Editor’s note: As the Program Executive Officer, Tactical Aircraft Programs, Rear Adm. Shane Gahagan serves as the lead for the engineering reform pillar of the Naval Sustainment System-Aviation. In his column below, he summarizes some of the process improvements that are designed to sustain readiness.
A week ahead of the Secretary of Defense and Air Boss’ deadline, we surpassed an incredible milestone in Naval Aviation in September exceeding 80% mission-capable (MC) F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers. That’s more than 341 Super Hornets and 93 Growlers ready to fight the fight at a moment’s notice.
We have proven to ourselves, our nation and our adversaries that we can surge in time of need. But our work’s not done.
This feat was achieved by all hands — from maintainers on the deck plate to senior leaders — working together to achieve the same goal using the six pillars of the Naval Sustainment System-Aviation (NSS-A) initiative to identify and swarm the issues that kept our MC rates lower than 80%. With NSS-A, we put the right people in the right places, equipped with the right parts and the right processes and empowered them to achieve the mission.
Naval Aviation has always been focused on readiness, but our Super Hornet MC numbers hovered around 250-260 for nearly a decade. That doesn’t mean we weren’t combat ready, Naval Aviation always answered our nation’s call, but those numbers were not where we wanted them to be. With the current increase in readiness numbers, we have increased our lethality and survivability response.
We have institutionalized many processes that will continue to improve readiness, and we are doing things better. NSS-A efforts have been about challenging ourselves to work more efficiently.
The success of the NSS-A is a product of years of lessons learned and a culmination of the hard work of many individuals throughout the Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE). We brought in aviation experts with demonstrated proficiency in improving efficiency, effectiveness and performance from the commercial aircraft industry. By collaborating and implementing their best practices, we have decreased turnaround times for maintenance, improved efficiencies at fleet readiness centers (FRCs) and delivered parts to the fleet faster.
We also set up an environment that allowed open communication among the stakeholders, which allowed everybody to bring the brutal facts necessary to find the root cause of why we were not getting aircraft in a MC status.
I want to summarize some of these changes in each of the pillars that will sustain our MC rates for years to come.
Maintenance Operations Center (MOC)/Aircraft-On-Ground (AOG) cell: One of the best industry practices we implemented was establishing an MOC/AOG cell. This cell built strategic partnerships across Naval Aviation communities, focused on getting aircraft up faster instead of focusing on departmentalized internal metrics. This single-decision entity had all the enabling functions and organizations present to make decisions on a daily basis, and all were focused on the same goal.
Fleet Readiness Center (FRC) reform: Within the FRCs, we’ve created elite-level organic facilities that have adopted proven commercial practices to maximize quality and cost efficiency while minimizing cycle times.
Organization-level reform: The NAE refocused and balanced demand with optimal maintenance performance close to the flight line by empowering petty officers to oversee aircraft throughout the inspection process.
Supply chain reform: We are making sure that the right parts are at the right place at the right time by having various stakeholders form a single accountable entity responsible for the end-to-end material process. Naval Supply Systems Command, Weapon Systems Support continues to improve the supply chain with more responsive contracting, supplier integration, enhanced customer presence and improved collaboration with the Defense Logistics Agency.
Engineering and maintenance reform: We have developed an engineering-driven reliability process that improves how systems are sustained throughout their life cycle. Reliability engineering is another industry best practice applied through the establishment of a Reliability Control Board (RCB). Through the RCB, we identify the top degraders in a single list and strategically align activities throughout the NAE to prioritize and put the right people, parts and processes in place to address them.
Governance, accountability and organization: We have a single point of accountability for sustainment with the infrastructure to better support fundamental changes. The governance pillar identified issues that each pillar was having, and then swarmed, crushed the barriers and moved forward.
These six pillars impact all aspects of the maintenance process and require the expertise, experience and support of each and every member of the Naval Aviation team. We have aligned how we communicate and focus as one on the end game by identifying and solving the issues that limited our number of MC aircraft.
Keep in mind that while we were making these changes, we were continuing to fly, deploy and respond to national tasking. Some of the changes were truly a cultural shift, which took time to implement fleet-wide, but once the parts and processes were in place, we saw readiness improve steadily.
These cultural shifts are becoming the new normal for the fleet and the workforce, all of whom have bought into industry best practices. Embracing and continuing to improve our processes remains key to maintaining a MC rate of 80% or more.
Achieving the goal for the Super Hornet and Growler fleets was just the beginning. Now, our focus is on keeping those readiness numbers where we need them to be while improving readiness and safety for each type/model/series.
While the initial focus of the NSS-A was on the Super Hornets, we have already applied it to the E-2D fleet and have seen an MC rate increase of more than 10% in three months. We will continue to implement the NSS-A best practices across the NAE.
With the best practices implemented under NSS-A, we have the tools and visibility to gauge our sustainment efforts daily — so if they aren’t working, we will readjust and swarm the problem areas to maintain our sustainment levels.
Congratulations to the NAE on exceeding the goal and thank you for getting us there. As we move forward, it’s important to remember that we still have work to do—we now have the equally challenging task of sustaining these efforts.