The Air Force is seeing success in new sustainment initiatives resulting in increased aircraft availability and readiness across three of its bases.
These sustainment initiatives are the result of the secretary and chief of staff of the Air Force’s 2019 direction to develop a Sustainment Strategy Framework to improve the readiness of weapon systems and improve sustainment operations.
“We developed a team to institute the Theory of Constraints on several flight lines across the service in an effort to enhance our maintenance processes,” said Brig. Gen. Linda Hurry, director of logistics, deputy chief of staff for logistics, engineering and force protection. “In just six months we were already seeing results at Fairchild, Ellsworth and Shaw Air Force Bases.”
The Theory of Constraints is a methodology in which limitations in mission processes are identified and addressed to improve throughput of the system. At these three bases, constraints in the flow of broken-to-fixed aircraft were identified and remediated to improve readiness.
“We’ve seen this model work incredibly well at depots where you do heavy maintenance repair and overhaul on the airplanes but it can work just as well at the tactical flight line, particularly for scheduled maintenance activities,” said Lt. Gen. Warren Berry, deputy chief of staff for logistics, engineering and force protection. “That’s what we’re doing today, we’re taking that whole idea and pushing it to the field level and testing it.”
“You improve flow by removing unnecessary maintenance multitasking and by preparing through full kitting to begin work on maintenance,” Hurry said. “This will reduce the number of aircraft in a ‘work-in-progress’ status and ultimately our broke-to-fixed aircraft timeline.”
Fairchild AFB, Washington, accomplished its goal of improving throughput during an increase of 19 aircraft to their fleet and decreased the amount of time needed to complete inspections by pooling resources and full kitting beforehand. This resulted in more than 1,500 days of aircraft availability returned to the wing a year, allowing an average of four more aircraft to the flying schedule per day.
Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, worked toward its target of increasing its daily flyable aircraft by controlling work in progress and combining maintenance requirements, which maximized downtime for maintenance on the flight line. They have successfully increased their flyable aircraft per day and decreased their maintenance deviation rate, enabling the wing to fly the most sorties and have the most ready aircrews since 2018.
Shaw AFB, South Carolina, set a goal of improving their mission capable rate through strategic combinations of maintenance requirements to inject health and control work-in-progress for constrained career fields. Early results show a 15.8% increase in mission capable rate and 14.4% decrease in non-mission capable rate on the proof of concept aircraft with even more to come.
“I’m extremely proud of the hard work our Airmen have put into making these initiatives work. It increases readiness and saves money while creating more stable workloads and training opportunities for our Airmen,” Berry said. “I look forward to seeing what we can achieve at other bases.”
Currently, the planning team is turning its sights to 18 more projects that cover the gamut of logistics and operations, including, supply chain wings, system program offices, logistics readiness squadrons and pilot training. This effort includes F. E. Warren AFB, Wyoming, the 552nd Air Control Wing at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, and multiple KC-135 Stratotanker and CV-22 Osprey units in the U.S. and abroad.
“We are using this set of projects to get after the entire sustainment enterprise for the KC-135 and others. These projects involve every (major command) and a wide array of mission sets,” Hurry said. “We’re really excited to see the improvements that can be made.”
Along with this next set of projects, the logistics community is integrating Theory of Constraints into every layer of its publications and education to ensure this methodology can be followed for years to come.