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Naval Aviation Focuses on Maintaining Readiness

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

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

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

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

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)

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