On September 17, 2018, the Secretary of Defense General James Mattis sent a memorandum across the DoD: Mission Capability of Critical Aviation Platforms. In it he states:
“As current Military Department program objective memorandums make clear, our Department faces budget constraints and shortfalls in aviation squadrons across the force. As a result, our aviation inventory and supporting infrastructure suffer from systemic underperformance, overcapitalization, and unrealized capacity.”
It is well documented that the mission readiness of many of the aviation platforms is unacceptably low. On some platforms, such as the F-22 Raptor, less than half are mission-capable. A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report surveyed five Air Force and seven Navy fixed-wing aircraft and found that 9 out of 12 aircraft fell short of availability goals. Greater than projected operational tempo and age are leading factors with many aircraft still in service well past their anticipated lifespan.
From a March 5, 2018 article in The Air Force Times, it is plain to see that the alarm is widespread. “The readiness of the Air Force’s aircraft fleet is continuing its slow, steady deterioration — and this could spell trouble for the service’s effort to hold onto its pilots and its ability to respond to contingencies around the world.”
According to data provided by the Air Force, about 71.3% of the Air Force’s aircraft were flyable, or mission-capable, at any given time in fiscal 2017. That represents a drop from the 72.1% mission-capable rate in fiscal 2016 and a continuation of the decline in recent years.
Former Air Force pilots and leaders say that this continued trend is a gigantic red flag and warn it could lead to serious problems down the road.
‘It scares the heck out of me,’ said retired Gen. Hawk Carlisle, former head of Air Combat Command to The Air Force Times. ‘It really does.’ ”
In his memorandum, the Secretary of Defense has challenged the military services to restore the readiness of the F-35, F-22, F-16, and F-18 platforms to 80% over the next fiscal year. These platforms make up the backbone of America’s tactical air power.
Commercial Technologies for Maintenance Activities (CTMA), a program within the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) has been and remains on the forefront of solving maintenance and sustainment issues that challenge military aircraft platforms. With its agile and streamlined processes, commercial innovative technologies that can support complex and/or time-consuming maintenance tasks can be on contract and demonstrating their utility in a relevant operational environment within an average of 45 days.
Examples of some of the leading edge, commercially available technologies that are currently being tested for aircraft maintenance support are:
- A Digital War Room for the F-35 platform that will assist the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) to modernize and digitize information that will provide stakeholders, key decision-makers, and program support with data visualization and drill-down capabilities via digital devices. This will provide key program metrics for more rapid data analysis for evidence-driven lifecycle and sustainment decision making.
- Intermittent Fault Detection in wiring is being evaluated at NSWC Crane, Fleet Readiness Center Southwest, and Hill Air Force Base to determine if this game-changing technology will meet the Naval Aviation Enterprise Strategic Goals and Initiatives. Faulty wiring and No Fault Found (NFF) issues are a constant plague within the complex electronics of today’s tactical and non-tactical aircraft.
- Maintenance Forecasting for the F-18 E/F Rhino platform examines opportunities that link Operations, Maintenance, and Supply Planning to drive a single view of the sustainment needs of the F/A-18 fleet.
- Product Lifecycle Management for Aircraft Sustainment assists in generating and disseminating suitable technical information to the point of maintenance because of manual work processes, poor configuration management, and connectivity. These issues all contributed to work delays, human errors, and overall reduced readiness at the Fleet Readiness Center -East at Cherry Point, NC.
- The Air Force is partnering with industry on a cloud-based solution via the Platform-as-a-Service that enables close integration on joint mission environments to ensure centralized item management, right part, quantity, location and time, as well as creating a critical information dashboard.
These are just a sampling of the CTMA projects in place that directly supports the Secretary of Defense’s maintenance mandate. With a “try it before you buy it” tagline, CTMA has taken the guesswork and costly setbacks out of the acquisition process because all technologies have been thoroughly evaluated beforehand. CTMA is a true risk reduction-centered program that enables those tasked with making leaps in readiness improvement with the tools necessary to achieve their lofty goals.