Workshop, industry day advances MRO support of partner nations

Tom McClay, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Total Asset Visibility Division head, holds a crosscut piece of a helicopter rotor blade during a tour of TASMG’s blade shop. NAWCAD was one of several organizations that participated in the International Sustainment Department’s Facility Innovation Workshop and Industry Day.

As naval aviation employs industry best practices to increase aircraft readiness rates, the Naval Air System Command (NAVAIR) International Sustainment Department is using some of the same strategies to better provide maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services to the fleets of partner nations.

The International Sustainment Department in conjunction with the Mississippi Defense Initiative Network held a Facility Innovation Workshop and Industry Day in Gulfport, Mississippi, Sept. 10-11 to educate small- and medium-sized companies on business opportunities in support of partner nations and to show how the capacity and capabilities of Federal and state facilities can be leveraged through public-private partnerships (PPPs).

Partner nations are an integral part of our nation’s warfighting strategy, contributing greatly to the strategic and tactical warfighting capabilities of the U.S., according to International Sustainment Department Head Ron Weinberger.

“NAVAIR has provided more than 1,400 aircraft across the globe through foreign military sales,” he said. “Our products are in high demand. Five years ago, NAVAIR conducted more than $33 billion in business with foreign nations. Currently, it is almost $60 billion. That’s nearly double in the last several years.”

Not only are partner nations major purchasers of U.S. aircraft, many of them rely on NAVAIR to maintain their fleets. “With the increase in inventory of our partner nations comes an increase in demand for MRO services, all of which are supported by NAVAIR,” Weinberger said. “It also generates a need for infrastructure, supply and other resources.”

The International Sustainment Department recognized this trend early on and in 2012 entered into a working agreement with Defense Logistics Agency and Naval Supply Systems Command to create the NAVAIR International Sustainment Center in Gulfport, Mississippi. This partnership has expanded to include several Federal, state and local government entities and has the added benefit of reducing pressure on naval aviation’s MRO infrastructure.

“Why was Gulfport, Mississippi, selected? It is the home of the Naval Construction Battalion Center, an expeditionary force that provides us with staging, storage and shipping,” Weinberger explained. “Both the Port of Gulfport (a dual military and civilian port that is part of the Strategic Seaport Program, administered jointly by the Department of Defense and the Department of Transportation) and the Stennis International Airport, a joint civil–military, public-use airport, are very close.”

Gulfport is home to the Army National Guard 1108th Theater Aviation Sustainment Maintenance Group (TASMG) (an aircraft maintenance facility) and has ready access to transcontinental railways that run throughout the country, making transportation easier. The city can also support the International Sustainment Center’s other needs, such as commercial sources for training.

“By leveraging this existing infrastructure, we were able to realize a 70 to 90% cost savings. We have more capability here than many of the major airlines,” Weinberger added.

The two-day forum focused on upcoming NAVAIR international program requirements, examples of government and industry partnerships, and information from major defense companies on what they look for in selecting subcontractors when bidding for government contracts. They also discussed logistics, MRO services opportunities and special considerations for partner nations.

International Sustainment Department Industry and International Partnerships Lead Jeff Heron, who participated in the workshop, said seeing product support providers’ current operations was impressive and that he plans to tap into their capacity and capabilities. “We are in the process of modifying V-22s and will be adding work on F/A-18s,” he said. “The MRO capabilities of the 1108th TASMG are outstanding—more than I recalled. With the additional hangars for MRO being built at the Stennis International Airport, the Sustainment Center offers tremendous opportunities.”

Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW) Advanced Technology and Innovation Integrated Product Team (IPT) Lead Chris Root also participated in the workshop. He not only saw an opportunity to collaborate across services and support partner nations, but also was intrigued by the possibility of realizing a solution for his organization.

“I intend to reach out to the 1108th TASMG to share new technologies the FRCs are using to see if they can address some of their challenges—specifically laser scanning and 3D printing for prototyping and tooling to support rapid damage assessment and repair solutions.”

He also plans to contact the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) to follow up on their polymer and composite research brief. “First, we’ll determine if their discoveries are applicable to the sustainment challenges we face in the FRCs and explore the possibility of a collaborative relationship,” he explained. “If so, then I will propose to FRCSW leadership that we enter into an Educational Partnership Agreement with USM faculty and researchers to target [science, technology, engineering, mathematics]-related initiatives like we’ve done successfully with other educational institutions.”

Establishing a PPP in Gulfport is the next task for the International Sustainment Department. This will allow the International Sustainment Center to enter into agreements with private, non-government entities to perform work related to core competencies.

Weinberger said PPP is the key to sustaining partner nation readiness well into the future no matter where their aircraft are located. “NAVAIR is doing its part to ensure their fleets are ready and can interoperate with our warfighters,” he said. “Their capabilities strengthen our nation’s ability to deter and defeat threats.”