By Adm. Robert Burke
Vice Chief of Naval Operations
It has been less than a year since the Navy set out to restore strike fighter readiness rates to 80 percent, and the one-year deadline of Oct. 1 is approaching. For the aviation community, the endeavor to increase the mission-capable rate of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets posed a challenge that Naval Aviation leadership attacked with fervor.
It is with good reason that the Naval Aviation community has risen to this challenge. For over 100 years, carrier aviation has led the way in power projection and bringing the fight to our adversaries. In WWII, the aircraft carrier replaced the battleship as the most powerful offensive naval weapons system as the battles between fleets were increasingly fought outside of the ships’ gun ranges. The Battle of Coral Sea was the first air-sea battle in history, and the lessons learned by the Naval Aviators during that battle helped form new tactics and techniques that led to a decisive victory and the turning point of the War in the Pacific during the Battle of Midway.
Today, U.S. Navy carriers routinely deploy worldwide, in harm’s way, providing our national leadership credible options ranging from deterrence to major combat operations, without the need to consult another host nation.
I recently completed an informative trip to Commander, Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic at NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach to get a first-hand look at the changes to aviation maintenance practices and to gain insight on the challenges and priorities of aviators and maintainers.
Under the leadership of Commander, Naval Air Forces Atlantic and CSFWL, the east coast Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 was the most recent squadron to initiate reforms under the Naval Sustainment System (NSS), starting in April of this year. VFA-106 has the largest inventory of Super Hornets on the flight line, as they are responsible for training newly-winged aviators for the fleet.
In short, this squadron is the largest contributor to the strike fighter readiness recovery. Since VFA-106 maintenance performance impacts overall Super Hornet readiness status more than any other squadron, the recent implementation of NSS procedures had a significant impact on the overall goal. Like the pioneering naval aviators in WWII rapidly incorporated lessons learned between Coral Sea and Midway, VFA-106 learned from the FRS squadron at NAS Lemoore who completed early iterations of NSS changes. This rapid learning and improvement drove VFA-106 to reduce maintenance turnover timeframes, raise the average mission capable (MC) aircraft numbers, and return several long-term down aircraft to a flying status.
I spoke with two plane crew chiefs – both junior Sailors – to ask what they thought of the new processes. With pride, they both spoke of ownership, of learning the whole aircraft, well outside of their rating expertise, and of true teamwork. This is a great example of U.S. Navy Sailors being given tremendous responsibility – and running with it!
This effort is a testament to the adaptability and determination of the aviators and maintainers in the VFA community and VFA-106. The squadron is reaching the point where lack of MC aircraft is no longer a limiting factor to pilot production, even when supporting operations in multiple locations or underway on the aircraft carrier. These are powerful results that will ensure we have enough instructors and pilots in the future.
Success at VFA-106 is one example of how the Naval Aviation Enterprise is working together to achieve our 80 percent readiness goal. Because NSS addresses all elements of aviation maintenance – people, parts and processes – to make permanent changes that increase aviation readiness and lethality, we are seeing improvements that are sustainable for the future. Through collaboration and a whole-of-aviation approach, the Naval Aviation Enterprise is on its way to achieve and sustain its readiness goal.
It is a remarkable time for Naval Aviation, and I’m proud to have seen the determination, passion and professionalism during my visit. Keep up the hard work, and I’ll see you in the fleet!