These are unprecedented budgetary times. Tune in to the latest communications coming from Navy and Marine Corps leaders and one will hear how important it is to sustain readiness in the face of difficult national budget reconciliations, to be judicious stewards of the nation’s resources, and to find more effective and efficient ways of doing business.
Beginning in the late 1990s, Naval Aviation conducted several process improvement initiatives in the areas of training and cost per flight hour. These projects shifted the aviation community’s cultural mindset from one of consumption to one that considered readiness within the framework of cost effectiveness, helping Naval Aviation achieve savings and retention of warfighting capability. Building on this success, by 2004 Naval Aviation had codified a process of collaboration and cross-functional decision making based on a set of enterprise principles.
The Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE) was officially established in 2004 to advance and sustain warfighting capabilities at an affordable cost. The NAE is not a command and exercises no command authority. It is a partnership of stakeholders subscribing to a set of enterprise principles and tenets that enable stakeholders to overcome stovepipes to cooperate for the greater good of Naval Aviation. Navy and Marine Corps flag and general officers lead and engage this enterprise partnership across their aviation commands and other organizations. This informal structure facilitates increased transparency, collaboration, continuous improvement, and the utilization of metrics to inform objective and focused actions geared toward efficient delivery of Naval Aviation forces ready for tasking.
The NAE’s efforts were initially focused on improving aircraft warfighting readiness. Success in this field led to a broader approach to address other strategic challenges. NAE cross-functional teams currently focus on four areas: current readiness, total manpower, the coordination of fiscal resources, and future readiness initiatives.
In 2009, the NAE recognized the need for a greater emphasis on the future readiness of Naval Aviation forces, as well as controlling the total ownership costs of weapon systems. The future readiness cross-functional team (FRCFT) that was established to facilitate these goals began with three strategic objectives: championing future readiness issues, identifying and engaging with future readiness stakeholders, and evaluating issues for fielded systems and sustainment infrastructure as part of the future readiness initiatives process. This process was established in 2010 to solicit ideas from stakeholders across the enterprise on ways to improve readiness or total ownership costs for already fielded aircraft and associated weapon systems.
These ideas are then evaluated and the best among them selected and prioritized for inclusion in the budget. In the first year, the team received approximately 35 submissions that were evaluated by a team composed largely of experts from the NAVAIR cost department and logistics competency. Nine initiatives were selected and briefed to senior leaders to gain their endorsement.
In the end, seven of the nine initiatives were supported with an investment of more than $130 million. They are expected to achieve a net cost avoidance of approximately $1.57 billion over the lives of their supported systems, a return of more than 10 to one. For fiscal year 2013, an additional 10 initiatives were endorsed, five of which were supported in the budget cycle, with funding of $175 million and an expected cost avoidance of $800 million. The NAE’s integrated resource management team will monitor these initiatives to measure their success in achieving promised savings.
Steadfast leadership support for future readiness initiatives during the fiscal year 2012-14 program objectives cycles and beyond is central to the success of this process. Future readiness initiatives have consistently appeared on the type commander’s priorities list issued annually by Commander, Naval Air Forces, in support of readiness and sustainment priorities. These initiatives will drive down sustainment costs and, by contributing to a more cost-effective and capable force, may have a positive impact on the future of Naval Aviation.
Examples of initiatives include a next generation prognostics-based solution for better understanding weapon system maintenance requirements. The system factors in the extent of deviation or degradation of a system’s components from expected normal operating conditions, and then devises a condition-based maintenance response prior to actual component failure.
The H-53 condition-based maintenance initiative funds the elements necessary to monitor critical systems on an aircraft, tracking performance trends to alert maintainers when maintenance is required. Conventional maintenance strategies consist of corrective and preventive maintenance. In corrective maintenance, the system is maintained on an “as-needed” basis, usually after a major breakdown. A prognostic system will alert maintainers when an area is degrading before failure, saving surrounding components from damage and reducing technician time to accomplish repairs. A systems-oriented approach to prognostics requires that the failure detection and inspection-based methods be augmented with forecasting of parts degradation, mission criticality, and decision support. The H-53E platform is the pilot for the condition-based maintenance systems, methodology, and standards that may one day reside on all Naval Aviation platforms.
Future readiness initiatives also include more conventional approaches dedicated to addressing known readiness shortcomings or total ownership cost issues. The NAVAIR engine reliability fix concept, now in its sixth iteration, focuses on improving engine readiness and reducing total ownership costs. This effort addresses safety-related failure modes as well as improving repair manuals and the reliability of engine/module parts and assemblies that are expensive to maintain and difficult to remove from aircraft.
The latest iteration of the engine reliability fix program deals with five engine types: the F414, F404, T700, T56-A-427, and T64. The platforms powered by these engines include the F/A-18 and E-2C aircraft and the H-60, H-1, and H-53 helicopters. This program provides the resources necessary to sustain reliability and address fleet deficiencies while preventing repair cost growth. These platforms will be in the fleet for many years, so reducing/optimizing sustainment costs while maintaining readiness is critical.
The engine reliability fix and H-53 condition-based maintenance initiatives are shaping the future, and the FRCFT continues to seek ideas from the fleet. While the team is known for championing ideas—from any stakeholder in the NAE—that lead to total ownership cost reduction and readiness improvement, the team also leads numerous other efforts. These include facilitating engagement and better-informed decision making in the requirements and acquisition process, as well as identifying best practices aimed at improving the transition rate of science and technology investments into fleet use. All of these affect the Navy’s ability to field future capabilities, achieve total ownership cost reduction goals, and meet readiness entitlements.
The FRCFT is a relatively young partnership, but enterprise thinking is not. When used effectively, the collaboration, transparency, and metrics-informed decision making between warfighters, support providers, and resource sponsors will help the Navy and Marine Corps make the tough decisions necessary to ensure Naval Aviation continues to deliver the right force at the right time.
Capt. Beaulieu is the commanding officer of the Defense Contract Management Agency’s aircraft propulsion operations. He was a resource officer assigned to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Director of Air Warfare (N98). Capt. Gurke is a contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton who supports the NAE future readiness team. If you have an idea for saving the Navy or Marine Corps money or making it easier to do our job, connect with a member of the future readiness team by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.