TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
The senior ranking service member charged with providing sustainment and logistics readiness and delivering combat power for America recently told a diverse audience of commercial and military leaders at MRO Americas they share common interests in defending the nation and performing maintenance, repair and overhaul on aircraft and other aviation assets.
Serving as the military keynote speaker at this year’s conference and exhibition held April 25-27 at the Orange County Convention Center here, Lt. Gen. Lee K. Levy II, Air Force Sustainment Center commander, said all those in attendance support the nation’s aviation interests, adding, “We may wear different uniforms, but we’re all Airmen and have similar goals.”
“We care about safety, we care about performance, we care about efficiency and we care about effectiveness,” Levy said at the conference attended by more than 14,000 military and industry professionals from 87 countries and 49 states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. “By aligning our interests and our goals, we can work together to sustain our air, space and cyber capabilities.”
Levy talked about building resilience and agility into the logistics “kill chain” to enable globally integrated operations in the future strategic environment.
The general also talked about leveraging innovation and technology in MRO operations to deliver combat power for America faster, better and cheaper in the new strategic environment.
And, he discussed ways organizations could work together to prevent the organic supply chain from being the weakest link in future military operations.
In the Air Force, Levy said leaders typically talk about a kill chain in terms of hitting a target, or acquiring “kinetic effects.” They use the acronym F2T2EA for find, fix, track, target, engage and assess. He said to meet the demands of the new strategic environment, leaders must also think about a “logistics kill chain.”
The current command and control architecture “isn’t maybe what I’d like for it to be,” he said, in terms of being effective in a new strategic environment.
“The current planning construct assumes we have the right intelligence and enough time to shape and deter potential threats before we have to seize the initiative and take action,” Levy said. “We may not have that luxury.”
From a logistics standpoint, he said, the logistics kill chain gives military leaders another construct by which they can look at how they support their combatant commanders.
“We need to look at available resources and demand signals across the entire enterprise simultaneously and be able to anticipate, predict and immediately react to changing conditions and requirements anywhere in the world,” Levy said. “We must continuously assess whether we have the right sourcing strategies in our supply chain to support surge operations.
“We must determine how long we can sustain a fight if our suppliers don’t have the capacity to meet sudden increases in demand signals.”
The general went on to say one of the things that drives leaders in that kill chain is what he referred to as Big E (effectiveness), versus Little E (efficiency). He said the Air Force has lost some of its combat effectiveness because they have become extremely efficient. But when it comes to defending the nation, “effectiveness matters.”
“For us, our shareholder is the U.S. citizen,” he said. “They expect us to do one thing when the nation calls upon us and that’s win. That drives us to make decisions that may not be optimally efficient, but optimally effective in delivering war-winning results the nation expects us to deliver.”
Levy said as leaders develop fifth- and soon to be sixth-generation weapons to counter the new strategic environment, they need to develop effective logistics capabilities.
As the Air Force evolves towards a new and modern fleet of aircraft, they must continue to sustain the existing fleet. To do that, he said they will need new processes, new technologies and new skills.
Levy said sustaining legacy systems requires innovation, noting that the average fleet age of the Air Force is 27 years old, which he said “is pretty geriatric.” That’s about twice the age of the commercial aircraft fleet, he said.
“We have some old stuff…” he said. “So, if our airplanes are that old, you can imagine the MRO challenges that come along with that – corrosion, increasing workloads, managing costs, an aging workforce…yet we’re making that transition between fourth- and fifth-generation air, space and cyber power.”
Levy said the supply chain for legacy aircraft also requires special attention. He said many of the original suppliers and manufacturers are no longer in business or have pursued other lines of business. However, he still has an obligation to sustain the nation’s Air Force.
“When you think about the new future operating concepts of our Air Force, it will involve more unmanned aerial systems and remotely piloted aircraft,” he said.
To sustain and maintain fifth-generation aircraft, Levy said he needs fifth-generation MRO capabilities and a fifth-generation workforce.
“We need highly skilled technicians, engineers and scientists,” he said.
Unfortunately, Levy said, there is a shortage of science, technology, engineering and math graduates not only in the Air Force, but across the nation. And, the Air Force is competing for the same graduates as those in the commercial and private sector.
As an example for the need for a more sophisticated future workforce, the general mentioned the new KC-46 aerial refueling tanker that will be maintained at Tinker. That aircraft, he said, requires more lines of software code to operate than the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
“We’re a nation that doesn’t produce enough STEM graduates,” Levy said. “This is a national security threat for me. We are an aerospace nation and we can’t maintain our technological edge in air, space and cyber if we do not produce the STEM graduates to advance and sustain the technology.
“I will tell you we don’t produce enough (Airframe & Powerplant) mechanics. I would tell you that not having enough qualified jet engine mechanics can be just as problematic as not having enough software engineers or computer scientists. And, we’re all hiring from each other.
It’s a zero sum game for us. We should work on how we can improve.”
Levy said he believes some globalization is good, adding, “Globalization is not necessarily beneficial in the defense industry, or defense sector” and that “fiscal instability has driven a lot of this.”
“If you’re a large defense firm, or if you’re a medium or small firm in the supply chain business, I’ve driven a lot of you out of business,” he said. “Or, you’ve made business decisions to go in other lines of work. For me, that worries me. I can’t allow that to be the weakest link. It’s just that simple.”
The good news with respect to the supply chain is that instability drives innovation, drives lean practices and makes organizations become more efficient, the general said.
“We’re remarkably the same in a lot of ways,” Levy said. “We can’t get enough STEM graduates in our workforce. We have an aging workforce and it is difficult work. And, the customer wants its airplane back, or his commodity, or his jet engine. At the end of the day, they want what they want, when they want it.”
He suggested the commercial industry can use their influence on Capitol Hill and throughout the aviation community to help the government in their advancement of technology, to include additive manufacturing and other innovations.
“That includes cyber protections, so I know if I send you the ones and zeroes to make a part, you have the right ones and zeroes,” he said.
Levy said there is constant tension between the commercial sector and the government and organic sector. He said he maintains an organic logistics and sustainment system because the nation expects him to – to guard against strategic surprise, to handle logistics and sustainment during times of national crisis and surge, and to compensate for companies who can’t deliver on their own.
“We are the answer to readiness for our Air Force. It’s just that simple,” he said. “When we’re doing well, Air Force readiness is up. When we’re not, it’s down. We all live in a strategic environment, like it or not. Agility in that kill chain is important. I don’t think you’re any different.”
The general concluded saying vulnerabilities in the supply chain are a major concern of his and one that keeps him up at night.
“If my margin is to win, I can’t afford to let our supply chains become the weakest link to global combat operations,” he said. “When you think about taking care of really old stuff and new stuff, legacy and fifth-generation, soon to be sixth-generation, it requires our best effort.”