Fort Belvoir, VA –
It has been said wars are won or lost based on the strength of a supply chain. Or to reference the old proverb: For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
The inability to sustain supply lines was a major cause of Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Virginia, in 1865 and was responsible for Napoleon’s retreat in 1812, during the French invasion of Russia. [See “The Grand Failure: How Logistics of Supply Defeated Napoleon in 1812,” by Lynch Bennett, Primary Source, Spring 2011, Vol. 1, Issue 1].
Although DLA Aviation supports many airborne weapons systems, it has recently focused on four: the Marine Corps’ AV-8B Harrier ground attack aircraft, the Air Force’s A-10 Thunderbolt II close-air support attack aircraft, the Army’s UH-60 Black Hawk tactical transport helicopter and the Navy’s F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet.
What do these four weapon systems have in common to warrant a concentrated focus: their age and the military’s need to keep them flying beyond their initial programmed lifecycle. The oldest is the Harrier, put into operation in 1971, followed by the Thunderbolt II in 1975, then the Black Hawk in 1979, and last, the Hornet operating since 1983. With extended flying time and increased operations worldwide come sustainment problems the military services never anticipated when the aircraft were fielded. As with anything mechanical, time and wear have taken their toll.
Challenges facing parts support include diminishing supplier bases; the need to replace unique components; lack of data rights, hindering development of alternate sources of repair and replacement parts; the need for parts improvement; and changes in safety needs, maintenance and engineering. That’s in addition to forecasting and funding increasing operations and maintenance costs.
DLA Aviation meets these challenges through close relationships with industry and the military services and through its dedicated workforce, many of whom are prior or current military.
In all cases, DLA Aviation has teams dedicated to the health of a weapon system and the safety of our warfighters.
Up and Down, Air to Ground: The Harrier
The AV-8B Harrier II, flown by the Marine Corps since 1983, is known as the jet that can take off and land vertically. Three main problems face the aircraft, according to a recent independent readiness review: out-of-reporting aircraft, manpower deficiencies and inefficiencies and material.
DLA Aviation and the Marine Corps are addressing the manpower problem by increasing the Marine billets assigned to the activity. By later in 2016, they will have grown the DLA Aviation Marine Corps Customer Facing Team in Richmond, Virginia, by eight members.
Marine Corps Maj. Chris Story, DLA Aviation’s Harrier weapon system program manager, said the DLA Aviation AV-8B Team is developing better forecasting of parts demand to promote better supply support. He pointed out that personnel at all levels in DLA Aviation have devised ways to improve their ability to predict demand for parts.
A critical step in improving forecasting is closer collaboration with aviation industrial partners and the Marine Corps Harrier Program Office in Patuxent River, Maryland.
Story said DLA is collaborating with such program offices through the Demand Data Exchange. This program lets customers transmit anticipated demands in the form of national stock numbers, quantities and need dates instead of waiting for the demand to occur.
Collaborative forecasting also allows the Harrier Program Office to work with DLA Aviation Planning Process and Strategic Acquisition Programs Directorates and start buying parts before customers need them.
The Harrier Program Office was the first to sign a Joint Collaboration Agreement with DLA to ensure this could occur. Story said the DLA Aviation team held meetings with key stakeholders to prioritize critical items inhibiting readiness.
He also said measures the team took to ensure lifecycle support through improved forecasting, industry collaborations, fleet engagement and supplier summits, combined with continuous process improvements in fleet maintenance and supply, have led to a positive readiness trend for the Harrier.
Readiness is demonstrated by an average monthly Ready Basic Aircraft Navy statistic that improved from 46 aircraft in July 2015 to 60 aircraft in April 2016 and by the team meeting or exceeding the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations’ F-402 Engine Readiness Goal of 155 engines ready for issue for the AV-8B since December 2015.
God of Thunder
Trying to maintain an antique machine is a challenge for any collector or parts provider, whether it’s a bicycle, a car or a multi-million-dollar weapon system flying critical missions.
The A-10 is one such system. A small Air Force fighter jet, the Warthog or “Hog,” is an attack aircraft, providing close-air support missions for ground troops since 1975. The current model is flown by Air Force squadrons in the active Air Force, Air Reserve and Air National Guard across 10 airbases. Its service was just extended until 2022.
Steven Utz has a unique perspective on the A-10. He served as a crew chief for a Warthog while in the Air Force and now helps the overhaul of the airframe by replacing failing parts in his job as a supervisory quality assurance specialist at DLA Aviation. Now a reservist, Utz said there are no other aircraft in the Air Force’s inventory that can perform close-air support like the A-10.
“It is truly an amazing machine. I was proud to work on it and now I am proud that I get to support it,” he said. “I never understood why it took so long to get parts. Now, I understand that it’s not that simple. There are some parts that have not been manufactured since the A-10 was originally built.”
Roy Peay, deputy chief of the Aviation and Airframes Division in Utz’s directorate, agrees it’s challenging to continue supporting the aircraft.
“Suppliers that were in production for these spares early on have often moved on to manufacture other products, rid themselves of tooling that has grown dilapidated, or gone out of business,” Peay said.
Emery Cody, the A-10 weapon system program manager at DLA Aviation, said there are approximately 9,600 NSNs unique to the A-10 valued at more than $82.5 million, and over 25,500 common NSNs, parts that would be used in the A-10, as well as other aircraft.
The A-10 fleet has been improved on many times throughout the years. The most recent improvement is the enhanced wing assembly. The Air Force allowed Boeing to scan portions of the aircraft and create three-dimensional model drawings from the scans. Boeing also did extensive work converting existing legacy 2D paper drawings into 3D digital models. Working with revised drawings, DLA is procuring EWAs, and mechanics are replacing the old wings, which had become uneconomical to continue to remove and repair.
Updating old drawings is one of the ways DLA is able to provide logistical solutions for the A-10s. New, updated 3D drawings minimize misinterpretation of legacy 2D drawing information and also allows for more efficient computer-controlled manufacturing of parts with today’s manufacturing processes.
Utz said in general, supporting aged aircraft is a difficult task; not only are the original technology and manufacturing methods antiquated, but also the aircraft don’t always conform to the original designs.
“I commend the Air Force for allowing Boeing to convert legacy drawings and create 3D models for the EWA project. I wish they would start doing this for other aircraft as well,” he said.
The wings are an Air Force-managed item that DLA provides replacement parts for — panels, bolts, and structural parts. DLA is stocking NSNs for the original and enhanced wing assemblies. Some wing panels aren’t interchangeable between aircraft models, and warfighters require parts for each model flown.
Dan Phillips, chief of the A-10 System Program Office at Hill Air Force Base’s Engineering Branch in Utah, said 3D drawings assist in reverse-engineering parts. For example, Air National Guard machinists in Boise, Idaho, fabricated parts for a structural repair needed after a bird struck the wing of an aircraft in flight. 3D models are also being designed for the rest of the airframe structure and its subsystems and are part of the technical data package to procure new engine nacelles, which is the casing around an engine.
Jennifer Olson is the A-10 Acquisition and Sustainment Support chief in the Air Force A-10 Program Management Office at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. She said the EWAs are just one example of the creativity needed in sustaining mission-ready aircraft and cites Air Force collaborations with Tooele Army Depot, Toole, Utah, on the coating of ballistic foam as another.
Bird of Prey
The DLA Aviation UH-60 Black Hawk Team is in multiple locations, ensuring the helicopter is mission-ready in production, deployment and sustainment.
Bob Johnson, DLA Aviation’s UH-60 weapon system program manager, said supporting the aircraft is truly a joint effort. The helicopter is used by all the military services, and the demands of one often affect the others. The Army has the most demands because it has the largest fleet, followed by the Navy, the Air Force and the Coast Guard. Although configurations are unique on each model, they have common parts, and DLA supports all platforms, including the latest, the UH-60M.
“DLA Aviation is focused on tackling three areas of sustainment of the highly utilized helicopter: safety and maintenance, parts improvements, and updating engineering changes and other improvements from industry,” Johnson said.
The UH-60 team includes customer account specialists in Richmond, Virginia, who play critical roles by tracking and expediting parts drivers on the monthly supportability analysis/stock reports; aviation forward presence teams at Corpus Christi Army Depot, Texas; and customer logistics site specialists embedded with the Army Aviation and Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal and Fort Rucker, Alabama.
Johnson said three recent maintenance updates included retrofitting all UH-60 models with self-locking transmission filter bolts. This allows the bolt to be locked down without risk of overtightening or stripping them; replacing the LED navigation lights whose positioning on the aircraft tail and side was causing glare and halo effects that interfered with night vision equipment; and retrofitting the machine-gun mounts because of design changes in the guns that interfered with the mount, requiring additional machining and an engineering-change proposal for the current contract.
Johnson said bolts are being retrofitted, new mounts are being delivered and backorders are being cleared. As to the navigation lights, he said the solution was to revert to a previous model of the lights.
DLA Aviation also faces supply challenges when the services are restructured, as is happening now with the active Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard units. “The Reserves are sometimes giving up aircraft, and the active Army may be turning over aircraft to Reserve units,” Johnson said. “In monitoring these types of movements, we pull demand data and supportability analysis based on the weapon system platform each month to review for demand surges caused by restructuring or fiscal demand spikes.”
And they’re anticipating an increase in demands from CCAD where A models have been being converted to L models for the last 15 years, according to Johnson.
“As new items are identified, the system is going to pick up on the demand forecasts. The UH-60 is a high-demand platform and typically has 15,000-20,000 demands per month,” Johnson said. “We have to rely on teamwork with our forward teams at CCAD, AMCOM and our industry partners to stay ahead of maintenance and safety-related issues.”
Johnson said that every week the Army, Navy and Air Force H-60 weapon system program managers inform DLA of which aircraft await which parts. “They have developed a standing critical-item list and coordinate with industry weekly to discuss issue prioritization,” Johnson said. As a result, he said in 2015 DLA Aviation exceeded its UH-60 depot backorder-reduction goal by over 30 percent, and material availability has been consistently over 90 percent.
The Hornet’s Nest
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.
The old, worn-out legacy Hornets, models A through D, were scheduled to be phased out; however, delays in a replacement jet means the Navy needs to upgrade 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.
More than 400 of the fleet’s aircraft have been sitting idle because of various problems, according to the Navy. In the spring of 2015, the Navy allocated more money to buy the parts to keep these jets flying.
To meet the Navy’s requirements, DLA Aviation in Philadelphia set up a team focusing on high-priority requirements, including the F/A-18 flight-control surfaces. These 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.
Brian Farrington, a supervisory contract specialist and the team’s branch lead, said, “With this volume of work and the urgency level, it is an extremely daunting task due to many factors.”
Factors challenging F/A-18 support are similar to those that affect other weapon systems such as the need to resuscitate supply chains that haven’t manufactured parts in years; sole-source procurements of the necessary parts; a diminishing supplier base; unique component replacements; and a lack of data rights hindering the government’s ability to develop alternate sources.
Lee Wagman is the tactical contracting division chief and leads the team who are working to overcome potential obstacles in acquiring essential parts — not only through multiple, standalone contracts, but also through long-term contracts with the original equipment manufacturer.
“The only way we are going to bring [F/A-18s] back into service is to buy parts and make them flightworthy again,” Wagman said. “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.”
Adding to the pressure is that DLA Aviation in Philadelphia is now supporting three times the F/A-18 requirements as in past years.
Farrington said meeting increased F/A-18 demands and requirements is a great example of how DLA Aviation is constantly positioning its resources to best support the needs of DLA customers and the warfighter.
These aircraft are just four examples of the sustainment challenges faced and overcome every day by more than 3,500 DLA Aviation employees in 18 U.S. locations — employees whose No.1 goal will always by warfighter support and safety.
Amy Clement, Catherine Hopkins, Bonnie Koenig and Leon Moore contributed to this story.