By: Cmdr. Kelly Borden, VFA-122 Maintenance Officer
Achieving 343 mission-capable Super Hornets was a great accomplishment. It was no small feat; it was a herculean effort we should all be proud of. Here at Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore, our focus is now on sustaining these numbers.
Last year, when then-Secretary Mattis ordered the Navy to get to 80% mission-capable, we at the West Coast Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) for the F/A-18E/F, VFA-122, had just 17 mission-capable jets out of 46 available. We needed parts, equipment and experienced personnel.
As NSS-A (Naval Sustainment System–Aviation) kicked off, we started to transfer our long-term down aircraft to the Naval Aviation Maintenance Center for Excellence, which enabled us to better focus our resources on our flyable jets. We gave them more than a dozen long-term down aircraft, and our numbers dipped to 11 mission-capable out of 32 total. As a result, we started to notice a reduction in distractions and an increased focus on making mission-capable aircraft that were immediately able to go on the flight schedule.
In January, representatives from the Boston Consulting Group came to NAS Lemoore. These commercial aviation experts helped airlines maintain exceptional aircraft mission-capable rates. There was some skepticism at first; we’re not exactly a for-profit operation but for the most part, we were willing to jump headlong into their reforms. After all, we had been doing things the same way for years and were looking at many long-term down jets; what did we have to lose?
One of the most powerful reforms we made is developing crew leads for each individual aircraft. Each jet coming into the hangar for scheduled or unscheduled maintenance now has a first-class or sometimes a second-class petty officer in charge of it. That Sailor is responsible for taking ownership of the aircraft to coordinate all maintenance requirements, leading a team of personnel to complete all maintenance, and returning the aircraft to the flight schedule by the expected delivery date. The petty officers are telling us what they need, instead of the other way around. The fact that our maintainers are more invested in the results and being held accountable has driven our success. It also has allowed our chief petty officers to work the big-picture details and reduce barriers for all the jets.
After several months of implementing the O-level (squadron) reforms, enthusiasm increased, and we turned a corner. We started to realize we were capable of meeting the 80 percent goal, something that many thought we couldn’t do. Our mission-capable aircraft rate has increased every month. Today, we have 31 mission-capable jets out of 42 at VFA-122. We have bigger classes of replacement aircrew and bigger training detachments—and we are moving the needle for combat readiness.
NSS-A is the first time in my 29-year career that we have seen the Navy take a holistic approach to attack Super Hornet readiness. We have had tremendous support from the air wings, Strike Fighter Wings, the Fleet Readiness Center, the supply and engineering communities—the list goes on and on. I’m happy to be a part of it.
Our Sailors have increased their knowledge and experience under the crew lead approach, and they’ll be better chiefs as a result. If we continue to get the resources and support from our leadership, we are confident that we can sustain strike fighter readiness and keep improving. Navy leadership has removed some of the barriers, and through the hard work of our Sailors, we’re putting more jets into the air. Now our job is to keep ’em flying.