in maintaining our advantage in this age of great power competition.”
We developed and implemented the Naval Sustainment System and then drove readiness numbers that haven't been seen in over a decade. As of 2015, the Navy had 545 F/A-18E/F models in the inventory, but it's unclear how many of those are part of the primary mission aircraft inventory.
The NSS program also brought in additional experts to watch how maintainers perform.
"What's different this time is the expertise of the outside industry that we're bringing in. This is supported at the highest levels of the Defense Department, so we have confidence that if we ... require changes in policy, that we will have complete support moving forward. This ... is a proven system.
The Navy began looking to its fleet readiness centers and depot supply chain to spearhead the effort, starting with the Super Hornet lines. Experts were brought in to tour fleet readiness centers, working with Navy counterparts on where they see inefficiencies in the system.
The Navy officials said maintenance sustainment for the fleets will continue in order to keep the older fleets as ready as possible.
The Navy did not mention its readiness numbers for its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter variants -- the Navy C-model and Marine Corps B-model -- even though the Pentagon included the JSF fleet in the supercharged readiness plan.
F-35 variants are still on track to meet the target even though both services have limited quantities in comparison to the Air Force.
Earlier this month, Air Force officials acknowledged that the service wouldn't immediately meet the Pentagon's goal of boosting readiness across its fighter fleet. "The F-16 MC rate in our active-duty units is above 80%. The service has 941 of the fourth-generation fighter in its inventory.
The F-22 Raptor and F-35A Lightning II fleets will come up short, he said, but for different reasons. The F-22's low-observable skin, which makes it stealthy, has been demanding to maintain. The F-35, meanwhile, has seen greater operational use even as bases are still activating F-35 squadrons.
"We learned a lot from the mission-capable effort. It would only be easy to achieve an 80% mission-capable rate for its jets if only the Air Force would stop flying altogether.
"But we didn't do that during that time frame; we actually flew more. We've flown more every year since 2017 to give aviators more experience and have them more ready.”
Pentagon officials said maintenance sustainment for the fleets will continue in order to keep the older fleets as ready as possible.
Navy has avoided repair costs, improved fleet safety and increased H-1 flight line availability—all by using one of several new analytical tools to identify failing subcomponents in the H-1 main gearbox.
“Our goal is to increase time on wing and increase mission readiness.”
The tool, a new algorithm detection capability developed by NAVAIR helps spot main gearbox system faults. By isolating the fault, the engineer can recommend removing components proactively, such as a failing quill gear.
“So instead of sending the aircraft gearbox to depot repair, the fleet is able to replace the subcomponent on the flight line, reducing fleet maintenance burden, reducing costs and improving safety.”
Crews have initially focused on rotorcraft platforms: H-53, H-60, H-1 and V-22. The data NAVAIR engineers and logisticians are analyzing is generated by smart aircraft equipped with sensors—similar to tire pressure sensors in today’s automobiles.
“We’re at the point where we can process massive amounts of data, take action and save millions of dollars on repairs as a result of Conditioned-Based Maintenance CBM practices.”
To date, the CBM diagnostic strategy has not only saved millions in main gearbox repair costs, but avoided more than a dozen mission aborts and possible precautionary emergency landings and reduced the number of drain-and-flush cycles associated with the main gearbox.
Deploying Proactive Tools
NAVAIR has also developed Vector, a readiness analysis toolset, with input from Naval Aviation Enterprise stakeholders. Vector is the successor to the powerful Integrated Logistics Support Management System.
“Our tool, Vector, whose name indicates direction and magnitude, is enabling proactive maintenance and supply.”
Serving as a data warehouse, Vector aggregates 10 years of historical readiness data from 20 disparate data systems into a single source to provide cost, inventory, maintenance, supply and operational flight-hour data in a standard format.
“Vector automates what used to take us months to do and provides information in minutes. Instead of only focusing on the top 20 parts that are challenging the fleet today, we’re working to prevent the next 20 challenges from actually occurring.
“We want to get out ahead of problems, but we have to do both—fight the current readiness battle and enable the fleet to avoid the next one.”
Vector produces more than 100 top-level metrics to identify components that perform outside their established parameters. With this information, Naval Aviation leaders can see early indicators of potential readiness issues and address them proactively before they impact the fleet.
For example, Vector could have helped prevent a recent fleet maintenance issue involving a potential shortage of brake replacement parts on F/A-18E-F Super Hornets two years before it happened.
By monitoring the databases in real time, Vector indicates when the demand and status of a given part is outside the norm by producing a heat chart—red indicates the part is three standard deviations outside its normal performance bounds; if orange, two standard deviations, and someone needs to take action; and yellow signals one standard deviation outside the norm, and we should “pay attention and find out why this item is no longer green.”
Vector would have shown an increase in demand for the brake part, which would have prompted the program office or logistician to question the change.
“Today, when Vector indicates a change in part usage, the program office or logisticians can investigate the cause and determine whether they need to order more parts if the part is still available or get the Fleet Readiness Center to manufacture the part.
Predicting the Future
The Logistics and Industrial Operations competency, in collaboration with NAVAIR’s Engineering Modeling Division, is also developing forecast models designed to predict which components or parts may need to be replaced based on maintenance schedules.
Developed by the H-53 Program Office, the Readiness Forecast Model RFM uses existing Naval Aviation data—such as the current status of parts and aircraft and historical scheduled and unscheduled maintenance rates—to forecast future behavior and assess the near-term impact of specific actions, such as stocking up on a specific part or upgrading a component that requires frequent maintenance.
“RFM provides a one-year forecast of ready basic aircraft, non-mission capable aircraft and out-of-reporting aircraft, enabling a quick look on near-term readiness posture. This allows us to understand near-term impacts of top-level actions; essentially ‘what if’ scenarios of major changes/adjustments at system level.”
RFM output on CH-53E and MH-53E simulations are currently being analyzed for accuracy by comparing model output to actual historical data and will be followed by a strategy to deploy RFM rapidly for other key type/model/series TMS over the next year.
The Predictive Analytics Model PAM, an RFM companion, takes a more strategic view at looking at the next 10 years.
PAM runs discrete event simulations using probabilistic decisions and business rules to model TMS flight operations and resulting maintenance and supply demand and effects. The model employs several discrete factors, processes and resources in areas of supply chain, maintenance, flight hour changes, component reliability, life limit increases, depot capacity and performance improvements. PAM output includes metrics on the numbers of aircraft in various states of mission capability readiness.
“PAM will allow us to run a simulation on a part, component or system to see how it would impact the number of mission capable aircraft. For example, what would the result be in X number of years if we upgraded the fuel control on a particular aircraft?
PAM will predict the fleet readiness impact of an improvement by accounting for component reliability, impact to supply demand and impact to required maintenance. This way, we can see readiness advantages or disadvantages before we decide to invest in making a change.”
“Bottom line, we have created a series of maintenance planning tools and initiatives that provide decision makers at all levels with the right information to make informed decisions.”
1. Improve design efforts to make information system processes available & consistent
2. Charter efforts to make user support tech information timely & accurate
3. Reduce unnecessary duplication of information collection requirements generation
4. Cut down time & effort to maintain, use & disseminate information
5. Improve personnel productivity by making use of communications updates between information units
6. Aim to achieve efficient procurement of automated information collection systems
7. Coordinate information policy/programmes with collection requirements definition efforts
8. Establish accountability for resources designated for assignment to information systems
9. Foster information sharing & make compatible with systems from other Services
10. Ensure information policies are consistent with changes in unit requirements