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F/A-18 Depots See 40-Percent Increase In Productivity After Adapting New Work Model

Sailors perform maintenance on an F/A-18C Hornet from the Romans of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in April 2013. US Navy photo.

Sailors perform maintenance on an F/A-18C Hornet from the Romans of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in April 2013. US Navy photo.

The Navy’s aviation depots have seen a 40-percent increase in fighter jet throughput since they changed how to approach repairing the legacy F/A-18C Hornets a year ago, the Navy’s director of air warfare told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

Rear Adm. Michael Manazir said in a hearing on aircraft carrier presence that the depots moved from a lean manufacturing model, which emphasizes rigid scheduling, to a critical chain process management model that emphasizes having the correct resources and allows for flexible scheduling.

“When we brought the initial bunch of airplanes into the depot, we applied a lean manufacturing model to the depot, and that means when you bring an airplane in you have a kit, you’re going to replace parts on the airplane – and the mechanic, the artisan takes the new part, replaces the old part, moves the airplane along,” Manazir explained.
“When we opened up these F-18Cs, given that we extended them past 6,000 [flight hours of service life], we found that there was so much corrosion and too much engineering work to be done. So in stride, we have changed that process to something called critical chain process management.

“We’ve been underway in that process now for a year, we have already increased the depot throughput by 40 percent,” he continued.
“We expect to get even greater than that, to where we have delivered somewhere along the lines of 30 airplanes from the depot a year ago, we’re looking to deliver 104 airplanes a year from now.”

Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley added that the Navy hired extra artisans and engineers to help, and the service turned to Hornet manufacturer Boeing as a source of expertise and tooling to help accomplish the depot work more efficiently.

“We’re looking to pull the right levers to increase that depot throughput today, we cannot accept the numbers that we’re suffering through today,” Stackley said.

The Navy is facing a fighter shortfall of about 138 planes in the early 2020s for a couple reasons, Manazir said. First, “the extension of F-35 has caused us to have to extend the F-18C from 6,000 hours to 10,000 hours” of service life, and the depots were overwhelmed by the amount of work some airframes needed when they came in for the life extension efforts.

“We’re running into problems with corrosion internal to the airplane that we had not seen or planned for, because we hadn’t planned to go past 6,000 hours,” he said.
“So the near-term readiness problem is getting enough F-18Cs out to source our carrier strike groups that deploy. What we are seeing right now is, we have enough to send out F-18Cs on deployment, and we have less airplanes than we need in the earlier phases of our fleet response training plan. So we’re taking readiness hits there. So the forces back here at home cannot train enough because they don’t have enough assets. We are taking risks here at home to make sure that we have deployed assets.”

HASC readiness subcommittee chairman Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) asked if accelerating F-35C production would help eliminate the need to extend the life of some of the legacy Hornets and mitigate the expected fighter shortfall. Manazir said the Navy could speed up the delivery of the planes themselves, but the Block 3F software will not reach initial operational capability until August 2018, and the airframe without the correct software won’t provide the Navy the capability it needs.

The second reason for the projected shortfall is that the Navy hasn’t procured enough extra F-18s to make up for running the planes – and the carrier strike group as a whole – harder than anticipated due to global demand for carrier presence.

Former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert “testified a year ago that we needed two to three squadrons of Super Hornets to offset the attrition loss, the hours that we’ve flown those airplanes – that’s 24 to 36 airplanes. When you infuse 24 to 36 new airplanes into this mix, plus get the depot to be more efficient, that goes a long way towards getting at that strike fighter inventory management challenge, the shortfall, if you would.”

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  • disqus_zommBwspv9

    now all that is needed it flight decks to put them on.

  • Curtis Conway

    The short answer is buy 36 F/A-18E/Fs. I’d just buy “F”s with EA-18G wiring package. We can use them for other things later. (tactical angle) My preferred solution.

    “Manazir said the Navy could speed up the delivery of the planes themselves, but the Block 3F software will not reach initial operational capability until August 2018, and the airframe without the correct software won’t provide the Navy the capability it needs.”

    If congress pulls a ‘Rabbit out of the Hat’, and just buys more F-35Cs, they will just do that Quarter Back Thing until they get their -3F software. Don’t think we can afford that, and we don’t get the extra Growlers down the road. (tactical & strategic angle)

    The more Legacy Hornets we rebuild, the more likely that an Allie down the road may be a customer for that airframe in the future (strategic angle).

    • USNVO

      The idea that you can’t address the physical shortfall by speeding up the F-35C is laughable. Any extra new build F-18s will arrive at the same time as extra new build F-35Cs, which to say after F-35C IOC and before the strike fighter gap in the 2020s. I suspect the real reason has more to do with balancing personnel and the Navy doesn’t have the spare bodies to support a faster transition, especially as the P-3 to P-8 transition is the current highest priority.

      • Curtis Conway

        I would like to see the cost vs benefits and operational impact study of the two competing ideas. If the money is there, choose the most advantageous path. If Electronic Warfare is going to be as important as I think it is (placing Watts/Meter Squared in the environment focused or otherwise) then the Growler path may be most advantageous. That was my sole reason for the exercise.

        • Secundius

          @ Curtis Conway.

          Look’s like Funding May Come After-All? The Freedom Caucus and the Democratic Party, are “Steam-Rolling” a Bill through Congress to keep the Military Alive. A “War Appropriations” Bill to Start A War with ISIS. It essentially keep’s the Military Funded, but at a Price. The PRICE being, Those that Have To Fight the War. It’s NOT EVEN 2016. and we’ve (the USA), have been in TEN War’s/Conflict’s since 2001…

        • USNVO

          I agree, and clearly the Navy wants more Growlers, primarily to increase squadron size from 5 to 7 in order to be able to more effectively triangulate targets in real time. So more Growlers are good.

          Clearly, the lame excuse about block 3F is just that, a lame excuse. Any extra aircraft will be ordered in FY17 at the earliest, so it is not like they will get them before Block 3F is delivered in 2018 and well before the 2020s. I suspect it comes down to people. F-18s can be integrated without any training, you just deliver the aircraft to the squadron. But the F-35C is different. The Navy is already aggressively transitioning from P-3 to P-8/MQ-4C. That takes extra people since you need to operate the current P-3 force while training new people for the P-8 and MQ-4C, some of which may take well more than a year or more. If you speed up F-35C, you need to transition more people, which means you need even more sailors in aviation. However, people are a zero sum game, if you get more aviators, you take people away from someone else. That someone doesn’t want to give up any bodies. If you could give the Navy a significant topline personnel increase as well as a budget boost to buy the planes, they would probably instantly find all the issues suddenly went away and you really could solve the gap with new build F-35Cs.

  • Secundius

    Hey Curtis, you what to hear a Good Joke. They haven’t even got the F/A-35A/C’s and F/AV-35B’s, orders filled yet. And they want to add Two Additional Models to the “Line-Up”, the A-35D an F-35 with a GAU-8 Avenger Cannon (NO SH|T) and the F-35E “Thunder” Interceptor…

  • Alan Nyheim

    VFA-106 are Gladiators Megan, not Romans…..

    • James B.

      I think “Roman” is the 106 radio callsign.

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  • Secundius

    Most Fight/Attack Squadron’s of F/A-18C/D’s are 10 aircraft Squadrons and F/A-18E/F’s are 12 aircraft Squadrons. Instead of having Separate Composite Squadrons of EA-18G’s, just Integrate 2 EA-18G’s into a F/A-18E/F, 12 Aircraft Squadrons by Replacing the F/A-18F’s in the Squadrons. This way the EA-18G are a Integral part of the Inner Working and Doctrine of that Squadron…