Seahawk Sustainment: Readiness Success

A MH-60S Seahawk helicopter takes off from the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). (U.S. Navy photo by MC1 Amber Smalley)


At a time when readiness and aircraft availability rank among the Navy’s greatest priorities, the H-60 Seahawk is an example of a readiness success story—largely because of the program’s innovative sustainment contract.

Many factors impact Naval Aviation readiness, but one of the principal degraders is the availability of spare parts and the time it takes to repair damaged components.

This is what makes the H-60 program’s performance-based logistics (PBL) contract with Maritime Helicopter Support Company (MHSCo)—a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and subsidiary Sikorsky Aircraft—a “huge portion of what I think makes our readiness successful,” said H-60 Program Manager Capt. Craig Grubb.

The current five-year, $1.3 billion contract—awarded in February 2015 by Naval Supply Systems Command, Weapon Systems Support (NAVSUP WSS)—is the H-60 program’s third PBL pact with MHSCo. It covers repairing, modifying, overhauling and replacing hardware, as well as manufacturing new material, of 1,736 H-60 components.

“There’s a whole lot of work that goes into that readiness piece, and of the things that have made it successful, probably the biggest one, is a good PBL strategy and maintaining that,” said Bob Mroz, H-60 deputy program manager. “PBLs are not necessarily unique. I think what is unique is the success of our PBL versus others.”

The platform’s first “tip-to-tail” sustainment contract, signed in 2004, covered 540 components for $417 million. Its success led to a second contract in 2011 for $1.4 billion, with the number of components more than doubling to 1,266.

The 1,736 components covered by the current contract represent roughly half of the H-60 parts managed by NAVSUP and 65 percent of demand for new or replacement repairable items, said Capt. Mike York, director of aviation operations for NAVSUP WSS.

“We’ve done a lot of homework to make sure we got the components that are most important and drive readiness,” he said. “The ones that keep the aircraft flying are in that market basket.”

York called the H-60 PBL contract “one of the gold standards for this business.” The goal of the contract is to meet a required supply response time at an 80-percent rate for the covered components. The current response time rate is 98 percent, well exceeding the goal and leading to an overall supply material availability rate just above 96 percent for all NAVSUP-managed H-60 items.

This is a great case study of a program office knowing what’s driving the readiness challenges and having a willing partner in the original equipment manufacturer that has a proven performance record, said York.

With a goal of an 85-percent material availability rate for all parts on all Navy aircraft, York said the H-60 is one of the platforms that gives him the least amount of heartburn.

“In relation to other platforms, this one doesn’t require as much executive time to keep it on track because of the success of this PBL,” he said.

York noted that the H-60 PBL is fairly unique for NAVSUP WSS in that it’s a “whole platform” PBL. In contrast, the bulk of the organization’s 30-some PBL contracts are system-level, meaning they’re for one specific system, such as an engine or a radar system.

The cost of the PBL contract was determined by NAVSUP WSS estimates on how much fixing or replacing H-60 components should cost over the deal’s term. Because the contract is fixed price, as is typical with PBL contracts, it is in MHSCo’s interest to reduce the number of H-60 components that need to be repaired or replaced. Under a more traditional, fee-for-service contract, the vendor would be paid per repair, meaning it would make more money the more frequently components broke.

“With a traditional, transactional arrangement, if something breaks, you pay the contractor to fix it; the more stuff that breaks, the more they get paid to fix it. It’s the opposite with a PBL—they’re incentivized to make stuff break less,” Mroz said.

As the name suggests, PBL contracts are usually based on certain performance goals or criteria the contractor agrees to meet. The key metric on the H-60 PBL contract is response time, or “how long it takes for a repair to go in and turn back around on the other side, either with a replacement or repair,” Grubb said.

In addition, he noted, the “underlying value” to a PBL contract is that it encourages vendors to invest in improving reliability.

“They’ll actually invest in coming up with a new variation of a component that then gets fielded in place of the previous component, and it’s not just hardware,” Grubb said. “They also look at our maintenance publications and can make edits and improvements to those. So the whole continuum of the logistics associated with the piece parts that are on the contract are fair game for making improvements.”

The 14-year history of the PBL relationship also “gives the company the right demand signal to invest in their capability to sustain this,” York said.

A Navy MH-60S Seahawk helicopter prepares to land aboard Military Sealift Command aviation logistics support roll-on/roll-off container ship SS Curtiss (T-AVB 4). (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Kenny Nunez)

On the Readiness ‘Leading Edge’

In addition to the successful PBL contract, Grubb said his office plans to further boost readiness via condition-based maintenance, whereby components are inducted for repair as needed, rather than on a set schedule.

“The idea is to not prematurely replace good parts,” he said. “Instead of saying, ‘I need to replace this part after this many hours of use,’ instead the part would be used as long as performance is within the standards.”

For example, Grubb said monitoring the vibrations of the H-60’s drive shaft can help determine its health. If its life exceeds initial estimates, the part could remain in service for longer than anticipated, increasing readiness, reducing maintenance man-hours and saving repair costs.

Mroz said the program office is also looking into reliability-centered maintenance (RCM), which uses data analysis to reset or extend maintenance intervals where appropriate.

“We’ve been changing our oil every 3,000 miles for decades, but now all of a sudden, you get a new car, and the manual tells you it can go 10,000 miles between oil changes, and that’s because the oil and engine components have gotten better,” Mroz said. “RCM is taking those thousands and thousands of hours of flight data and analyzing it to see where we can extend the life of components.”

The program office has also begun a multi-phased organic maintenance capability assessment, the first part of which involved inspecting intermediate-level maintenance facilities and ensuring they had all necessary support equipment and the documentation required to use it.

“We also made sure that they are properly coding and interdicting the right kind of stuff, so it’s really going out and evaluating how successful we are with the fielding of our intermediate-level maintenance capability,” Grubb said.

The H-60 program is also “on the leading-edge” of developing enterprise tools for the Aircraft Component Tracking System (ACTS), which is automating component tracking by digitizing paper logbook records, Grubb said.

The ACTS will also take into account “regime recognition,” meaning it will track a component’s condition based on the aircraft’s maneuvers, Grubb said. For instance, the system will log more load on a component in an H-60 conducting a 45-degree bank than one flying straight and level.

“We have re-baselined the lives of a lot of dynamic components based on data from the fleet on how they’re actually flying the helicopter,” Grubb said. “We initially made conservative estimates, but now that we have more data that describes how the aircraft is actually being flown and the loads being imparted to the helicopter, we can now go back and say, for instance, ‘Components that used to be [cleared for] 2,000 hours are now good for 3,000 hours,’ because we’re only flying it two-thirds as hard as we thought we would be.”

Jeff Newman is a staff writer for Naval Aviation News.