Q&A with New NAVAIR Commander

Vice Adm. Dean Peters, who came aboard May 31 as commander of Naval Air Systems Command, shared his priorities with Naval Aviation News.

Tell us about your career.

I’ve served several acquisition assignments for NAVAIR and worked with our incredible workforce for many years supporting the fleet. Having said that, I learned a lot about fleet support in my first cruise as a helicopter pilot back when I was just an ensign flying H-2 Seasprites in the North Atlantic on board USS Jesse L. Brown (FF 1089), a Knox-class frigate. During that cruise, we spent hours tracking and trailing several Victor-class submarines deploying out of area, and I learned the criticality of shipboard operations. Despite successful operations, we also experienced many maintenance and reliability-related challenges during that cruise: the loss of an engine and subsequent single-engine landing to the back of a pitching deck during a very dark night. When opening the engine can of the replacement engine, there were multiple components with IOU tags in place of where the components should be. We weren’t sure exactly why the engine failed, and so it was a little disconcerting to remove the fuel control and oil filter from the failed engine so that we could have a replacement. Through the continual wear of flight deck operations, we also needed to replace the main landing tire. Luckily, there was one available in our pack-up kit, but unluckily, it turned out to be an F-14 main-mount tire. Despite all of these hiccups, there was a singular focus on mission accomplishment that was evident in everyday operations on that ship.

Why are you excited about taking command of NAVAIR?

First and foremost is the opportunity to continue to serve the Navy and the Marine Corps. Naval Aviation is an incredible enterprise, with a rich and distinguished past, and the future success of Naval Aviation, to a large degree, is in our hands. Our people are truly the best in the business. They believe in the mission and are committed to the success of our Sailors and Marines. We have an opportunity to eliminate the reliability and maintenance-related issues that I experienced back in 1987 and give our aircrews more time to operate their mission systems instead of worrying about how the aircraft will perform or if it will be available.

Secondly, this is an exciting time for NAVAIR. Congress has made an investment in strengthening our nation’s defense. It’s up to us to execute smartly. Expectations are high, and I am confident we will deliver.

What are the biggest challenges facing Naval Aviation and NAVAIR today?

Let me first talk about opportunities. For many years, we’ve been in survival mode from a program standpoint, especially when procuring our aircraft and weapons systems, and from a readiness enabler standpoint. With the support of Congress and the administration, we now have a coherent National Defense Strategy and clear commander’s intent. Congress has appropriated the funds needed for program wholeness and readiness recovery.

Our challenge will be to take advantage of this increased support in a timely manner and get the most for every dollar entrusted to us … whether it’s procurement funding, spares or fleet support.

How did your assignment as the program executive officer for Air Anti-Submarine Warfare, Assault and Special Mission Programs (PEO(A)) prepare you for your role as NAVAIR Commander?

In the grand scheme of Naval Aviation, our program offices are accountable for providing capability and capacity to the fleet and coordinating all elements of life-cycle sustainment.

The success or failure of NAVAIR can only be measured by the success or failure of our acquisition programs, both in terms of how our current equipment is supported in the fleet, and how quickly and effectively new capability is delivered and supported.

Having served in multiple acquisition/program manager positions, I’ve seen what it takes to be successful:

  • A shared identity (truly comprehending that we are the most responsible for fleet readiness and fleet capability)
  • A shared vision (to aggressively provide readiness and capability at ever-increasing levels of safety, reliability, interoperability, maintainability and affordability)
  • An organization that trusts and empowers teams to accomplish the vision

The Navy’s top three priorities are restoring readiness and increasing lethality and capacity to project power and respond to threats. What strengths does NAVAIR bring to the fight?

Let’s start with readiness. This is our No. 1 priority and strategic imperative. NAVAIR is not the only organization responsible for readiness of the fleet, but NAVAIR—and I’m including the Program Executive Offices—is the organization most responsible for fleet readiness. This is an important point. There are several organizations that contribute to readiness, but no other organization has the visibility and resources to stitch together all stakeholders on the material side. With the right tools, the Air Boss and Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Aviation can generate readiness in support of our National Defense Strategy. Being the most responsible is an intimidating commitment. But the good news is that we at NAVAIR have the engineering and logistics talent, highly skilled depot artisans, and world-class contracting and financial managers—and I’m confident that we have the organizational will to make the fleet successful.

Let’s also touch briefly on capacity. This is another area where we have the opportunity to take advantage of increased resources by executing the procurement activities that result in greater capacity. There is no guarantee that this resourcing environment can be sustained, so it is imperative that we make the most of the opportunity while the support exists. It also requires us to be honest and timely if we cannot execute resources so they can be directed to other fleet needs.

What are your top three priorities for NAVAIR?

My priorities for NAVAIR are the same as my priorities were for my squadron command, my program commands and each subsequent command: mission, people and relationships. Let me talk about each of these, a little out of order.

People: NAVAIR is a great place to work, because we take care of our people and respond to actionable feedback and because the work is exciting and meaningful. We will not make everyone happy 100 percent of the time, and our environment can be pressurized at times … but under the right conditions, our people can accomplish anything. I expect our leaders to encourage people to think differently, empower them to act boldly and eliminate distractions that get in their way.

Relationships: NAVAIR is connected to, and dependent upon, many other entities, especially industry (large and small), and we need to cultivate those relationships. It starts with assuming goodwill and maintaining an open dialogue; and as an organization we will make this foundational.

Mission: Mission is our No. 1 priority. Our mission is to acquire new capability (aircraft, weapons systems and associated equipment) for the fleet in a timely and affordable manner and to robustly sustain those aircraft and equipment such that they are available and effective when required. It’s really that simple. I mention it last to make this point: if we get everything else right and don’t accomplish our mission, we have missed the mark.

In terms of readiness, where do you think NAVAIR can make the biggest contribution to the fleet?

As mentioned a few times, NAVAIR is the organization most responsible for fleet readiness. It starts with the design process and insisting on reliable and maintainable equipment and components. Delivering operational-, intermediate- and depot-level capability with our systems gives the fleet the ability to control their own destiny to a much greater extent.

We also procure the initial spares, determine the inspection intervals and establish the maintenance planning and support equipment requirements. These are fundamental aspects of our mission. We are introducing new tools for tracking and monitoring maintenance, which will enable the Naval Supply Systems Command and the Defense Logistics Agency to predict parts requirements. We’re also using reliability-centered maintenance to attack reliability issues and extend the life of components. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. NAVAIR is integral to the readiness of our fleet communities.

Anything else you would like to add?

We’ve talked about speed and responsiveness. The best ideas to accomplish our work will come from those closest to the work. That is what will ultimately make us faster, more responsive and more effective. It’s an honor to serve this incredible organization in support of Naval Aviation. Thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts with your readers.

A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Vice Adm. Dean Peters graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1985. Peters has post-graduate degrees in aeronautical engineering and telecommunications and is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, Class 102.

After earning his wings as a naval aviator in 1986, he flew the SH-2F Seasprite in support of multiple detachments deployed to the North Atlantic, Persian Gulf and Gulf of Mexico, completing anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare and counter-narcotics operations embarked on four different ship classes. He served as detachment officer-in-charge aboard USS Thomas C. Hart (FF 1092).

As Commanding Officer of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (HX) 21, the squadron accomplished more than 11,000 flight test hours and was the 2006 recipient of the CNO Safety Award.

Peters has served in numerous acquisition billets. From November 2007 through July 2011, Peters served as program manager for the H-60 Helicopters Program Office, delivering more than 150 helicopters, numerous upgrades and supporting the first three carrier strike group deployments of the MH-60R and MH-60S Seahawks. From August 2011 to July 2014, Peters commanded the Presidential Helicopters Program Office, leading the program through Milestone B and contract award for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development Program.

Peters’ flag assignments include Commander, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division; Assistant NAVAIR Commander for Research and Engineering; and Program Executive Officer, Air Anti-Submarine Warfare, Assault and Special Mission Programs (PEO(A)).

He has more than 3,800 flight hours in fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.

Peters assumed responsibilities as Commander, Naval Air Systems Command in May 2018.

Approach Bravo Zulu!

From left to right, Lt. Gerald J. Voorhies, Ens. Dean Peters and AW2 Charles R. Priestley. (Photo courtesy of Approach magazine)

HSL 32

Invader 135 completed a hot refuel cycle on board the USS Jesse L. Brown (FF 1089), and launched for a night ASW sortie. At approximately 20-25 nm, the caution light panel flickered showing a fuel boost problem and then extinguished. Lt. Voorhies (HAC) took control, reported the problem to his ship and turned toward homeplate. Ens. Peters (CP) broke out the pocket checklist and started going through the appropriate emergency procedures. AW2 Priestley made ready all gear for a possible ditching. The ship closed the aircraft’s position.

At 18 nm the No. 2 engine fluctuated once (a 50 percent drop), regained its power output then completely flamed out. Restart attempts were unsuccessful.

At 5-10 nm, with the ship in sight, all ordnance was jettisoned, excess fuel dumped, and the ship turned to the best wind recovery course.

Superb airmanship and coordination between air crew and the ship’s crew resulted in a successful night, single-engine, small-deck landing.

“Bravo Zulu” reprinted from the October 1987 issue of Approach magazine.