F-35: “Fighting And Sustaining As A Team”

Shaping a Fleet Sustainment Strategy For The Next Generation Fighter Pilots

An Interview With General Art Cameron (Ret.), Director, F-35 Global Sustainment Customer Alignment, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company

(Retired) General Cameron (Credit: SLD, September 2010)SLD, September 2010

11/06/2010 – During a visit to the Lockheed Martin F-35 facility in September 2010, SLD sat down with (Retired) General Art Cameron to discuss the approach to F-35 sustainment.  With his long experience in USAF maintenance, the focus of the discussion was upon comparing that experience with the evolving approach to building a sustainment approach to the F-35.  At the heart of the shift is the potential to build a fleet-wide maintenance approach to the services and coalition partner’s sustainment capabilities.

Eglin F-35 Academic Training Center (Credit: SLD, October 2010)
Eglin F-35 Academic Training Center Credit: SLD, October 2010

SLD: What is your background in fighter maintenance and how does that impact on your thinking about the F-35?

General Cameron: I spent 33 years in the USAF doing fighter sustainment, from turning wrenches on F-106’s in Northern Michigan in the late 70’s to working the latest fifth generation fighter, the F-22.  While I’ve worked all Air Force fighters, most of my career was with the F-16.  I worked F-16’s at the first operational base, Hill AFB, in 1980.  I worked F-16 flight test at Edwards AFB.  I deployed with the F-16.  And, I led the MRO&U effort on the F-16 at Ogden Air Logistics Center.  The F-16 was (still is) a great airplane.  However, it was built like most previous weapons systems, with sustainment not being an integral part of the design.

Aircraft operational capabilities have become evolutionary and revolutionary over the decades but, reliability and maintainability has not kept pace with the increased operational capabilities.  The F-35, in many respects, is the first aircraft that has sustainment as an integral part of the aircraft design.

Aircraft operational capabilities have become evolutionary and revolutionary over the decades but, reliability and maintainability has not kept pace with the increased operational capabilities.  The F-35, in many respects, is the first aircraft that has sustainment as an integral part of the aircraft design.

Ogden Air Logistics Center (Credit: http://www.hill.af.mil/)

Ogden Air Logistics Center (Credit: http://www.hill.af.mil/)

The original fifth generation aircraft, the F-22, was light years ahead in terms of sustainment with some of the integrated sustainment systems, the data management systems and the health management systems that are onboard the airplane.  The next Fifth generation iteration, the F-35, is evolutionary and revolutionary ahead of even the F-22.

What we have learned in aircraft development is that the key to operational capability is to ensure aircraft availability.  Therefore, the big difference in the F-35 is that it’s built as an “Air System” which comprises both the aircraft and the sustainment system.   Sustainment has been built in from day one in this airplane.  We like to say “sustainment is as integral to the aircraft as the wing”.

SLD:  With regard to the F-16 versus the F-35, you’re talking 40 years difference. And as you mentioned the F-35 like other modern programs has been designed with sustainability in mind, something we simply did not do 40 years ago.  What impacts will that have on the ability to sustain the F-35?

General Cameron: The F-35 was designed with a focus on affordability, availability and interoperability.  The services directed us through the operational requirement documents to build sustainment into the aircraft.  The nine F-35 participating countries said that the program would be worked under a “common solution” with a shared supply chain, shared training, and shared development with all the countries baring the cost of the common sustainment solution.

Current global economic realities are driving changes to legacy sustainment systems.  My gut tells me that a common solution has to be more affordable and the facts bear this out.  Think about it, one common supply chain vice 13 separate supply chains. One common fleet management systems system that has fleet-wide visibility of assets and systemic fleet issues vice 13 separate systems that have no linkage to each other.

There are also significant sustainment interoperability issues that we never had before.  Now our allies can share assets when needed during contingencies without the added complexity of crossing multi-service/multi-country sustainment systems.  The advantages of a common sustainment system are staggering.  However, the F-35’s sustainment system is not only revolutionary, it’s a significant change to the way the services presently do business and it’s a culture shift and changing culture is hard!

SLD: One of the problems is that much of the public debate looks at the initial costs of an aircraft. It doesn’t take into account the actual question of the cost of operations. One of the problems in the public debate seems to be an inability to factor in choices  where affordability in operations is considered as important as whatever you think the IOC cost is.

General Cameron: You have to remember the genesis of why the F-35 was designed.  It was designed because the operational costs on legacy airplanes are increasing exponentially to the point where the services are mortgaging off hardware and manpower to keep old iron flying.  At the same time, aircraft availability has been steadily decreasing. Dwindling service sustainment budgets forces them to take risk in sustainment funding that has the long term impact of slowly eroding the fleet health. The F-35 was designed to counter this with a highly reliable and maintainable aircraft, scalable availability based on service/country needs, shared support with the sustainment costs based on the percentage of the total aircraft purchased (vice each service/country building a standalone sustainment infrastructure).

Ease of Access Panels Facilitate Maintenance of the F-35.  Pictured is the final test aircraft for the USMC (Credit: Lockheed Martin, September 2010)Ease of access panels facilitates maintenance of the F-35.
Pictured is the final test aircraft for the USMC.
Credit: Lockheed Martin, September 2010

SLD: Another issue that is not widely understood is that the F-35 is really a beneficiary of the entire F-22 development process.  And you were talking a bit earlier about the prognostic capability on the F-22.  What has been the experience with the F-22 maintenance?

General Cameron: While the F-22 and the F-35 are both Fifth Generation Fighters, you have to remember that the F-22 is 186 aircraft being flown by one service.  The F-35 will be well over 3,000 aircraft, with nine participating countries (comprised of 13 unique services), and an un-told number of future FMS purchasers.

The real beauty of the F-35 program is the fact that you can look out across the entire fleet, all the international partners, all the domestic partners, and tell immediately if there are systemic fleet wide issues.  The program can share assets to ensure a surge capability to wherever it’s needed and can share the robust supply chain that’s already established on the F-35 production line.

Our experiences with the F-16 highlight another major advantage of the F-35 approach.   The F-16 has been a highly successful program.  However, configuration management has been a challenge because it has been handled at the individual service level. Therefore, there are roughly 130 configurations of the F-16.  The operators, when prosecuting the air battle, have to know the precise configuration of each F-16 in order to know what capabilities it brings to the fight.  The sustainment of the F-16 is even more challenging with spares not being interchangeable among F-16 variants. The F-35 is a common configuration so interoperability is the key in both operations and sustainment.  In addition, training (both pilot and maintenance) becomes that more relevant and affordable.  The pilots will fly the same software in the simulators that they’ll fly in the aircraft and the maintainers will train on the same systems they’ll actually see in the field.  Any operational level military member can quickly see the advantages.

The real beauty of the F-35 program is the fact that you can look out across the entire fleet, all the international partners, all the domestic partners, and tell immediately if there are systemic fleet wide issues.  The program can share assets to ensure a surge capability to wherever it’s needed and can share the robust supply chain that’s already established on the F-35 production line. Our experiences with the F-16 highlight another major advantage of the F-35 approach.   The F-16 has been a highly successful program.  However, configuration management has been a challenge because it has been handled at the individual service level. Therefore, there are roughly 130 configurations of the F-16.  The operators, when prosecuting the air battle, have to know the precise configuration of each F-16 in order to know what capabilities it brings to the fight.  The sustainment of the F-16 is even more challenging with spares not being interchangeable among F-16 variants. The F-35 is a common configuration so interoperability is the key in both operations and sustainment.

The F-35 program has learned from the F-22 and listened to the maintainers on the line.  The F-22 is a great stealth platform.  The designers on the F-22 learned from previous stealth platforms (F-117, B-2) and designed an “easier” (than previous stealth platforms) to maintain stealth aircraft. And, the F-35 has learned from the F-22.  Lower MTBF parts are placed behind easy to access panels, parts are not double layered, stealth degradation can be easily measured on the line without sophisticated and cumbersome diagnostic equipment, panels can be reconfigured to accommodate accessing parts, and the coatings are durable and can be easily repaired.  The F-35 has benefited from the experiences of previous LO platforms.

SLD: There will be a common training facility at Eglin AFB for the joint pilots and trainers for the F-35 shaping a common approach as well. It seemed that the instructors would come from very different kinds of operational experience.  You should be able to build an incredible library of knowledge of diverse operational experiences on maintenance of the aircraft—which could then shape real domain knowledge in a way we’ve never had before: this could prove quite exciting?

General Cameron: This is not only exciting; it’s true goodness for the warfighters. This joint training takes place at the Integrated Training Center.  It’s truly a genesis of design.  And, it starts with the Command construct at the 33rd Wing.  The Wing Commander is an Air Force Colonel, his deputy a Marine Colonel.  The Maintenance Group Commander is a Marine Colonel and her deputy is an Air Force Colonel.  The Training Center Commander is a Navy Captain.  A masterpiece of joint design.

When I retired from the US Air Force after 33 years I wanted to go to work on a program that I thought was going to shape the future.  The F-35 was designed to fix the aircraft affordability and availability problems.  I knew working this program was going to be hard because in order to get the maximum benefit out of this program some existing ways of doing sustainment within the services had to change.  However, the truly exciting part of the F-35, from a warfighter perspective, is the interoperability piece of the weapons systems with our allies and own US services.  We often talk of the affordability and availability mandate but, it’s the interoperability piece that’s truly revolutionary.

Let me give you just one example of why that’s needed.

When I was supporting the Bosnia war in the 1990’s in Northern Italy, we had all the US services and many international partners flying out of our air base.  On occasion our supply system couldn’t respond fast enough to get us the parts we needed to meet the next day’s flying schedule.  I knew that the other services and our allies potentially had that part; probably right on the same base, but I didn’t have visibility of their supply systems.  So, my folks would physically visit each unit to check their part availability.  Then, when we occasionally found the needed part, there was no formal process to transfer it from our own US services and certainly no process to transfer from our allies to us. So, think about this.  We’re at war. And we couldn’t get a part from the Navy/Marine side of the base to the Air Force side of the base.  That’s all within our own US services! We also had Italian, Spaniards and other countries flying off the same field.  There was no way I could’ve shared any parts with them. Okay.  Now fast forward just 15 years and now we’re flying the F-35; all flying the same airplane; all using a common configuration, a common supply chain, same training, same everything.  We don’t need to have a process to move parts from the services or our allies; it’s one supply chain..

When I was supporting the Bosnia war in the 1990’s in Northern Italy, we had all the US services and many international partners flying out of our air base.  On occasion our supply system couldn’t respond fast enough to get us the parts we needed to meet the next day’s flying schedule.  I knew that the other services and our allies potentially had that part; probably right on the same base, but I didn’t have visibility of their supply systems.  So, my folks would physically visit each unit to check their part availability.  Then, when we occasionally found the needed part, there was no formal process to transfer it from our own US services and certainly no process to transfer from our allies to us. So, think about this.  We’re at war. And we couldn’t get a part from the Navy/Marine side of the base to the Air Force side of the base.  That’s all within our own US services! We also had Italian, Spaniards and other countries flying off the same field.  There was no way I could’ve shared any parts with them. Okay.  Now fast forward just 15 years and now we’re flying the F-35; all flying the same airplane; all using a common configuration, a common supply chain, same training, same everything.  We don’t need to have a process to move parts from the services or our allies; it’s one supply chain.

Interoperability is the beauty of the F-35 program. We can go to war as a team and operate as a team.  Affordability and Availability are obviously imperatives but interoperability is the key component the F-35 program that will enhance the warfighter’s effectiveness and lethality.

SLD: When people use the term interoperability, it is rare when one refers to it as sustainment or logistics interoperability.

General Cameron: It’s a key tenant to the program. We fight as a team.  And if we’re going to fight as a team, then we need to figure out how to work together as a team from a sustainment perspective.

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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