CHERRY POINT, N.C. --- A new public-private partnership with Lockheed Martin gives Fleet Readiness Center East another means of supporting naval aviation. The depot recently declared capability on 14 F-35 components, meaning FRCE is now a verified source of repair and testing for these items.
“This component workload is the next step in F-35 maintenance at Fleet Readiness Center East, and we’re excited to have begun this work,” said FRCE Commanding Officer Capt. Mark E. Nieto. “We’re looking forward to providing increased support to our Navy and Marine Corps aviators, and we’re hopeful these new capabilities will also bring a positive economic impact for the local community.”
As the lead site for depot-level maintenance on the F-35B Lightning II, Fleet Readiness Center East is no stranger to the fifth-generation fighter. FRCE has conducted modifications and repair on the Marine Corps’ short takeoff-vertical landing variant of the aircraft since 2013, and has also worked with the F-35A (conventional takeoff and landing) and F-35C (carrier) variants. However, the new capabilities declarations are a first for F-35 at the depot, said Steve Gurley, F-35 capability establishment lead at FRCE.
“This is a new workload coming in for Fleet Readiness Center East,” said Gurley, who ensures all the logistical elements are in place before the depot declares capability on F-35 components. “We inducted our first F-35 valve in February, into our valves and regulators shop. That valve is the first of the 14 components that we’ve declared capability on.”
The F-35 components workload will expand as new capabilities are established.
“We’ll be working with anything from valves to ejection seats to a turbomachine, which provides power to start the engine. There will be a good variety of components, and there is a pretty quick ramp up,” Gurley said. “We have the 14 we’ve declared capability on, and we have 42 F-35 components that we’re in the process of declaring on, and there are more to come. Starting this year, in fiscal year 20, there are additional activations that will eventually put us at 105-plus components for the F-35.”
The new F-35 component work provides FRCE with a scheduled workload through 2024 and beyond, Gurley said.
“The F-35 is the future of naval aviation, and this is a way to keep FRC East viable as a provider for that,” he explained, adding the additional workload could also lead to hiring to support the program. “It’s a huge effort, and it’s going to reach out to a lot of different areas.”
Ensuring FRCE is ready to declare these capabilities requires a great deal of legwork during the establishment phase, before the first component ever arrives for repair. Each new declaration requires in-depth analysis of current workload, predicted future workload, facilities and required skill sets. On average, the multi-phase process follows a four-year timeline, and involves a group of experts that spans the depot’s workforce.
“Our team consists of logisticians, industrial engineering technicians, engineers, facilities, program managers and the business office. We oversee and manage the process,” Gurley explained. “The work we’ve put in to the point to get to an induction is truly a team effort.”
That team effort is necessary for an undertaking of this size and complexity, he added. Logistical considerations include the availability of proper tooling, manpower resources, packaging and handling capabilities, technical data, artisan training, supply support and more.
“Without facilities, you can’t bring in new equipment,” Gurley continued. “Without the proper tech data, which the industrial engineering technicians are screening along with engineering – you can’t work the component until you have all that in place. It’s a huge effort on everybody’s part, to try to get all those logistical elements in place before you declare.”
It's important for FRCE to have all the pieces in place initially to ensure the depot can provide the service promised to the fleet. There is often an adjustment period once the work begins, but the goal is always for FRCE to begin operations at full capacity and work to overcome any unexpected obstacles, Gurley said.
“We don’t want to induct a component for repair and then have it go right into a delay status for material, or something that we have control over,” he explained. “Sometimes you can’t control or predict it, so when you start a new program and start receiving inductions, the first few parts that come in are a good test to show us where we need to improve and smooth out the process.”
The majority of the increase in capabilities from 14 F-35 components to 57 is scheduled to occur through November 2021, which means those declarations are rapidly approaching. That’s good news for FRCE and for the fleet’s F-35 readiness, Gurley said.
“There’s a lot of work coming, and it’s coming fast,” Gurley explained. “That will have a good impact on the depot, and will carry out for the future. Some of these items are being categorized on the F-35 top degrader list, so once we declare, that will be a good thing to be able to support the fleet. We can take on some of that workload and hopefully help the supply system.”