NAWCAD Lakehurst adapts weapons loader for F-35B

Chief Warrant Officer Jayson Callorina, right, inspects ordnance as Marine Corps Cpl. Joshua Cardile, left, and Marine Corps Cpl. Randle Lane, both assigned to the “Avengers” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211, load a guided bomb unit (GBU) 49 onto an F-35B Lightning II on the flight deck of Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) in December.

Team work and co-location at Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Lakehurst resulted in modified Support Equipment (SE) that gives the F-35B Lightning II more capability.

When the Marine Corps chose the Guided Bomb Unit (GBU)-49 weapon system for the F-35B, they needed a piece of SE to load the weapon onto the aircraft. The GBU-49 provides new capability that will enable the F-35B to engage moving ground targets. However, the conduit on the GBU-49 did not fit the current weapons loader, until a team from NAWCAD Lakehurst modified the adapter, the ADU-894A/E, and delivered it to the Marines Corps on schedule in November.

“The teams at Lakehurst and Patuxent River, Maryland, did a fantastic job in finding a solution to a fleet problem quickly,” said Kathleen P. Donnelly, director of the Naval Air System Command (NAVAIR) SE and Aircraft Launch and Recovery Equipment (ALRE) engineering department. “Their hard work and ingenuity has led to an increase in capabilities and improved lethality of our forward deployed Marines.”

In February 2018, the NAWCAD Lakehurst Airborne Weapons Support Equipment (AWSE) branch was tasked by the NAVAIR Direct Attack Weapons program office to develop an adapter that could not only provide loading capability for the GBU-49, but for all MK-82 “smart” bombs to be loaded on the F-35B. The goal was to develop, test, build and deliver the adapters within nine months.

The AWSE branch is responsible for all equipment that transports weapons through the carrier or land-based environment, presents them to the aircraft and loads them on to the aircraft, said David Page, AWSE branch head.

“For those airplanes that their missions are to fly ordnance, it’s our equipment that allows those 18-year-olds out there on pitching carrier decks to safely handle thousands of pounds of weapons, bring them up to an aircraft and load them up in a short time, both day and night. It’s where the rubber meets the road,” Page said.

The AWSE engineering team set out to modify a current adapter to connect the GBU-49 with the Single Hoist Ordnance Loading System, the primary munition loading system of aircraft weapons stations afloat.

The team designed a modified adapter in their lab, and worked with NAWCAD Lakehurst’s Prototyping and Manufacturing Division (PMD) to build a prototype.

The co-location of the engineering team and PMD helped speed up the timeline by making sure they got their design right the first time, said Matthew Southard, principle engineer for the project.

“There was a huge benefit in being able to walk over to the shops and not only say ‘this is what we need to do,’ but also ask the artisans for advice and see how we might be able to shrink our schedules based on certain design features,” Southard said.

The AWSE team simultaneously worked with their logistics counterparts at NAWCAD Lakehurst to create the required Integrated Logistics Support (ILS) Data and Technical Data documents.

Logisticians leveraged legacy adapter information to support accelerated fielding of the equipment, Southard said.

“All our manuals and the standard operating procedures for loading had to be in place, because you could have a perfect system but if it doesn’t say it’s authorized to be used for that specific weapon or platform, then it can’t be used,” Southard said. “Being able to put all those components in place simultaneously; the logistics documents, prototype testing and starting production in the shop, enabled us to meet the nine-month concept to deployment timeline.”

In May 2018, the adapter prototype was tested by the NAWCAD SE Test and Evaluation branch located at Patuxent River.

Once testing was successfully completed, PMD manufactured the adapters and delivered them to the program office so they could ultimately be validated through verification testing.

The adapters were delivered to the Marines in November 2018, meeting the requested nine-month turnaround time.

“The support equipment team located at Lakehurst played a critical role in the rapid fielding of the GBU-49 weapon system to support an urgent fleet capability gap for our forward deployed Marines,” said John L Hyatt Jr., assistant program manager, logistics for the weapons program office. “The timeline for this fielding was to be drastically accelerated as compared to a normal acquisition program.”

“Without the efforts of the team, the program office would not have been able to deliver this much needed critical capability to the warfighter,” Hyatt said.

Southard attributes the success of developing the adapter in such a quick timeframe to the communication and dedication of the teams at Lakehurst.

“What you dream up at a desk is a lot different than what can actually be made in the shop and how it functions in the fleet. So having the communication between everyone is definitely key, which speaks to having everyone centrally located, but also the attitude of ‘you’re the expert on this, you do it and tell me the path forward,’” Southard said.