Flightline: Air Boss on Readiness Reform

Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller, commander, Naval Air Forces, speaks over the 1MC on the bridge of forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) in August.


Editor’s note: The following is a summary of the recent Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE) podcast by Vice Adm. DeWolfe H. Miller, III, Commander, Naval Air Forces (CNAF).

When I think about Naval Aviation, I reflect on our history, our recent deployments and our bright future. We continue to excel and make a difference in the world.

We are experiencing dynamic force employment and continue to increase the lethality of our weapon systems. Aircraft transitions play a big part of that and continue to progress nicely. These include moving from the P-3C Orion into the P-8A Poseidon and from the E-2C Hawkeye into the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye. Additionally, our first F-35C Lightning II squadron, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147, was declared safe for flight and is preparing for its first deployment, we recently commissioned our first CMV-22 squadron and we awarded the contract for the MQ-25 carrier-based unmanned tanker.

The quality of the people that make up Naval Aviation continues to impress me; they are the lifeblood of our force. The mission of CNAF-to man, train and equip deployable, combat-ready Naval Aviation forces that win in combat—requires that we provide our warfighters and everyone supporting them with the best training and equipment possible. We need to dedicate ourselves to do that with a sense of urgency.

As I look back on my first year as Air Boss, I characterize it as a year of discovery and alignment. Now that we are in year two, the actions we have taken are gaining traction and will enable us to rapidly improve and sustain much higher levels of readiness. I look at this year, 2019, as the year of results.

While I feel good about the state of Naval Aviation and its future, readiness is not where it needs to be for today’s combat environment. Improving readiness remains our main focus across the entire NAE-from leaders, to Sailors and Marines, to our civilian engineers and artisans, to our industry partners. To use a sports analogy, I see myself as the head coach. During the past year, I saw team members doing their jobs well but not necessarily with the understanding of how their work contributes to the overall effort of the team.

We’ve spent a lot of time aligning all of our activities so every person in the NAE understands how what they do on a daily basis contributes toward achieving our goals across every aircraft series we fly. The most pressing focus is building 341 mission-capable, lethal Super Hornet aircraft that can fight and win tonight, but it is only one aircraft across Naval Aviation and there are goals for everyone. Our metrics are aligned enterprise-wide, and we have clear expectations that we communicate through regular drumbeat briefings, Air Plans, podcasts and Naval Aviation News.

I am also listening to the fleet voice-on the flight line and in the aviation depots, as barriers are elevated to leadership so that we can resolve them. This is all part of effective communication. I’ve heard a number of times during Boots-on-the-Ground events that if the Sailors, Marines or artisans just had this one tool or this one piece of gear, their jobs would be easier, and they’d be more effective. The first step to taking action on these challenges, is hearing about them and understanding what is required. Clear communication and expectations give us all the same goals and allow us to work as a team. To that end, I want to elaborate on two initiatives underway: Performance to Plan (P2P) and the Naval Sustainment Systems (NSS).

Performance to Plan

NAE leaders are using a P2P approach to recover readiness levels. It has changed the way everyone approaches their jobs because they know they’re being measured, and their performance is being briefed up the chain of command.

As the supported commander, I am the single person accountable for the readiness of Naval Aviation. P2P aligns all stakeholders, including Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) supply experts and Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) engineering, logistics and artisan experts, and our Type Wing and squadron Sailors and Marines so we are all working toward the same goals. As the head coach, I am responsible for the performance of the team.

We have set ourselves up for success by including and adopting data analytics to help underpin the decisions we make. Since we expect some efforts to be more fruitful than others, we want to make sure we’re pulling the right levers with the proper focus to get the maximum gain from our investment of time and dollars.

Having a plan, then regularly checking our performance against it is the best way to get us to where we need to be. We have regular drumbeat briefings that look at what we’re doing at our squadrons, in supply and at our Fleet Readiness Centers (FRCs). Leaders and champions of the various enterprise pillars get a chance to brief and say, “Here’s my organization’s plan. Here’s how we’re performing to that plan. Here’s what we’re learning, and here’s where we need your help.”

Naval Sustainment Systems

In conjunction with P2P, the NSS initiative is leveraging best practices from commercial industry to help us reform aspects of our FRCs, organizational-level maintenance, supply chain, engineering and maintenance organizations, and our governance processes.

We’ve hired industry leaders to help us with this holistic reform effort that involves people, parts, processes and governance across the NAE. The NSS initiative helps ensure we are aligned and also more transparent and more aware of what every other contributing stakeholder is doing and how each of their roles contributes to readiness.

The NSS is concentrating on getting the Navy Super Hornet fleet healthy again. We are focusing on the Super Hornet fleet first for two reasons: one, they have operated at a higher operational tempo than most other aircraft over the last 17 years; and two, this platform is critical for executing the high-end fight and supporting our troops on the ground.

But it’s not just Super Hornets. In November, the Secretary of Defense directed all the services with fighter and strike fighter aircraft—the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps—to achieve an 80-percent mission-capable rate across their warfighting squadrons. While we had already started on that initiative, this directive acknowledges the importance of every aircraft and the need to apply all learning from this initial work in applying the NSS to every Navy and Marine Corps aircraft.

We have already seen success with NSS. We reformed how select work flows through the depot production lines and have implemented a more visual way to track that flow. These changes mean that at any time, you can walk into the hydraulic workshop at FRC Southwest (FRCSW) and see a diagram of their work in progress. The diagram shows current status of every part and where the shop has encountered an issue and whether it is a supply or engineering issue. This allows managers to easily see and address issues immediately. We swarm that problem, we fix it, and the work continues to flow.

When you visit the landing gear shop at FRCSW, you see the same visual workflow and are able to identify the barrier or impediment there as well. Again, we can swarm, fix and improve.

We’ve already seen a 50-percent reduction in turnaround time in the two shops, and that translates to meeting the needs on the flight lines.

We are employing the same process at Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., at the FRC West (FRCW). I visited FRCW in December, and within 15 seconds of entering the production control center, I saw a stack of papers in one area of the work flow depiction and I knew immediately that was where the problem existed. I said, “Okay, we have a problem there. What is it?” That instant awareness helps everyone know where to focus their efforts.

They said, “Here’s our problem. We don’t have enough engineers, and that’s why we have a backlog in engineering.” I said, “Okay, what do you need?” They responded, “Well sir, we need three stress engineers full-time so we can work off this backlog.” NAVAIR quickly responded, and we have three stress engineers in FRCW today making a difference.

It’s exciting to learn that we are currently exceeding our predicted gains. As we learn, we are raising the bar even higher. This gives me great hope as I look at our P2P metrics and reform our practices under the NSS. All of it is contributing to greater readiness across Naval Aviation. We are winning today, and we will win well into the future.

Naval Sustainment System

The NSS plan is organized into six foundational pillars:

  1. A surge/aircraft-on-ground (AOG) cell brings together experts from all lines of support to quickly fix constraints of short-term down aircraft. The concept has already proven successful in the commercial realm, and promises four major benefits: reducing turnaround time, fostering strategic partnerships, increasing predictability and encouraging a more productive organization.
  2. Fleet Readiness Center (FRC) reform is intended to create elite-level, organic facilities that will adopt proven commercial practices to maximize quality and cost efficiency while minimizing cycle times.
  3. Organizational-level reform is designed to balance demand with maximized maintenance performance close to the flight line while improving safety.
  4. Supply chain reform integrates various stakeholders into a single accountable entity responsible for the end-to-end material process. This change will provide the right parts to the right place at the right time.
  5. Engineering and maintenance reform will develop an engineering-driven reliability process that improves how systems are sustained.
  6. Governance, accountability and organization are combined and designed as a single point of accountability for sustainment with the infrastructure to better support fundamental changes.

Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller III grew up in York, Pennsylvania, and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1981. He holds a Master of Science from the National Defense University and is a Syracuse University national security management fellow and graduate of the Navy’s Nuclear Power Program.

His operational assignments include Training Squadron (VT) 19 in Meridian, Mississippi; Attack Squadron (VA) 56 aboard USS Midway (CV 41); Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 25 on USS Constellation (CV 64); VFA-131 and VFA-34 aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69); executive officer of USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70); Commanding Officer of USS Nashville (LPD 13); Commanding Officer of USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77); and, as a flag officer, commander of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 2, where he participated in combat Operations Enduring Freedom and Inherent Resolve.

Miller’s shore tours include Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 5; aviation programs analyst Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV N80); Strike Fighter Weapons School Atlantic; deputy director of naval operations at the Combined Air Operations Center during Operation Allied Force; Office of Legislative Affairs for the Secretary of Defense; aircraft carrier requirements officer for Commander, Naval Air Forces; and flag officer tours in OPNAV as director for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (N2N6F2); assistant deputy chief of naval operations for Warfare Systems (N9B); and most recently as director, Air Warfare (N98).

Miller became Naval Aviation’s 8th “Air Boss” in January 2018.

He has earned the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal and other personal, unit and service awards.