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General Kirkland outlines OC-ALC’s cost-effectiveness

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- A "culture of continuous process improvement" has enabled the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex to simultaneously boost speed and improve quality. "I know that's counter-intuitive, but we've seen the results," Brig. Gen. Donald "Gene" Kirkland, commander of the OC-ALC, told members of the Sequoyah Chapter of the American Society of Military Comptrollers recently.

The time required to complete programmed depot maintenance on a KC-135 tanker has been reduced by half, the general reported: from an average of 224 days in fiscal year 2009 to 112 days in FY 2012. "The challenge now is to maintain those flow-day reductions while increasing cost-effectiveness," he said. The OC-ALC repaired an average of 66 KC-135s each year over the past two years.

Meanwhile, the OC-ALC is applying the same methods and processes to other PDM lines "and they are coming along," the general said.

For example, B-52 PDM averaged 302 days in FY 2010, but will average 210 days in FY 2013, a 30 percent reduction -- "and we are working to trim another 50 days off of that in FY '14," General Kirkland said. B-1 PDM was shaved by nearly one-fourth, from 207 days in FY '10 to 150 days in FY '12, he said.

"The same focus on scientific depot methods can also improve the overhaul of engines," the general said. As an illustration, overhauls of F108 engines (which power the KC-135) have been reduced by 44 percent, "while production levels and quality of those engines have both increased."

To increase cost-effectiveness, the OC-ALC also is targeting the direct material costs associated with PDM maintenance. For instance, General Kirkland said that KC-135 PDM currently requires $250 million in direct material and that his Complex is working with Supply Chain and System Program Office partners to reduce that figure.

As another example, he continued, several shops in the OC-ALC were each ordering grease; when the complex switched to bulk purchases, the cost for grease plummeted from $1,800 per pound to $800 per pound. "We're thinking about the system as a whole, not as individual cost elements."

OC-ALC personnel repaired 383 jet aircraft engines and 167 cruise missile engines last year, records reflect. Over the past two years, General Kirkland said, OC-ALC personnel logged approximately 8 million hours of workload, maintained nine engine overhaul lines, and produced 90,000 parts and engine components while performing  programmed and unscheduled maintenance on approximately 200 aircraft each year.

Part of OC-ALC's journey to increase cost-effectiveness is updating maintenance processes. To reduce production time, the general said, "We look for every opportunity for employees from multiple disciplines to work simultaneously on an aircraft or a component." The tasks are still the same "but our processes are what's new."

Consequently, fewer aircraft awaiting repairs are sitting at Tinker AFB for shorter times, "which means we're getting more planes back in the field for warfighters to use."

Regarding ongoing sequestration budget impacts, General Kirkland said that slightly fewer aircraft and engines will be coming into the Tinker depot during the remainder of this fiscal year, and that the furloughs will increase the time required to perform maintenance. However, he added, "The professionals of the OC-ALC will continue to focus on speed, quality and safety while generating cost-effective readiness."

Jose Aragon, director of Tinker's Financial Management Directorate and Comptroller for the Air Force Sustainment Center, had a similar observation. Air Force comptrollers, Mr. Aragon said, are coping with various challenges, including federal budget cuts, furloughs, unfunded requirements, numerous metrics designed to measure effectiveness, and "what if" drills for potential cuts to fund Air Force "pop-up requirements" such as damage from natural disasters, responses to conflicts, and civilian employee furloughs.