The F-35, Eglin and the Maintenance Revolution


09/01/2011 by Robbin Laird

Second Line of Defense sat down with Col. Laura Sampsel shortly after her departure from Eglin and retirement from the USMC. During her time at Eglin, Col. Laura Sampsel, 33rd Maintenance Group commander, was responsible for the bed-down and operational readiness of the three variants of the Joint Strike Fighter F-35 aircraft. The primary mission is to enable the production of pilots and maintainers for future training and combat units.

Secretary Wynne with his years of industrial, and acquisition experience was the dialogue partner with Sampsel during this interview and provides an interesting look inside the transition ahead for maintenance practices for the three services moving ahead with the new airplane.  This interview will be published later this month.

But the core challenge posed by the aircraft to the services is clearly one of significant cultural change.

A key proposition which came out of their dialogue and central to understanding the challenges and opportunities inherent in the program for the evolution of maintenance practices was as follows:

To align the competencies of the maintainers with the operational paradigm and capabilities of the aircraft.

The digital revolution does not need the same skill sets or organization of maintainers.  And as such, a strategic realignment is both possible and necessary with regard to maintenance.  For the USMC this clearly means more rifleman, and less maintainers. Something that reminds one of the story about the mother who asked the USMC recruiter what the chances were that her child would see combat with the USMC.  The recruiter with enthusiasm replied:  “I can assure you that they are excellent.”

To set the background for the discussion, we are reprinting part of an article from The Eglin Dispatch with regard to the maintenance group at Eglin.

As the 33rd Maintenance Group grows steadily in population, they are preparing the way for integrated training and maintenance of the Department of Defense’s newest joint fighter – the F- 35 Lightning II.

“It is the logistics behind the aircraft that makes this jet go,” said Col. Laura Sampsel, 33rd MXG commander. “When our team of professional maintainers develops the standard, we’ll be able to positively affect policies and practices for all three services and bring logistical power to this country like we’ve never seen before. Our war fighters here are doing very difficult work right now to prepare for the most powerful weapons system this nation will employ.”

Currently there are approximately 110 Airmen, Marines and Sailors assigned to the group. To keep 59 aircraft flying training sorties in the near future, the 33rd MXG is authorized to have approximately 522 personnel from various maintenance specialties.

Many maintainers have already attended F-135 propulsion and Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) familiarization courses. All transition personnel take the course until Jan 2012, when the field training detachment will begin instructing. Detachment 19 will provide the courses for advanced skill levels according to Lt. Col. Michael Miles, 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander…..

The direction and structure laid out by this initial group of personnel within the 33rd will impact DoD as a whole to include those operational units that will take the aircraft into battle. Air Education and Training Command and Air Combat Command site activation teams are already visiting the MXG for information, according to Miles.

“During future combat operations, the tri-services could be based overseas together and be able to generate F-35 sorties in tandem. They will have commonality in maintenance departments and the spare parts to get the job done,” said the colonel.

To prepare for what’s ahead, 33rd FW teams travel to F-35 test locations at Ed- wards Air Force Base, Calif., and Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., where joint classes are held.

“The MXG is integral to each service meeting their IOC. They administer all the critical maintenance operations programs supporting F-35 flight operations” said Miles. “The MXG will need to be ahead of any potential technical issues, use sound decision making process, This advanced skills training of the ALIS sets the course for future mission success of generating safe, reliable, and effective JSF sorties to support the training syllabi for all branches of the U.S. military.

“They definitely walk out of here with solid knowledge about the F-35 as a system,” Miles said regarding the student’s education. “We are doing any and all things possible to get folks familiar with the differences between this jet and legacy aircraft they’ve worked on in the past.”

These experts in the field have been meeting as small-integrated teams with contractor support to run demonstration/validation exercises. For example, the 33rd AMXS will table top several key processes like sortie generation, material handling, joint technical data verification and cannibalization, how to move aircraft parts off one jet to another. Within the JSF program there are unique challenges such as aircraft delivery schedules, contractor parts supply and service specific requirements.

“With the three F-35 variants being approximately 65 percent common, we may be able to increase our efficiency by utilizing maintainers across the 33rd FW fleet,” said Miles. “One of our priorities is to work out how to accomplish this and satisfy service requirements when working across the variants. Our biggest efficiencies will be gained in the 33rd MXS maintenance shops of wheel and tire, egress, non-destructive inspection, structural maintenance, fuels, and aerospace ground equipment/support equipment.”

Wing leadership is confident that the Department of Defense can gain better business practices by capitalizing on the work the 33rd FW has done to find similar service processes and develop integrated ways to perform common military tasks.

“We’ve been given the opportunity to define the paradigm here and create something really great,” said Sampsel. “Logistically, it’s bigger than anything most of us have ever seen. We have a responsibility to set this program up for success for our nation, international partners and especially for those who’ll maintain and fly this new weapons system.”

February 25, 2011