NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, Md. –
Editor’s note: Vice Adm. Carl P. Chebi, who came aboard in September 2021 as Commander, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), shares his priorities with Naval Aviation News.
You’ve been gone from NAVAIR for the last five years. Can you share where you’ve been and your impressions of NAVAIR since returning?
When I left NAVAIR in 2017 with orders to Program Executive Office (PEO) for Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) and Space Systems, I had very little understanding of C4I or the Naval Information Warfare Systems Command (NAVWAR). After just a couple of months on the job, I quickly realized how important the integrated warfare community and the C4I domain were to the success of Naval Aviation, so my highest priority became improving the partnerships across NAVWAR, NAVAIR and Naval Sea Systems Command so we could deliver integrated warfighting capability from seabed to space.
That point was also driven home while I worked with the F-35 team, where I again saw the importance of working together as a team, across services, if we’re going to be successful.
In both roles, I cherished the teams’ diverse thoughts, expertise and experiences, because they opened my aperture on different ways of looking at the problem. I think that is key to our continued success at NAVAIR.
Once back at NAVAIR, I saw a great team, in partnership with Commander, Naval Air Forces (CNAF), Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic (CNAL), OPNAV and the fleet, delivering game-changing capabilities. We must continue that great work going forward, because our adversaries are not slowing down.
What are NAVAIR’s priorities?
My No. 1 priority is delivering the warfighting capability the fleet needs to win—at a cost we can afford. Foundational to that is partnerships and developing our workforce.
What our fleet needs to win is an integrated warfighting capability—a capability enabled through the integrations of networks, sensors, platforms and weapons. We are no longer in the business of delivering a single weapon, platform or network, but rather, an integrated warfighting capability that will require us to partner closely across programs, PEOs, systems commands (SYSCOMs), services and industry.
In addition, we must provide our workforce with modern hardware and software development tools, processes, infrastructure and environments, and the training to apply these development processes to deliver integrated warfighting capabilities. I’ve been working with other SYSCOM commanders and industry to understand what best-in-class looks like so we can apply and scale their learning at NAVAIR.
What are NAVAIR’s focus areas, and how are you implementing them?
NAVAIR’s mission is to deliver the warfighting capability the fleet needs to win at a cost we can afford. To accomplish that, I set three focus areas for the organization: speed of capability delivery, affordability and availability.
Speed of Capability Delivery:
While I was happy to see the USS Carl Vinson deploy with game-changing capability, we cannot rest on our laurels. We must continue to push the envelope to get capability to the fleet faster. The key to speed will be establishing architectures, infrastructure and processes to enable rapid insertion, integration, testing and fielding of new technology. We must modernize how we develop, integrate, test and field hardware and software.
From a software perspective, we’re architecting our systems so the hardware is disaggregated from the software, which allows us to update systems hardware and software asynchronously. We’re also implementing other modern software development processes so we can get away from what I call tightly integrated “spaghetti code,” which is hard to update rapidly.
On the hardware side, we’re architecting our systems using open standards/reference architectures—think USB or HDMI—to enable rapid insertion of new technology into our weapons and platforms. We’re also developing and leveraging modeling and simulation environments early in development so we better understand the system’s performance and can make necessary changes before they become costly.
Foundational to our success will be a workforce trained with the right tools and processes, and a digital environment connected with industry at the right security levels, to allow our teams to work collaboratively.
The cost to operate and sustain our fleet is outpacing our projected budgets. We have three primary initiatives to get after affordability: 1) cost transformation; 2) long-range cost targets; and 3) focus on sustainment up front in new programs.
Cost transformation is a Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE) effort to ensure our dollars achieve winning outcomes. This is an opportunity to look at how we deliver capability and think differently about the problem, focusing on the value of each dollar spent as it relates to the capability outcomes we need.
Additionally, our program managers are identifying the root cause of each sustainment cost driver and are implementing changes in processes, training, procedures or investments today that will reduce future sustainment cost growth. These long-range should-cost plans are critical to arresting the growing sustainment costs and getting them on a downward trajectory.
Finally, we’re putting a focus on sustainment early in new development programs, when we have an opportunity to change the design and maintenance concept. This is a cultural shift across NAVAIR that will change how we look at affordability.
The NAE team—NAVAIR, Naval Supply Systems Command, CNAF, CNAL, the Fleet Readiness Centers and the fleet—have worked collectively to get after availability. By implementing commercial best practices via Naval Sustainment System-Aviation (NSS-A) principles, the NAE team has improved the availability of the F-18 fleet dramatically.
We changed how we looked at the problem and how we tried to solve it. In a “get real, get better” approach, the team identified the root cause of readiness degraders and applied commercial best practices to address them. They stood up an operations center, improved repair velocity, reformed maintenance procedures and identified systemic readiness degraders.
On average, we have approximately 100 more mission-capable aircraft available today than we did just a couple of years ago—put another way, by implementing NSS-A principles, we have an additional $5 billion worth of available F-18 E/Fs for our warfighters.
Today, we are scaling our learning from the F-18 and applying it to other aircraft to improve both mission capable and full-mission capable rates. Overall, we have seen a significant increase in both rates across all type/model/series—a testament to the team’s great work.
What do you know about NAVAIR now that you didn’t when you were in the fleet?
When I wrote hazard reports as the safety officer for Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 192, I made recommendations for COMNAVAIRSYSCOM. I didn’t know who that was or what they did. Now that I am COMNAVAIRSYSCOM, I fully understand what this great team does every day to deliver warfighting capability the fleet needs to win at a cost we can afford.
I understand how committed the NAVAIR team is to ensuring our Sailors and Marines have what they need to execute their missions and return home safely. I understand how important it is for the NAVAIR team to partner with the other SYSCOMS, services and industry, large and small, to deliver the best solutions possible.
Finally, I understand how important it is for fleet aviators to join the NAVAIR team so we stay closely aligned, better understand their needs and have experienced aviators as part of the team that is going to deliver the next generation of capability to our future warfighters.