FRCSW/COMFRC Top News Clips – Week of February 13, 2017

LOCAL COVERAGE

  1. NAVAIR PSM standouts among peers DoD wide
  2. Pentagon officials get firsthand look at Naval Aviation’s future predictive capabilities
  3. FRCSW Production Shops Step Up to Ensure Fleet Readiness
  4. FRCSW Earns SECNAV Gold Level Energy Award
  5. Photo Release: Professional Development Council guest speakers share experiences, advice on workplace etiquette (Link)

 

WORLD/NATIONAL NEWS

  1. F-35A At Red Flag: 90% Mission Capable; Key Systems Up Every Flight
  2. Chinese Weapons Reaching ‘Near-Parity’ With West – Study
  3. Marines Want Their F-35s Up to Five Years Early
  4. Trio of Studies Predict the U.S. Navy Fleet of 2030
  5. Charted: Here’s How The Cost Of Each Version Of The F-35 Is Changing
  6. U.S. Navy Revives Interest In Super Hornet Engine Upgrades
  7. Navy Selects Mayport Naval Station As Location For Drone Squadron
  8. Oops. Using Wrong Lubricant Does Millions In Damages To 3 Navy Planes
  9. Marine Corps Digging Out Of Flight-Hour Deficiency With Higher Aircraft Readiness Rates

 

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LOCAL COVERAGE

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NAVAIR PSM standouts among peers DoD-wide

 

NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md. – A Logistics and Industrial Operations (Air-6.0), Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) product support manager (PSM) was recognized as the 2016 Secretary of Defense PSM of the Year, Acquisition Category II, at a ceremony here Jan. 31.

 

Charles Dixon, Aircrew Life Support Systems PSM, was recognized for his contributions to controlling cost growth, addressing long-term affordability, and promoting industry competition and innovation, as well as his achievements in developing, implementing and executing affordable and effective weapons system product support strategies.

 

During the award period, Dixon provided guidance and logistics support to the Aircrew Systems Program Office (PMA-202)-which includes 15 acquisition programs-and was instrumental in fielding the night vision cueing and display device (NVCD) to the fleet. Dixon’s focus on cost avoidance and Better Buying Power was critical to the full rate production acquisition program baseline (APB) agreement update, which resulted in reducing the NVCD’s per unit cost by 40 percent and saving an overall $164 million in total ownership cost, compared to the previous APB.

 

He also led a team to give Navy aircrew state-of-the-art products by incorporating engineering change proposals to the on-board oxygen generating system (OBOGS). His work helped increase the component’s ability to filter gas by incorporating a catalyst to oxidize toxic carbon monoxide into relatively benign carbon dioxide, reducing the number of hypoxia and physiological events. His other efforts included:

.               Coordinating with the Air Force and Army to establish an integrated product team at Defense Logistics Agency Richmond for parachutes

.               Leading an effort to establish long-term contracts on parachutes that reduced Defense Logistics Agency contract turnaround time from 12 to 14 months to two to three weeks

.               Guiding the Chemical/Biological Defense Team in extending the shelf-life of A/P22P-14 respirators by three years

.               Developing and executing the Logistics Experience-Driven Advancement Program, which gives PMA-202 deputy assistant program managers for logistics the assignments, mentoring and coursework necessary to advance into senior logistics roles

 

Capt. Dave Padula, PMA-202 commander, said the success of the NVCD and OBOGS initiatives was proof Dixon was the winner for the award.

 

“The NVCD gives aircraft carrier pilots a significant tactical advantage at night, changing the way naval aviation fights,” he said. “Charles quickly fielded solutions on the OBOGs to the fleet, in addition to his day job of supporting more than 750 critical components for aviation aircrews-that convinced me.”

 

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Material Readiness Terry Emmert presented the award and said Dixon’s job in support of the more than 750 critical components was impressive.

 

“That is the highest number I have ever seen in a nomination packet,” Emmert said. “If you take $20 bills and stack them up, the representative value of those items would be more than 345 feet tall.  That’s the value you’re making work for the enterprise.”

 

“PSMs have an inherently difficult job,” Emmert continued. “It’s tough to connect product development to long-term sustainment. It takes tenacious people to latch these two functions together and make sure the products we field are up and running affordably in the years ahead.”

 

Dixon said of all the products he supports, his work on the NVCD was the most rewarding.

 

“As we fielded these assets to fleet users, the feedback was everything from, ‘I will never fly at night without NVCD’ to ‘This is a huge game changer,'” he said. “Nothing in my mind is more rewarding than providing a desperately needed product to the fleet and seeing the fantastic results of that product.”

 

Padula cited NVCD and OBOGS as examples of how to reduce bureaucracy to increase speed to the fleet. “What you did was not easy, and I know you had some challenges along the way,” he told Dixon. “Despite that, you’ve reduced the time to transition acquisition to weapons deployment significantly.”

 

Having the right tools at the right time is just one key to that accomplishment, Dixon said. “The tools have allowed us to speed up the process to deliver in a much shorter period without compromising the supportability of the item,” he said.

 

Leaders must also be accessible to the people who are the source of good ideas and perform the day-to-day work, he explained. “I am a people person and have an open door policy to hear their concerns and guide them with my knowledge and experience so they can excel in everything they do.”

 

Having a team that works together, knows they can influence outcomes and can make a difference in the fleet is another component to success, Dixon said.

 

“Let them know you support them 100 percent and that you will be there the whole way guiding them. Allow them to decide the right approach, and then give them feedback on the process. It’s their dedication and passion to meet the fleet’s demands and requirements and for the products they manage that made this award possible,” Dixon said. “I applaud them.”

 

Dixon’s focus on developing his workforce also caught Emmert’s attention: “When I review the nomination packets, I look for technical competency and business acumen. But, most important, is mentorship. You are giving back and building the next generation to do this business.”

 

Brig. Gen. Masiello, NAVAIR commander for logistics and industrial operations, said the award is a recognition that belongs to the larger team as well.

 

“Everything you are being recognized for is something that you led. It takes a large team to make this happen. You epitomize how Air-6.0 supports the fleet.”

 

http://www.navair.navy.mil/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.NAVAIRNewsStory&id=6483

 

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Pentagon officials get firsthand look at Naval Aviation’s future predictive capabilities

 

NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md. – Four Pentagon officials met recently with Naval Air System Command (NAVAIR) Logistics and Industrial Operations (AIR-6.0) leadership to understand better how Naval Aviation is addressing readiness shortfalls. They also learned more about how specific tools are transforming the way today’s platforms are sustained.

 

Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. Jon “Dog” Davis and Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense (ASD) for Logistics and Materiel Readiness Kristin French were briefed Jan. 25 and 27, respectively, on five AIR-6.0 initiatives during their visits. Deputy to the ASD, Supply Chain Integration Dee Reardon and Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Maintenance Policy and Programs Ken Watson accompanied French.

 

In his remarks, Davis emphasized the importance of sustaining current inventory and the need to develop new approaches to do it effectively, because Marines will have to fly many of their current platforms through 2030 and beyond.

 

Sustainment and its costs, French said, must be considered at the beginning of each weapon system’s life cycle. “Seventy percent of an aircraft’s cost is expended in sustainment.  Operating and support costs start as early as when someone gets an idea.  It’s a balance between funding and capability.  Prioritizing is a reality.”

 

Readiness playbooks assist program offices in prioritizing the two factors. Developed for each type/model/series aircraft, they list initiatives and strategies to close ready basic aircraft (RBA) gaps and sustain readiness across the Future Years Defense Program.  “The initiatives in the playbooks are ready to be implemented once an opportunity for funding has been identified,” Industrial and Logistics Maintenance Planning Sustainment Department Director Tracy Burruss said.  “We know ahead of time where we would put the dollars.”

 

AIR-6.0 leadership discussed how another readiness enabling tool, Total Asset Visibility, will provide decision makers access to real-time data on the location, status and movement of material across the fleet. “With Total Asset Visibility, we will have insight on where the material is located across the enterprise,” Deputy Assistant Commander for Logistics and Industrial Operations Todd Balazs said.  “We will also be able to see where the workforce is and what special skill sets they have regardless of site. With this capability, readiness will be supported from an enterprise perspective.”

 

Two predictive readiness tools were demonstrated during the event: the Readiness Forecast Model (RFM) and Predictive Analytics Model (PAM). “RFM provides tactical information on the fleet’s current readiness and provides projections on what it is expected to look like in 12 months,” Aviation Readiness and Resource Analysis Department Director (AIR-6.8) Roy Harris said. “This sets expectations on aircraft readiness for the next year.  If readiness deviates from the plan, or we are not performing as expected, we can look into the data and see why.”

 

PAM, Harris said, projects the number of Ready Basic Aircraft (RBA) that will be available up to 10 years from now. “The tool quantifies how much RBA will be recovered on the flight line for each readiness initiative documented in program playbooks” he said. “For instance, if we improve the reliability of a part, we can run an excursion and project the amount of RBA that will be recovered.  This helps program managers understand which initiatives provide the most readiness ‘bang for the buck’.  It also helps to better inform funding decisions on readiness initiatives for the POM [Program Objectives Memorandum] process,” he said.

 

NAVAIR mechanical engineer Allen Jones briefed Davis and French on Condition Based Maintenance (CBM), which is undergoing proof of concept in the CH-53E Super Stallion and MH-60R Seahawk communities. It enables logisticians to manage and mine large volumes of data and can be used to improve maintainability and product design.

 

CBM plus (CBM+), Jones said, provides engineers with real-time data pulled from sensors embedded in components. “With this data, we know when to pull a component before it fails, avoiding added costs to the Navy,” he explained. “In addition, life limits of components can be updated based on actual data, not assumptions made during the design phase.”

 

Proof of concept on CBM+ is being conducted on H-1’s main gear box (MGB) to reduce its high rate of removals due to quill failures in the gear. Since May 2016, the CBM+ diagnostic maintenance strategy has avoided $4.8 million in MGB repair costs.

 

Presentations also included the Dynamic Scheduling Tool, which provides a list of tasks for each maintenance or repair event, including which parts, tools and artisan qualifications needed; Vector, a web-based data analysis tool that pulls from 19 maintenance, supply and inventory reporting systems, providing analysts and other Naval Aviation stakeholders and providers with a single source for actionable data; and additive manufacturing, a production process that uses computer automated design software to design a part and then adds layers of powdered metal, plastic, concrete or other materials to “print” it.

 

Davis said seeing and discussing AIR-6.0 tools designed to enhance leadership’s situational awareness, reduce program life cycle costs and improve decision-making capability caused him to reflect on the progress being made and on the work that still lies ahead.

 

“Marine Aviation’s Readiness Recovery Plan is very much a fluid, multi-faceted approach,” he said. “The knowledge gained from this visit affords me and my staff yet another opportunity to pause and re-assess whether or not we’re on track, and whether or not we’ve considered and incorporated all opportunities to further optimize our ability to “move the needle” as fast as we can, as far as we can, on the road to full recovery.”

 

He also believes that AIR-6.0 has a better understanding of issues that are unique to Marine Corps programs, such as the implications of having 77 different configurations of the MV-22 Osprey. The proposed Common Configuration Readiness and Modernization Program-an initiative to have all V-22s with the same configuration-is designed to address that configuration challenge.

 

“Everyone involved in the readiness discussions were reminded of the difference between the Navy and Marine Corps readiness models and force structure,” Davis said. The Marine Corps is smaller in total squadrons and structure, but in the big fight puts virtually all of its units into action very quickly.  That means that we need to ensure our flight lines have the prescribed numbers of full mission capable and mission capable aircraft ready to fight.  That is a very different position than the Navy’s tiered readiness model.  If everyone understands the difference, then we can make better informed decisions on where we need to focus our efforts and where we need to burn down risk.  The NAVAIR team is a key contributor to that effort.”

 

Reardon, who accompanied French, said that the thought and ingenuity AIR-6.0 put into the initiatives were impressive and had the potential to be applied to readiness challenges beyond the Navy. “I came here to seek out and encourage the proliferation of good ideas to improve readiness and sustainment across the DoD,” she said. “You have figured out a way to determine what the priorities should be to maximize readiness.”

 

French said her original intention of the visit to NAVAIR was to learn about efforts to improve F/A18A-D Hornets’ RBA rates, but she came away with the understanding that Naval Aviation’s efforts extend to other platforms as well.

 

This opportunity, she said, provided her with the details she needed to better inform the Office of the Secretary of Defense leadership about Naval Aviation’s readiness enablers. “You are increasing your savvy on how to measure and get at the problem, using data to drive your efforts,” she said. “With what I learned here, I am better able to be your voice across the entire portfolio of requirements.”

 

http://www.navair.navy.mil/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.NAVAIRNewsStory&id=6482

 

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FRCSW Production Shops Step Up to Ensure Fleet Readiness

 

NAVAL AIR STATION NORTH ISLAND, Calif. – Exemplifying determination, teamwork and dedication to the warfighter, the artisans and supervisors of Fleet Readiness Center Southwest’s (FRCSW) production shops recently met an abbreviated deadline to overhaul 14 APG-73 radar rack aft bulkheads.

 

The APG-73 radar rack bulkheads, which are used by F/A-18 Hornet fighters, arrived to FRCSW on Apr. 6, 2016. FRCSW had to repair and return 10 of the bulkheads to Naval Supply Systems Command (NAVSUP) by end of the month.

 

Each aft bulkhead is uniquely mated to a radar rack assembly. Its metal flange is unpainted, and open to damage by corrosion. Maintenance personal often find corrosion damage when removing the radar rack assembly during Super Hornet upgrades to the newer APG-79 radar rack assembly.

 

Without a repair procedure, the corroded $220,000 APG-73 would be demilitarized, which NAVSUP wanted to save for F/A-18 Hornet upgrades.

 

When the 14 aft bulkheads arrived, the FRCSW evaluator and estimator (E&E) for the responsible shop (R shop) immediately inducted and routed them to the clean shop to kick off the overhaul process.

 

Preference was given to the priority 10 bulkheads. After cleaning, the R shop performed several tasks including removing corrosion, a duty they had never performed before, but were more than willing to learn.

 

Next, the bulkheads were transferred to the production process shops where the planner and estimator (P&E) ensured no delays occurred. Paint and adhesive were promptly removed in the blast shop, and the material lost to corrosion was restored using “Cold Spray” in the metal spray shop.

 

Cold Spray is a solid-state process which accelerates a fine metal powder and impacts it onto a part’s surface. Kinetic energy from the impact forms a metallurgical bond.

 

Skillful artisans applied Cold Spray using compressed helium, a handheld gun, and a very steady hand. Afterward, the bulkheads were sent to the machine shop for finish machining.

 

The machine shop ensured the parts were handled quickly, yet carefully, using fixtures and a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) program created in the shop. Excess cold spray material was milled away to return the flange dimensions to drawing specifications. With the corrosion damage repaired, the aft bulkheads were chemical-conversion coated in preparation for final paint.

 

The paint shop masked the bulkheads for priming and topcoating. Primer was applied immediately afterward. Once dried, the topcoat was applied.

 

Work in the FRCSW process shops was now complete.

 

The 10 priority bulkheads were returned to the R shop where artisans performed the final steps including applying markings, another new process to them.

 

On April 28, quality assurance (QA) verified the overhaul. FRCSW had made the deadline. The P&E updated the paperwork, and the E&E closed out the overhaul. FRCSW returned the 10 aft bulkheads to NAVSUP. The remaining four were overhauled and returned the following month.

 

It took three weeks to overhaul the 10 priority bulkheads. This was a reduction of 78 percent when compared to the timeline from the production pilot that occurred in 2015.

 

Materials engineering, Fleet Support Team (FST) engineering, and production management facilitated the process, but this accomplishment could not have been possible without the dedication of FRCSW artisans. They rose to the occasion, working through weekends, to ensure that they would not let the fleet down. It is because of them that FRCSW met the shortened deadline and $4.4 million in assets were returned to service.

 

NAVSUP is currently negotiating with FRCSW to repair 14 more of the aft bulkheads.

 

http://www.navair.navy.mil/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.NAVAIRNewsStory&id=6479

 

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FRCSW Earns SECNAV Gold Level Energy Award

 

From FRC Southwest Almanac – Volume 9 – February 9, 2017

 

Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW) has earned the Secretary of the Navy’s (SECNAV) Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 Energy and Water Management Gold level award for FY 2014 environmental accomplishments.

 

SECNAV Ray Mabus presented the award to FRCSW Energy Program Manager Sarah Tuley in ceremonies Oct. 19 aboard the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) at Naval Base San Diego.

 

In his remarks, Mabus said that the Navy continues its efforts to advance energy independence by increasing alternative energy sources in the fleet and ashore by 2020.

 

FRCSW’s efforts recognized by the “Gold” level category designate a “very good to outstanding” energy and water conservation program. It is the eighth time in the past 12 years that the command has been awarded the “Gold” level category of recognition.

 

In total, more than 65 shore-based Navy and Marine Corps commands were awarded the “Gold” performance level, including Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Marine Corps Air Station Camp Pendleton and Naval Base Coronado.

 

One measure of a successful energy conservation program is by meeting compliance with executive order 13423 (EO 13423). Signed in January 2007, EO 13423 directs federal agencies to improve energy efficiencies by reducing water consumption, electricity usage and greenhouse gases by three percent per year.

 

The new executive order 13693, Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade, started in the beginning of FY16 which created the new baseline of FY15 and a yearly energy reduction of 2.5% moving forward to FY2025.

 

FRCSW surpassed EO 13423 requirements with a 4.6 percent reduction in energy consumption from FY 2014, and reduced its utility budget by more than $948,000 from the previous fiscal year.

 

The energy intensity dropped from 92.57 British Thermal Units (MMBTU)/thousand square feet (KSF) to 86.58 MMBTU/KSF.

 

Using an Energy Savings Performance Contract (ESPC) which enables federal agencies to partnership with energy service companies, the command will save an additional 24,704 million British thermal units (MBTU) of energy, and more than $2 million annually starting in FY17.

 

Furthermore, the ESPC will provide for state-of- the-art laboratories with daylight harvesting, LED lighting and condensing boiler plants that are 92 percent efficient.

 

In other conservation efforts Tuley said that FRCSW saved over $10,000 in water usage, bolstered by a 50 percent reduction in landscape watering and repairs to air leaks coupled with a steam management program in Building 472 during the summer, gained more than $100,000 in savings per month.

 

She added that many projects planned during FY 2015 are being completed this year.

 

“In Building 463, for example, we’ll be completing a full HVAC retrofit which includes installing two new boilers, 16 new air handlers and cooling towers. We anticipate a projected savings of a little more than $1 million a year in B-463 alone once this equipment is commissioned,” she said.

 

FRCSW will see massive energy savings in FY17 and moving forward each year with the current projects.

 

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WORLD/NATIONAL NEWS

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Breaking Defense

 

F-35A At Red Flag: 90% Mission Capable; Key Systems Up Every Flight

 

By Colin Clark

 

WASHINGTON: All indications from the pilots and commanders at Red Flag are that the F-35A performed far better than recent reports from the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation seemed to indicate.

 

The now-departed Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, Michael Gilmore, said the Lockheed Martin-built aircraft is “not effective and not suitable across the required mission areas and against currently fielded threats” and detailed 64 pages of problems, many of them with to do with the aircraft’s software.

 

The view from Red Flag was quite different. The 13 F-35As maintained a 90 percent mission capable rate during the three-week exercise, respectable for any combat aircraft. Planes did have problems, including one that lost a generator, but every issue was dealt with inside of 24 hours, according to two Air Force officers talking to reporters today at the end of the exercises.

 

“We flew these jets hard. We flew a ton of missions in Red Flag during those four weeks. I would strongly disagree (with the proposition) that the jets are not ready. We are ready to take these jets on the road whenever we’re asked to,” Lt. Col. George Watkins, 34th Fighter Squadron commander, told us. And he said the 3i software that controls the plane, its weapons, and sensors performed extremely well.

 

And the mission systems, which enable most of the plane’s combat capabilities, performed beyond pilots’ expectations. “All our mission systems were up every time,” Watkins said, noting that he would often fly his F-16 with one or more of its mission systems down and just have to find work-arounds. “For the F-35 at this Red Flag, every mission system was up every time.”

 

While Boeing continues to press the Navy to buy F/A-18E/F Super Hornets for the carrier fleet and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has ordered a review of the carrier version of the Joint Strike fighter, the F-35C, there was no doubt expressed by the pilots at today’s roundtable about whether they would prefer to fly a fourth-generation plane – like the F-16 or F-18 – or a fifth-gen plane like the F-35 for the Air Force: “The capabilities we are bringing are better than a fourth-gen aircraft. I would not want to go back and take an F-16 back into Red Flag,” Watkins said.

 

By the way, Navy electronic warfare EA-18G Growlers did fly at this Red Flag, with an Australian Wedgetail aircraft, along with British Typhoons, F-16s and F-15Cs.

 

How did the F-35A fare at striking targets with bombs? They dropped 27 bombs and hit 25 targets “exactly within a foot of where it was supposed to hit.” The two weapons that missed were caused by weapon failures, not the jet, Watkins said.

 

Although they don’t have an updated figure, the pilots told us that the F-35 kill ratio was higher than the 15-1 figure they initially reported. While F-35A pilots continue to say that their success against Integrated Air Defense Systems and ability to bomb targets is at least as important as their ability to kill enemy fighters, the fact is that the kill ratio is a simple baseline against which the plane can be judged.

 

F-35A At Red Flag: 90% Mission Capable; Key Systems Up Every Flight

 

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Chinese Weapons Reaching ‘Near-Parity’ With West – Study

 

(AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 14 FEB 17) … Jacques Klopp

 

LONDON – China is beginning to export its own weapon designs, including armed drones, worldwide and is reaching “near-parity” with the West in terms of military technology, according to a report on Tuesday.

 

The International Institute for Strategic Studies said that China’s official defence budget of $145 billion (137 billion euros) last year was 1.8 times higher than those of South Korea and Japan combined.

 

It also accounted for more than a third of Asia’s total military spending in 2016, the IISS annual Military Balance report said, adding that spending in Asia grew by five to six percentage points a year between 2012 and 2016.

Total global military spending instead fell by 0.4 percent in real terms in 2016 compared to 2015, largely due to reductions in the Middle East.

 

“China’s military progress highlights that Western dominance in the field of advanced weapons systems can no longer be taken for granted,” IISS director John Chipman said at a presentation in London.

 

“An emerging threat for deployed Western forces is that with China looking to sell more abroad, they may confront more advanced military systems, in more places, and operated by a broader range of adversaries,” Chipman said.

 

The report found that in terms of air power “China appears to be reaching near-parity with the West.”

 

It said one of China’s air-to-air missiles had no Western equivalent and that China had introduced a type of short-range missile that “only a handful of leading aerospace nations are able to develop.”

 

It said China was also developing “what could be the world’s longest range air-to-air missile.”

 

The report noted that Chinese military exports to Africa last year “were moving from the sale of Soviet-era designs to the export of systems designed in China.”

 

It said that Chinese-made armed drones had been seen in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.

 

The report also noted that European states are “only gradually” increasing their defence spending.

 

“While Europe was one of the three regions in the world where defence spending rose in 2015-16, European defence spending remains modest as a proportion of the continent’s GDP,” the study said.

 

In 2016, IISS found that only two European NATO states – Greece and Estonia – met the aim of spending 2.0 percent of their GDP on defence.

 

This was down from four European states that met the target in 2015 – Britain, Greece, Estonia and Poland.

Britain dipped to 1.98 percent of GDP, according to IISS calculations, although that figure was immediately disputed by Britain’s defence ministry.

But the IISS said it was more important that countries focus on upgrading their military equipment.

 

“This is made more urgent because of the degree to which Western states have reduced their equipment and personnel numbers since the Cold War,” it said.

 

https://www.yahoo.com/news/chinese-weapons-reaching-near-parity-west-study-135238342.html

 

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DoD Buzz

 

Marines Want Their F-35s Up to Five Years Early

 

By: Hope Hodge Seck

 

The pace at which the Marine Corps is getting its new F-35B Joint Strike Fighter aircraft is “anemic,” the service’s head of aviation said this week, adding that the Corps could handle a much faster ramp-up.

 

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Jon “Dog” Davis, deputy commandant of aviation, spoke highly of the Corps’ new fifth-generation aircraft. The first Marine F-35B squadron, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, relocated to Japan in January in a transition that Davis said was smooth and without incident.

 

Right now, he said, the Marine Corps owns 50 F-35Bs in two operational squadrons, one training squadron, and a test unit. The service declared initial operational capability for the aircraft in 2015.

 

“The bottom line is, we’ve had a very anemic ramp so we’ve been holding on to the older airplanes longer,” he said. “If asked by the American people to get the airplanes faster, I can guarantee we’d put them into play very quickly.”

 

Davis said he believes the Corps could accept up to 37 aircraft a year, between two and three squadrons’ worth. The current transition plan has the service receiving the last of the 353 F-35B and 67 F-35C aircraft it plans to buy in 2031, a rate that works out to fewer than 30 aircraft a year. The sped-up plan would see the Marine Corps complete its F-35 transition five years early.

 

“We’d transition squadrons faster is what we’d do,” Davis said. “We’d develop a plan where we’d be out of F-18 and Harrier completely by 2026.”

 

The F-35 is gradually replacing three legacy aircraft for the Marine Corps: the EA-6B Prowler, the AV-8B Harrier, and the F/A-18 Hornet, which will all gradually retire as they reach the end of their service lives.

 

In a real way, the Corps is betting the farm on the Joint Strike Fighter. The service plans to deploy VMFA-121 in the Pacific in the next year, and deploy another squadron aboard ship, likely in the Middle East, shortly thereafter.

 

Davis said he’s very confident in the platform, based on what he’s seen so far.

 

“It’s different than conventional fourth-generation fighters, like the Harrier and the Hornet, but I think it’s an exceptional capability. It’s just at the beginning of its production run and its development run, but I think we’ve got a winner on our hands here,” he said. “And the bottom line is, future generations of Marines will be able to fight in any clime and place with close-air support from this airplane. If I was a young [aviator], I would be fighting to get in this airplane.”

 

https://www.dodbuzz.com/2017/02/10/marines-want-f-35s-years-early/

 

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Trio of Studies Predict the U.S. Navy Fleet of 2030

 

USNI News, Feb. 14

 

Megan Eckstein and Sam LaGrone

 

Three congressionally mandated studies outline what the Navy of 2030 could look like and present three very different takes on how the service could tackle its roles and responsibilities in the future.

 

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis (CSBA), MITRE Corporation and the Navy completed the studies that were required by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 and would feed into the service’s future fleet design, Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson told USNI in August.

 

“There will be an operating and warfighting component to that new fleet design, new ways of getting at sea control and some of those other things that it describes. Some of that work is being done now, we’re using the fleet in different ways as we build that readiness and deploy that readiness forward,” Richardson said.

 

The three studies differ from the Navy’s Force Structure Assessment, which the service released in December. The FSA was crafted to create an outlook for the service using current platforms while the architectures are more open ended and could include new platforms and strategic ideas.

 

The studies were delivered to Congress on Friday, USNI News understands.

 

CSBA Study

The root of the CSBA study was based on how the U.S. would face armed conflict with China or Russia, which are “probably going to be the defining characteristics of the Navy of the future,” lead author Bryan Clark told USNI News on Friday.

 

The study plays up the speed to which expeditionary forces can arrive in conflict areas and spreads out the Navy’s offensive power away from a few heavily armed carrier strike groups. The plan includes light carriers paired with amphibious ready groups and full-sized air defense-capable multi-mission frigates and introduces a new small anti-ship guided-missile corvette to give the enemy more targets to handle in a major conflict.

 

For example, the corvette, which could resemble the small Visby-class used in the Swedish Navy, would field a limited air defense capability like the Enhanced SeaSparrow Missile and four to eight anti-ship missiles.

 

“The idea is this helps you distribute your surface fires so your [surface action groups] can be more numerous and create more places where the enemy has to consider the fires threat – surface fires or strike – as opposed to the Navy’s plan which has 108 larger surface combatants,” Clark said. “You’re really concentrating your fires in the fleet the Navy wants to have, and we’re arguing for a much more distributed surface fleet by taking advantage of some of the technologies you can get on some of these smaller combatants.

 

“The frigate would be a departure from the modular design of the Littoral Combat Ship and include a Vertical Launch System and an anti-submarine capability.

 

“We costed out the version we had was going to be about a billion a frigate, so it’s still expensive, but you can buy two frigates for the cost of one DDG and distribute your fires,” Clark said. The light carriers – about 45 to 50,000 tons – would initially be modified America-class amphibious assault ships and feature a catapult launching system so the amphibious ready group could launch larger fixed-wing aircraft to provide, for example, air search radar like on the carrier strike group. “The CVL is really designed to be part of the ARG, and it provides the long-range fires that Marines need for amphibious operations in this future environment,” Clark said.

 

“I need fires that accompany Marines to either do the softening up of the target or to provide [close-air support] or [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], so you need have more fixed-wing aircraft on the big deck to afford them the ability to do that.”

 

Ultimately, the driving force behind the CSBA study is that forces should already be operating near the site of potential conflict so they can be used quickly without waiting months to prepare a battle space – a key feature of fighting foes like the Russians or the Chinese.

 

One idea in that vein would be to build unmanned vehicle hubs in the Black Sea in Romania and Turkey that would create a constant U.S. presence in the region with out running afoul of the Montreaux Convention that creates specific limits for ships that enter through the Bosphorus Strait.

 

The surface and subsurface unmanned vehicles could provide defense and offensive power in the region quickly.

 

“I don’t want to garrison a bunch of ground troops in NATO like I did back in the Cold War,” Clark said. “You have to demonstrate to the Russians that you can trade the pain with them right away and not wait six months to build up to it. Right away you’re going to be able to poke them in response in what they do, so you can keep it proportional, you can keep that from escalating.”

 

Navy Study

Like CSBA, the Navy’s internal Future Force Assessment study focused on creating a distributed fleet that would put more firepower in more places and complicate and enemy’s targeting. In creating that future fleet, the Navy team made few recommendations for new platforms and instead focused on taking today’s platforms and netting them together, augmenting their battlespace awareness and firepower with various unmanned platforms, and creating new strike group constructs to go after potential threat sets.

 

This vision for 2030 operations is still carrier-focused, with today’s carrier strike group getting an upgrade into a “augmented carrier strike group” for round-the-clock warfighting operations when needed. Today’s CSG composition – with a Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in lieu of a cruiser – would be supplemented by an LHA/LHD amphibious assault ship and two Littoral Combat Ships. Those ships would support 27 Navy F-35C and F/A-18E/F strike-fighters, up to 23 Marine Corps F-35B vertical landing strike fighters, 14 EA-18G electronic attack aircraft, six E-2D airborne early warning aircraft, 14 MH-60R maritime strike helicopters, six MH-60S sea control helicopters, two CV-22 carrier logistics aircraft, 10 unmanned aerial vehicles dedicated to tanking, and up to six UAVs for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).

 

Bringing in the amphibious assault ship to carry strike fighters allows the aircraft carrier to bring along more electronic attack and ISR capabilities than today’s carrier strike group. Having strike fighters launching from two capital ships instead of one would also complicate the enemy’s targeting, the report notes, and would decrease the impact of a successful attack on a Navy ship.

 

Other than the addition of the amphib and LCSs to the CSG, this construct looks very much like today’s fleet. The report notes that “today’s fleet possesses most of the platform capacity and payload volume” to support this vision and that the Navy would have to focus its research and acquisition on boosting capability through prioritizing “increasing weapon lethality and more robust kill chains.” Specifically, “priority was given to next generation offensive surface warfare weapons for sea control within a contested maritime area, as well as multi-mode weapons capable of striking multiple types of targets.

 

“In addition to the augmented CSG, the Navy’s FFA also proposes several other strike group concepts. A “Long-Range Strike Surface Action Group” would consist of a Flight IIA DDG or a DDG-1000 with a smaller amphibious ship, with both ships carrying four to six UAVs for over the horizon targeting (OTH-T) and the amphibs carrying up to four unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) for long-range strike. This SAG would “deploy throughout the theater using a combination of organic sensors and the netted common operational picture to engage enemy forces – particularly naval targets.”

 

An “Integrated Air and Missile Defense SAG” consisting of two Ballistic Missile Defense-capable destroyers would “deploy to provide IAMD of critical infrastructure in the theater, particularly in the early days of conflict before land-based IAMD systems arrive.”

 

The collective capability of all these augmented CSGs and various SAGs operating in theater together “replaces combat power originating from a few nodes to a netted system of nodes able to sense, communicate and act in unison. At full implementation, in a major theater war the concept would provide several dispersed, netted CSGs as well as other combat nodes, supported by unmanned surface and air vehicles providing [ISR and targeting] and alternative weapons delivery options,” the report reads, noting elsewhere that the Navy would have to make investments in data links, communications and other enabling capabilities beyond what is planned today in support of the Navy Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) web of sensors and shooters.

 

Due to the FFA mostly relying on today’s platforms, as well as advances in unmanned systems that are already in their beginning stages of development, the Navy could achieve this vision of 2030 operations mostly by accelerating already-planned research.

 

The FFA report calls for new types of unmanned vehicles, such as armed unmanned surface vehicles that deploy from an amphib and “independently deployable large unmanned underwater vehicles” – possibly akin to the Extra-Large UUV (XLUUV) – to bring sensors and weapons into contested waters unsafe for manned submarines.

 

The study does recommend a few new variants of ship: a CV-LX light carrier, or “Short Take- Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant based on the LHA-6 class but modified for a larger flight deck, fuel, and aviation ordnance, weighing approximately 43K tons. It would carry up to 23 F-35Bs and would generate 30-40 sorties per day but not be able to support the Navy’s program of record airborne early warning or electronic attack aircraft.” A DDGH would be a Flight III variant that has only forward missile-launchers, with the aft missile launch system being replaced by enhanced aviation space that could support two helicopters and four unmanned vertical takeoff UAVs.

 

In sum, the plan requires a modest increase in manned ships – from today’s planned 304 ships in 2030 to 321 – and a decrease in manned aircraft – from 1,555 planned down to 1,220 – all of which would be supplemented by 713 unmanned air, surface and underwater vehicles of various sizes. Though efficient due to its reliance on netted nodes and unmanned systems, the study does not address the cruiser, LCS/frigate and possibly destroyer replacements that will be needed shortly after 2030. The Navy had previously worked on a Future Surface Combatant study that pointed to a family of systems approach, which could have nestled nicely with the FFA’s desire to have a destroyer plus a more aviation-centric destroyer, a frigate plus an unmanned small surface combatant, and the emphasis on carrier operations which necessitates a suitable air defense commander capability that currently only resides in the cruiser.

 

MITRE Study

 

On the other hand, MITRE took a very aggressive approach in its FFA, calling for a 414-ship fleet – with a preference towards expensive options such as large surface combatants over small ones, and both today’s nuclear-powered submarines and a diesel variant as well – and faster and longer-range weapons to support that fleet.

 

Though MITRE notes its ideal 2030 fleet is unaffordable, it still lays out a vision of 160 large surface combatants, 72 attack submarines, 14 aircraft carriers and two guided-missile submarines. In an attempt to reduce cost, the report recommends cutting LCS production to help pay for increased destroyer production, modifying the Ford-class carrier design or creating a conventional-powered carrier to reduce cost, scaling down the LX(R) amphibious dock landing ship replacement, and supplementing today’s nuclear-powered stealthy Virginia-class attack submarines with a less-expensive diesel sub to create a larger force for combatant commanders.

 

The current frigate plans – an evolution of the LCS, meant to create a more survivable multi-mission ship – would be scrapped, and a new frigate (FF(X)) would be designed to include an electromagnetic railgun with high velocity projectile, a Vertical Launching System with Tomahawk missiles, the ability to launch and recover unmanned surface vehicles, and the ability to rearm and refuel other ships’ helicopters.

 

The next destroyer would be large, displacing more than 10,000 tons, and the three Zumwalt-class DDG-1000 would serve as command and control ships when the current LCC command ships decommission.

 

Additionally, to supplement the surface combatants, the study recommends building a magazine ship (MG(X)) “to act as ‘wingmen’ for large surface combatants.” Each would have two to four weapons sections – with each section holding either an electromagnetic railgun with 1,000 rounds, 128 to 256 VLS cells for Standard Missiles, or 12 to 24 VLS cells for a Pershing 3-sized missile – and each MG(X) could be built with a different configuration to provide some variety to the fleet. The study proposes building these on the John Lewis-class fleet oiler hull with some modifications to increase speed.

 

In all, while the report talks about some cost-saving measures – such as scaling down the LX(R) plans to a modified Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport (EPF) or a modified Watson-class large, medium- speed roll-on/roll-off ships (LMSR), instead of keeping it at the current San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock (LPD) derivative – it proposes a lot of pricy solutions to address future operating concerns.

 

https://news.usni.org/2017/02/14/trio-of-studies-look-to-the-u-s-navy-fleet-of-2030

 

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Charted: Here’s How The Cost Of Each Version Of The F-35 Is Changing

 

The per-plane cost for the Navy and Marine Corps variants both rose before falling.

 

(DEFENSE ONE 15 FEB 17) … Marcus Weisgerber and Caroline Houck

 

It’s been no secret that the F-35’s nine-figure price tag has been falling, but measuring that drop has been difficult.

 

Moreover, when Pentagon officials and Lockheed Martin executives discuss the cost of the Joint Strike Fighter, they’re generally talking about the Air Force’s F-35A variant – down 60 percent since the first two jets were ordered in 2007 – and not the Marine Corps’ short-takeoff-vertical-landing F-35B or the Navy’s carrier-borne F-35C.

 

So we gathered data from Pentagon budget documents and other sources, and charted the cost of all three versions, from the first purchase in 2007 to the latest deal announced earlier this month.

 

The data show that the more complex B and C models were never as pricy as the first few A jets, which rolled off the line at a cool $297 million apiece. (All figures are given in 2016 dollars.) But while the A has gotten cheaper with each succeeding purchase – in December, a batch sold for $95 million apiece – the B and C have seen their prices rise and fall. As expected, both remain more expensive than the A.

 

Overall, the price of the B has dropped from more than $226 million in 2008 to $123 million today; the C, from $196 million in 2010 to $122 million.

 

These figures reflect the flyaway cost of each plane: the price of the airframe, engine, electronics, and other associated costs – basically, the amount it takes to purchase and assemble the parts.

 

There are other ways to calculate the “true” cost of an F-35. You can include all the design and development work that took the aircraft from idea to production model, or throw in maintenance, planned upgrades, and long-term operating costs.

 

For years, prime contractor Lockheed Martin – would simply tout the cost of the airframe itself, sans engine and other fees that added tens of millions of dollars to the cost of each plane.

 

For the past four years, the F-35 program office began releasing figures that they say are a more accurate representation of the true cost, a value that includes the airframe, engine and other fees.

 

So far, Lockheed has taken orders for 354 F-35s, including 267 for the U.S. military and the rest for various allies. In sum, those jets cost more than $45 billion, about $35 billion for the American planes and $10 billion for the foreign ones.

 

http://www.defenseone.com/business/2017/02/charted-heres-how-cost-each-version-f-35-changing/135451/

 

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U.S. Navy Revives Interest In Super Hornet Engine Upgrades

 

(FLIGHTGLOBAL 15 FEB 17) … Stephen Trimble

 

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Navy has revived interest in studying a major upgrade of the engine that powers the Boeing F/A-18E/F, EA-18G and two foreign fighters, including the possible addition of new technologies.

 

In early February, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) notified industry that it would ask GE Aviation to submit a proposal for a contract for the company’s engineers to perform a study on an “F414-GE-400 core enhancement evaluation.”

 

Such notifications are required when the government plans to award a contract without inviting competing bids. No other details about the contents or objectives of the study were provided in NAVAIR study, which is described only as an assessment of “how upgrades … could improve engine performance, as well as F/A-18E/F and EA-18G performance.”

 

Asked to comment on the contract notification, GE released a statement to FlightGlobal that was approved by NAVAIR.

 

“NAVAIR has expressed interest in GE evaluating how our latest engine technologies could be applied to the F414 Enhanced Engine,” GE says.

 

GE’s proposed Enhanced Engine design surfaced as a proposal several years ago as part of Boeing’s Super Hornet bid for India’s fighter competition. GE has tested the durability or thrust upgrades in laboratory rigs. NAVAIR also paid GE in late 2013 to evaluate the F414 Enhanced Engine, with the possibility of funding a development programme two years later, although that follow-on contract never materialised.

 

“We believe this study would be an update of the previous work to include new technologies,” says GE, without elaborating.

 

A term in the title of the latest NAVAIR study – “core enhancement” – suggests the navy is focusing now on the three modules in the core of the engine, which include the high-pressure compressor, combustor and high-pressure turbine.

 

Any new technologies would come on top of GE’s proposals for the F414 Enhanced Engine. In the core section, these included 3D aerodynamic shaping of the compressor blades and an improved cooling system for the turbine blades. GE had previously considered inserting ceramic matrix composites in the turbine of the F414 Enhanced Engine, but as of early 2014 had resolved to continue using metallic alloy blades.

 

NAVAIR’s interest in upgrading the F/A-18E/F’s propulsion system comes after a remarkable turn-around for the Boeing production line in St. Louis. A year ago, the programme appeared to be close to winding down after completing remaining deliveries to the USN. Then, Boeing won long-sought deals to deliver at least 28 Super Hornets to Kuwait, 36 fighters to Qatar and a commitment from Canada to buy at least 18 F/A-18E/Fs.

 

Moreover, U.S. Defense secretary Jim Mattis said in late January that the F/A-18E/F could continue to be used as an internal competitor against the F-35.

 

“The Super Hornet now appears to be one of the more solid aircraft programmes rather than on the brink of death,” says Richard Aboulafia, Teal Group vice president of strategy, speaking at the Pacific Northwest Aviation Alliance conference on 15 February.

 

https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/us-navy-revives-interest-in-super-hornet-engine-upgr-434227/

 

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Navy Selects Mayport Naval Station As Location For Drone Squadron

 

(FLORIDA TIMES-UNION 15 FEB 17) … Joe Daraskevich

 

A decision by the U.S. Navy to make Mayport Naval Station the East Coast home for the basing and maintenance of its new drone program means 400 additional personnel permanently stationed in Northeast Florida.

 

Mayport beat out Key West Naval Air Station and the NASA Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va., on Wednesday for the opportunity to become the East Coast Forward Operating Base for the MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aircraft System, according to the Navy.

 

The plan is to establish a launch and recovery site for four drones on the base as well as a maintenance hub for up to four more unmanned aircraft, according to the Navy. Jacksonville Naval Air Station is already the training hub for the drones, and it was also the home of the first operation squadron, VUP-19, according to the Navy.

 

The unmanned, unarmed, remote-controlled aircraft are meant to provide tactical and strategic mission capabilities as part of the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force already based in Jacksonville, according to the Navy.

 

“The MQ-4C Triton’s advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities bring enhanced battlespace awareness for the fleet to achieve full spectrum superiority,” said Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces.

 

The drones have multiple sensors and can fly about 24 hours at a time with the capability to survey 2.7 million square miles in a single mission. They are 48 feet long with a wingspan of 131 feet, according to the Navy. The drones are used to conduct operations over water, specifically over international waters 12 miles or more offshore.

 

Construction on the facility will start this year with the first drone expected to arrive in 2020, according to the Navy.

 

Politicians with ties to the Mayport community offered praise to the Navy on Wednesday after the base was announced as the future home for the drones.

 

“I am very pleased with the Navy’s decision, which will not only enhance our national security by helping the Navy carry out its important maritime surveillance missions, but is also a huge victory for the Jacksonville community, further strengthening our partnership with the Navy,” said U.S. Rep. John Rutherford.

 

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson also applauded the decision Wednesday after writing a letter in April to the secretary of the Navy recommending both Florida locations as prime candidates due to their proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

 

Nelson also cited the ongoing maritime patrol operations at Mayport as a reason why the base should be chosen. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio also sent a letter to the secretary in June to advance the push to bring the drones to Florida.

 

“Florida’s military community plays a vital role in defending our nation, and the Triton system is a key component of the Navy’s maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions,” Rubio said Wednesday.

 

The Navy completed an environmental assessment to analyze the impact on the communities surrounding the three potential bases. But the results showed no significant environmental impact at any of the three locations.

So the major factor in the decision was financial, according to the Navy. The fact that existing facilities were already in place made it the most affordable option of the three.

 

Point Mugu Naval Air Station in California has already been selected as the West Coast home base for the Triton program. According to the Navy, three locations outside the continental United States will also be selected.

 

http://jacksonville.com/news/2017-02-15/navy-selects-mayport-naval-station-location-drone-squadron

 

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Oops. Using Wrong Lubricant Does Millions In Damages To 3 Navy Planes

 

(NORFOLK VIRGINIAN-PILOT 09 FEB 17) … Brock Vergakis

 

NORFOLK – Days before the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush set out from Norfolk last month, the Navy had to scramble to fix a major problem with the ship’s squadron of early warning, command and control aircraft.

The engines on three of the squadron’s four E-2C Hawkeyes had been damaged and needed to be replaced.

 

The culprit?

 

The wrong oil was used in each $80 million twin-turboprop aircraft.

 

“The damage occurred over a period of time and it involved the use of a lubricant not approved or specified for these engines,” Naval Air Force Atlantic spokesman Mike Maus said in response to questions from The Virginian-Pilot. “A thorough investigation is being conducted to determine how and why this procedure was allowed.”

An initial estimate placed the damage at least $2 million, according to the Naval Safety Center, putting it into its most serious classification for damage.

 

But that figure is automatically based on 15 percent of the cost of all six engines and was made before a full inspection could occur, according to Cmdr. Dave Hecht, a Naval Air Force Atlantic spokesman.

 

“When the engines are inspected for the damage we are optimistic that the repair costs will be less than $2 million,” Hecht said late Thursday.

 

It wasn’t immediately clear when the need to replace the engines became apparent, but the Naval Safety Center listed the mishap date as Jan. 19 – two days before the Bush deployed.

 

The replacements come at a time when the Navy says that half its aircraft can’t fly because they’re awaiting maintenance or lack needed spare parts.

 

“While our first team on deployment is ready, our bench – the depth of our forces at home – is thin. It has become clear to me that the Navy’s overall readiness has reached its lowest level in many years,” Adm. Bill Moran, vice chief of naval operations, said in prepared testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday in a plea for increased funding.

 

“Time is running out. Years of sustained deployments and constrained and uncertain funding have resulted in a readiness debt that will take years to pay down.”

 

The affected Hawkeye squadron consists of four planes and is based at Norfolk Naval Station’s Chambers Field.

 

It’s unclear how long the investigation will take.

 

After the maintenance setback, Maus said all four aircraft assigned to the “Bear Aces” of Airborne Early Warning Squadron 124 joined the Bush on deployment the day it left Norfolk.

 

“The squadron is fully capable of performing” its mission, Naval Air Force Atlantic said in a statement.

 

The Bush left Norfolk on Jan. 21 on a seven-month deployment. The Bush has been operating in the Mediterranean Sea before transiting to the Middle East. The Bush arrived in Souda Bay, Greece, for a port visit Monday.

 

http://pilotonline.com/news/military/local/oops-using-wrong-lubricant-does-millions-in-damages-to-navy/article_3a843aca-541b-5ded-b300-c68ea9b49bc9.html

 

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Marine Corps Digging Out Of Flight-Hour Deficiency With Higher Aircraft Readiness Rates

 

(DEFENSE DAILY 09 FEB 17) … Dan Parsons

 

Not since 2012 has the Marine Corps had enough available aircraft to provide pilots the minimum monthly flight hours to maintain basic proficiency.

 

A combination of high operational tempo, aging aircraft and insufficient funding resulted in less than half the service’s aircraft – rotorcraft and fixed-wing – able to fly when last officially measured, according to Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant for aviation.

 

On Dec. 30 the Marine Corps owned 1,065 total aircraft and just 439 were ready basic aircraft (RBA), Davis said during a recent meeting with reporters at the Pentagon.

 

“In the aggregate, if I am a businessman, I am underwater right now because I don’t have enough power tools to make my flight-hour goal,” Davis said.

 

“Our tactical aviation – our jets – are some of the oldest in the Department of Defense, certainly in the Department of the Navy by a factor of two in some places. Our need to recapitalize airplanes is large.”

 

The need to reset and recapitalize is especially egregious in the legacy fleets of Boeing F-18A/B/C/D Hornets. Of a total 171 jets “in reporting,” meaning they are under Davis’ command, 72 were ready to fly as of Dec. 30 including training and reserve aircraft.

 

Of those, 124 jets are assigned to active duty “gun squadrons.” On a daily basis, the Marine Corps needs 77 aircraft for its active fighter pilots to log enough flight hours to maintain proficiency. It had 56.2 available in December.

 

“I’m 20 airplanes shy of what I need to be able to make my flight-hour goal,” Davis said. “That’s a large number and that leads to the hours we’re producing now in hours per pilot per month.”

 

The aircraft are necessarily unsafe, but require ever more maintenance to make them safe for flight. Several fatal mishaps late last year were attributed to fatigue – of pilots, not aircraft – and pilot error, both of which are less likely when pilots can train, Davis said.

 

“We’re not seeing materiel problems,” Davis said. “We’re flying safe airplanes. We are not flying safe airplanes enough.”

 

The Marine Corps has a plan to restore the number of available fighter aircraft and in turn restore pilots proficiency through increased training flight hours.

 

Since 2014, the trend line has generally moved upward toward more available aircraft of all types, Davis said. In Dec. 2014, the service had 378 total “ready basic aircraft,” meaning they are ready and cleared to fly with the turn of key. In December 2016, there were 439 total aircraft ready to fly. The peak of readiness for 2016 was 473 aircraft at the end of October, according to Marine Corps statistics.

 

“That slope is a positive slope,” Davis said. “F-18s are included in there. Bottom line is that number, it’s tracking up.”

 

Last fiscal year the Marine Corps set a goal to return 43 total aircraft to a ready state but did one better at 44. This fiscal year the goal is to restore 35 total aircraft to the flight line, Davis said.

 

“I won’t know until 1 Oct. next year how we did,” he said. “I can’t collapse that gap any faster than I am right now with the funding restrictions we’ve been under in the past.”

 

An increasing influx of Lockheed Martin -built F-35 Joint Strike Fighters will begin to alleviate the pressure on F-18 fleets, Davis said. A recent analysis of the AV-8B Harrier fleet found that those aircraft have better readiness rates than the F-18 so the service has shuffled the order in which squadrons will transition to the fifth-generation F-35.

 

“Because we have additional life in Harrier, we decided that we’re going to move F-18s left,” Davis said. “We’ve actually got much better numbers out of the Harrier than we were getting … everything from the readiness numbers to the hours-per-pilot are better.”

 

VMFA-122 moved up and will be the next F-35B squadron and will move from MCAS Beaufort, S.C., to Yuma, Ariz., in 2018. The next squadron in line is VMFA-314, which is another F-18 squadron stationed in Miramar, Calif. That unit will transition to the F-35C, the Marine Corps’ first carrier-launched F-35 squadron. Following will be an F-18D squadron also stationed at Miramar that will move into the F-35B.

 

“So the next three squadrons to transition will be F-18 squadrons,” he said. “That will kind of help me take the … good F-18s we have and with three less squadrons get a better density of jets out there.”

 

Even with an influx of cash, the Marine Corps has a finite capacity to reset aircraft. The service has asked for additional funding in fiscal 2017 for spare parts and other accessories that would accelerate meeting its goal six months early in 2019, Davis said.

 

“That’s when we come up out of water, unless someone decides to build me a lot of airplanes faster,” he said.

 

Marine Corps Digging Out Of Flight-Hour Deficiency With Higher Aircraft Readiness Rates