Our Charge Re-Thinking Sustainment

By Lt Gen Warren Berry, DCS/Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection, AF/A4

You make it look easy! We know it isn’t, maintaining and supporting a 28-year old, 5,000+ aircraft fleet. But the fact that you do is a testament to our Airmen’s ingenuity, dedication and enthusiasm in generating lethal, combat-ready equipment in support of our national interests. You are an amazing cadre of talented professionals, and I thank you for what you do every day. I’m honored to be the AF/A4 charged with helping you succeed.

Secretary Wilson clearly lays out several of the initiatives we’re pursuing to improve the way we sustain our fleets. In her article lies our charge: to fundamentally re-think how we sustain our aircraft in order to improve readiness and, ultimately, reduce cost. I would also propose that there is an implied task that can’t be lost or understated. We must also make it easier for you to help us recover that readiness faster. Whether you work on the flightline, the backshop, the parts store, the aerial port, or any other facet of logistics and sustainment, we owe you the tools that will help you succeed—tools that will help unlock the unrealized capacity in our sustainment enterprise.

Those tools are certainly highlighted in the Secretary’s message. But let me take a moment or two to expand on some of these a bit more and tell you exactly how they will help you. In December, we experienced our first truly predictive alert from the C-5 CBM+ effort. An on-board sensor reported a condition where the thrust reverser was on the verge of failing. The sensor didn’t trip any on-board indications to the aircrew, but the underlying aircraft data that we downloaded after flight told us the thrust reverser performance was clearly degrading. Rather than flying to fail, AMC sent a message to the unit recommending the aircraft be restricted to local sorties and generated a work order to troubleshoot the condition at the C-5’s next scheduled maintenance (10 days later). Sure enough, the sensor checked bad.

Think of the power of this tool when applied ever more broadly. We’ll change unscheduled maintenance into scheduled maintenance, allowing us to change parts at a time and place of our choosing. We’ll have better parts demand data, helping us eliminate time you’re simply waiting for a part in order to green up an aircraft. We’ll reduce down time, and prevent MRTs which take seasoned maintainers and equipment away from scheduled sorties. In the end, it gives us more predictability…for the aircraft and for you.

We continue to push forward in Additive Manufacturing. Like CBM+, this will alter the equation of how long you’ll have to wait for a part. In fact, coupled with CBM+, this becomes a true game changer. While we have not yet 3-D printed flight/safety critical parts, rest assured we are close. In fact, our AFLCMC experts at Wright-Patterson additively manufactured a small, fully functional turbine engine. Commercial industry leaders like GE have made the leap to safety critical parts, and as you can see, we are not far behind. This is yet another milestone that will materially (pardon the pun) impact our ability to re-think sustainment and improve your ability to deliver readiness.

Laser depaint, another initiative we are actively pursuing, is in use at our depots today. As we mature the technology and the procedures, it will be coming to the field as well. Imagine a far more environmentally friendly process that doesn’t require cumbersome PPE and massively reduces environmental hazards. That’s a process that’s not just easier and quicker for you, but far safer as well.

Quite frankly, we also owe you a 21st century information system. With AMC and AFRC leading the way, we’ve developed and deployed mobile apps that will allow you to document maintenance at the point of need. The first iteration of Virtual Forms for G081 is available across the mobility enterprise, and the IMDS mobile app (called BRICE) is in test with our A-10s at Davis-Monthan. Imagine not having to re-enter your maintenance actions in multiple IT systems. A novel concept, right? It’s here, and we are committed to scale up quickly.

And all of this is just the beginning. We’re exploring how to tap into even more of that unrealized capacity across the sustainment portfolio. We’re bringing Theory of Constraints to sortie generation, mimicking the successes we’ve seen across other industrial processes. We’re looking at ways to implement more of a fleet management approach to our weapon systems, much like commercial airlines. We need to collapse our supply chains and unlock the potential of our entire repair network, removing some artificial barriers between retail and wholesale and between on-equipment and off-equipment. And we need to provide you with training tools like virtual and augmented reality that enhance your learning and help you become more productive, more quickly.

Our charge is clear, and we have our work cut out for us. But all of this is within reach, and we have a unique opportunity to scale these initiatives rapidly to impact our readiness and, just as importantly, impact your ability to work smarter and not harder. You are instrumental in how we re-think sustainment, but we won’t recover readiness on the backs of our Airmen. These initiatives are key to all of us moving forward together…faster…as our National Defense Strategy demands. Thanks again for all you do! It’s an exciting time to be in our business!

Lt. Gen. Warren D. Berry is Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Arlington, Virginia. General Berry is responsible to the Chief of Staff for leadership, management and integration of Air Force logistics readiness, aircraft, munitions and missile maintenance, civil engineering and security forces, as well as setting policy and preparing budget estimates that reflect enhancements to productivity, combat readiness and quality of life for Air Force people.

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