DLA Aviation keeps F/A-18 jets soaring

By Leon Moore DLA Aviation Public Affairs

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F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets, flown by Navy and Marine Corps pilots, have patrolled U.S. and international airspace for more than 30 years. The U.S. bombing of Libya in 1986 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are just a few examples of the missions they have flown.

As with anything mechanical, time and wear have taken their toll on the jets. The old, worn-out legacy Hornets, models A through D, were scheduled to be phased out in favor of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon's newest warplane.

However, delays in the F-35 program mean the Navy needs to upgrade its jets already in the fleet. According to the Navy, some F/A-18 A through D models will now be going from a 6,000-hour lifespan to 10,000 hours or more. This will keep these models flying until 2035, much longer than ever anticipated. The E, F and G models are expected to keep flying until 2040.

As of now, 307 out of the fleet’s 563 A through D models and 98 of the 650 E through G models are sitting idle at Navy Fleet Readiness Centers in Jacksonville, Florida; San Diego, and Lemoore, California, because of various problems, according to the Navy. In spring 2015, the Navy decided to allocate approximately $550 million for fiscal 2016 to acquire the parts to keep these jets flying.

To meet the Navy’s requirements, DLA Aviation in Philadelphia created a tactical “tiger” team in January. Its goal is to focus on the F/A-18 flight-control surfaces and other high-priority requirements needed to keep the jets operational. Flight-control surfaces are any replaceable parts visible on the outside of the plane that attach to the main body of the jet, including the wings, rudders, tails and horizontal stabilizers.

The eight-member team consists of seven contract negotiators and one price analyst. Brian Farrington is the team’s branch head. “With this volume of work and the level of urgency, it is an extremely daunting task,” Farrington said.

That’s due to many factors, he noted: the need for the F/A-18’s manufacturer to resuscitate a supply chain that hasn’t built many of these items for eight to 10 years; largely sole-source procurements of the necessary parts; a diminishing supplier base; unique component replacements; and a lack of data rights that hinders the government's ability to develop alternate sources of spares and repairs.

Lee Wagman is the tactical contracting division chief and heads the team working to overcome potential obstacles in acquiring essential parts — not only through multiple, standalone contracts, but through Captains of Industry long-term contracts with the original equipment manufacturer.

“The only way we are going to bring them back into service is to buy parts and make them flightworthy again,” said Wagman. “When the F/A-18 reaches what the Navy calls life limit, certain parts on the jet need to be replaced to ensure the safety of the plane and the pilot,” he said.

Farrington added, “We are expected and hope to get a majority of these requirements on contract by May 2016 to support the needs of our customer. Many of these items will have deliveries out until 2019-2020, and further delays could be catastrophic to the mission if we don’t get these items on contract immediately.”

Adding to the pressure is that DLA Aviation in Philadelphia is going from spending about $150-$200 million yearly for all F/A-18 spare parts, to supporting more than $600 million worth of requirements with these new Navy requisitions.

Farrington said this is a great example of how DLA Aviation is constantly positioning its resources to best support the needs of DLA customers and the warfighter.