By Robbin Laird
In my last article focused on CH-53K sustainment, I highlighted how the next generation digital aircraft reshape how sustainment is managed and executed. I concluded that “the CH-53K is a smart aircraft birthed in a digital age that is doing support and manufacturing differently. In other words, it’s symmetrical with a significant strategic change, rather than being a legacy system struggling to adapt to the new age.”
Even though the digital nature of the aircraft allows for significant innovation in maintenance and sustainment of the fleet, for its full effects to be realized, the process whereby maintenance is managed is crucial in providing a framework for shaping a more effective way ahead.
In the interview with Pierre Garant, we discussed the performance-based logistics (PBL) experience with Sikorsky helicopters and how this experience shaped a core process within which new digital aircraft would be able to leverage and in turn improve the performance of the process itself.
Currently, Garant is the Director of Sustainment for Marine Corps Helicopter Programs – which includes delivering support to the current fleet of Presidential/Executive Transport (“Marine One” aircraft fleet, VH-3D and VH-60N as well as introduction of the VH-92A) and the USMC/USN Heavy Lift Aircraft fleet (CH-53E and MH-53E and introduction of the CH-53K).
Pierre has 38 years of leadership experience in the field of aviation. He held a number of leadership positions in the U.S. Marine Corps, highlighted by his tenure as the Director of the Aviation Logistics at Headquarters (Pentagon) Marine Corps Aviation as a Marine Colonel.
Following his 26-year career in the Marine Corps, he was the Director of Support at Bell-Boeing for the V-22 (Osprey) Tilt-Rotor Aircraft Program before joining Sikorsky in 2013. He holds a BA from Cornell University, an MS from University of Southern California and an MS from the National Defense University. Along with his academic degrees, Pierre holds many military decorations and professional certifications.
Continuing with what I learned in the interview with Garant, we discussed how Sikorsky has taken its experience working with the government in the PBL for Seahawk and with the new PBL contract to support CH-53E to expand the scope of PBL support.
According to Garant: “We’re rapidly maturing the PBL model to not just do material availability with supply material deliveries, but now expanding the focus on aircraft availability metrics and incentives.”
According to Garant, the Seahawk PBL set the industry standard in terms of being able to cover a full “tip to tail” approach to support for the aircraft, and “through the years, the Seahawk PBL team continue to drive process and product improvements into the value stream. And clearly the contract is driving cost savings for the customer and enhanced aircraft availability.” Of note, the Seahawk PBL was awarded the DOD best PBL in 2019.1
In an interview with Garant conducted two years ago, we first discussed the then new PBL contract with NAVAIR to support the CH-53E. Sikorsky – working with NAVAIR at Pax River Maryland – have established a Fleet Common Operating Environment (or “FCOE”) database and analytics toolset to support CH-53E operations.
“It is our government version of the Sikorsky proven Customer Care Center we employ to support our commercial helicopter fleet.
“The goal is the same, namely to rapidly and reliably understand the performance of the aircraft in the real world in order to proactively create readiness and cost reduction solutions for the global fleet within a ‘total mission assurance (PBL-like)’commercial customer business model. ”
The establishment and operation of the FCOE capability has paved the way for the creation of an expanded performance-based logistics (PBL) business model and contract between Sikorsky and the government to support the H-53E.
“Traditional PBLs focus on parts availability: the contractor delivers the part within a certain timeframe and is measured by success in terms of a ‘Supply Response Time’ metric.
“The traditional PBL is focused on the supply chain performance.
“The new approach expands performance to aircraft availability.
“With the new PBL, the contractor is also incentivized to contribute to an ‘aircraft availability’ metric.”
“With the opportunity to use an agreed-upon database and proven data analytics toolset – the FCOE – we have the ability to measure the discreet level of how we can create aircraft availability.
“For example, when we change the logistics posture, maintenance procedures, and supply response time for a gear box, we will also be able to demonstrate to the government that we generated a measurable amount of aircraft availability because we improved one part’s value stream.
“Once we do that, we earn increased incentive on the contract in addition to meeting supply response times.”
In this interview, Garant provided an update on the how the CH-53E PBL works and how the relationship with the government is evolving in aircraft support. Garant highlighted that the public-private partnership between Sikorsky and the Fleet Readiness Center East Cherry Point is at the heart of the PBL’s evolution and success.
According to Garant:
“The Fleet Readiness Center East Cherry Point does half of the repairs, and the other half of the repairs are done at our overhaul and repair facility in Connecticut.
“There are two sources of repair, and we can fully leverage lessons learned and capacity from both.
“A clear measure of progress can be seen in the case of the main rotor head repairs where we have already demonstrated an improved repair turnaround time from over 1,100 days down to 270 days in the first year of performance.
This enhanced velocity will increase material availability, get ahead of fleet needs and drive down costs.
“The PBL contract is being expanded to include ninety parts by early 2021.
“We are seeing more parts added while we are performing ahead of metric ‘ramp-up.’ We are already performing two years ahead of supply response time improvement thresholds.”
A key challenge is to manage a cold supply chain for a legacy platform like the CH-53E.
With PBL, one can generate a more realistic demand side projection and then reach out to the supply chain and provide more stable projections of demand.
With a five-year PBL contract, and by bringing in “big-data” analytics to bear, Sikorsky can work with the suppliers to come up with a realistic forecast and long-term approach to deliver the parts likely to be needed.
This is obviously important always, but in a situation like COVID-19 having stable demand projections is crucial for industry to determine how best to meet demand.
According to Garant, “we are also pursuing smarter repairs.
“We are focusing on subcomponent performances and based on those judgments informed by data analytics can determine how better manage the repair schedules for the major parts.”
By shaping the PBL process, the new digital aircraft is able to expand and accelerate the envelope of effective logistics support and management.
As Garant put it: “The digital capabilities become a greater opportunity within the PBL process. We’re going to leverage the digital aircraft throughout the value stream right from the moment when the signal is more accurately captured and diagnosed on the aircraft, and it helps shape smarter maintenance packages for the Marines.
“The whole maintenance department will have much improved tools with a connected and digital maintenance work-space which will help with improved troubleshooting and maintenance with the data coming off the aircraft.”
“The data coming off the K is an order of magnitude more actionable information and quicker than it is on the E – by at least tenfold. In effect, the digital flows are enabling a better PBL by empowering a rapid journey from reactive to planned and predictive maintenance.”
Garant concluded: “We are taking the lessons learned from the legacy aircraft and shaping a way ahead with regard to the next support structure.
“But clearly, you don’t want to take a legacy program and try to force a model on it that they never were designed for nor grew up with.
“What you’re going to do on the K is, it’s going to be born right out of the gate with a better process and the opportunity to leverage the digital systems of the new smart aircraft to reduce life-cycle costs while ensuring operational availability and mission reliability for all CH-53K customers.”
For my assessment of why a 21st century designed and built digital aircraft with the kind maintainability which Garant discussed affects procurement choices, see my article on the German options in picking a medium left, legacy helicopter of the CH-53K heavy lift helicopter for their modernization strategy:
- The November 2019 letter which announced that year’s PBL award winners, noted that the “SH-60 Seahawk PBL Team, U.S Navy Supply Systems Command Weapons Systems Support, Philadelphia, PA” was the system-level award winner. It was highlighted that “material availability improved over 30 percent to 98 percept by the end of FY 2018.”