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Naval Aviation Focuses on Maintaining Readiness

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.

By Rear Adm. Shane Gahagan, PEO(T)

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.

PHILIPPINE SEA (Aug. 17, 2019) Aviation Boatswain’s Mates (Fueling) move fuel hoses to refuel F/A-18E Super Hornets on the flight deck of the Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) during flight operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Janweb B. Lagazo/Released)

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.

ARABIAN SEA (Oct. 23, 2019) Two F/A-18E Super Hornets attached to Fist of the Fleet of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 25 launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Mohamed Labanieh/Released)

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.

CORAL SEA (July 19, 2019) The Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) conducts flight operations during Talisman Sabre 2019.

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.

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. (Sept. 24, 2019) Two U.S. Navy EA-18G Growlers based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, fly in formation awaiting fuel from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 92nd Air Refueling Wing based at Fairchild Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr./Released) poyrazdogany

Naval Aviation On Its Way to Achieve Readiness Goal

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.

PACIFIC OCEAN (March 12, 2019) F/A-18E Super Hornets from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 136 “Knighthawks” fly in formation during a photo exercise over the California coast. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon Renfroe)


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.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (Aug. 7, 2019) Cmdr. Brandon M. Scott, commanding officer of the “Gladiators” of Strike Fighter Wing (VFA) 106, right, discusses hangar condition with Vice Chief of Naval Operations (VCNO) Adm. Robert P. Burke during a hangar tour on board Naval Air Station Oceana. Burke visited VFA-106 to meet with command leadership and discuss aviation readiness. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Mark Thomas Mahmod/Released)


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.

PACIFIC OCEAN (July 12, 2019) Sailors direct an F/A-18E Super Hornet, assigned to the “Tomcatters” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 31, on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Pyoung K. Yi/Released)


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.

LEMOORE, Calif. (Feb. 12, 2019) Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class Joshua Norris, center, a Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit (CNATTU) Lemoore instructor, observes student Aviation Electronics Technician 1st Class Jamie Kenney as she troubleshoots simulated issues on the F/A-18 aircraft ALR-67 system. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Aviation Machinist’s Mate Alvin Zuilan)


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! U.S. Navy