By Ms Kari Hawkins (AMCOM)July 20, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--When there is a problem, questions can lead to a solution.
But when those questions raise more issues rather than answers, it’s time to rethink processes and procedures.
And that’s just the case when it came to aviation maintenance some four years ago.
In the 2008 timeframe, helicopter performance incidents began the questioning process within the Aviation and Missile Command. That process led to unanswerable questions zeroing in on the government’s oversight of contractor aviation maintenance operations.
At the time, AMCOM then-commander Maj. Gen. Jim Myles stood up the Aviation Resource Assessment and Analysis Survey team to closely examine processes, procedures and documentation of the aviation maintenance enterprise. In a short time, that team, now representing AMCOM commander Maj. Gen. Jim Rogers, has made a reputation for itself for its ability to pinpoint maintenance-related issues, and then to develop and implement plans to resolve those issues.
“The ‘green-suit’ Army audits themselves for processes and procedures all over the world within their aviation units,” Fred Pieper, director of Aviation Resource Assessment and Analysis, said. “We needed a civilian version of the Army’s aviation audit program.”
But similar audits weren’t being done on the civilian/contractor side of aviation maintenance. During the past 10 years, with the optempo of war came the fast-paced and non-stop ramp up of support functions, such as contract aviation sustainment operations.
“Things got so big so fast, and on the civilian and contractor side there was not any kind of policing agency out there. They just developed with the need,” Pieper said.
The lack of audits became more evident as the amount of contractor support grew due to increased mission requirements.
“Incidents that occurred four years ago raised questions on whether or not aviation maintenance conducted by contractors was everything it should be,” Pieper said.
“It is always a concern when there is an accident that there could be questionable maintenance involved. Review of incidents shows that documentation of maintenance actions wasn’t all that good. Is that an indicator of improper maintenance? The commander wasn’t sure. He decided we needed to take a critical look at ourselves and try to figure out how to do on the civilian and contractor side of the house what the Aviation Resource Management Survey teams do for the Forces Command.”
Rogers praised the work of AMCOM’s assessment team during a recent town hall meeting. Groups such as this that are established to address specific issues are making a difference in the push to be both efficient and effective not only in the field of aviation, but in all military equipment areas where AMCOM holds the lead responsibility.
“AMCOM's Aviation Maintenance Resource Assessment and Analysis team was established to ensure U.S. Army aviation maintenance policies, procedures and regulations are being complied with. Our team is charged with conducting site surveys of AMCOM aviation maintenance facilities,” Rogers said.
“The ARAA team is comprised of subject matter experts in multiple aviation disciplines. The team’s unique ability to assess aviation maintenance, to determine maintenance issues related to those sites and then develop plans to overcome those issues has been widely successful. In fact, the team has been so successful that they are now being sought out by theater commanders who want to ensure that all aviation maintenance policies, procedures and regulations are being complied with. The team’s work has not only made aviation maintenance units more effective in their work, but also more efficient with their resources. Once the team completes their mission within the rotary wing aviation maintenance arena, they will broaden their scope to assess unmanned aircraft systems, fixed wing systems and missiles systems, all which rely on AMCOM’s expertise in the life cycle management network.”
During their first year of operations, Pieper led the research of Soldier-based processes and procedures for aviation maintenance, and then developed a set of processes and procedures for assessing the government surveillance of contractor aviation maintenance teams.
“We looked at the entire aviation enterprise that AMCOM manages, to include parts of the Forces Command that has a similar mission,” Pieper said. “We looked at civilian aviation-specific staffs within the Directorate of Logistics at Army installations and all of AMCOM’s aviation field maintenance activities. We looked at all the aviation works performed verifying compliance with
Army standards as well as other federal standards, such as OSHA and EPA.”
Once research was completed, the assessment team was established and today includes Pieper, Rod Boroff, Ron Snedeker, Fred Bundy and Shelley Feltmeyer.
“We are the command’s eyes and ears for aviation maintenance,” Pieper said. “We assess risk. The civilian side of aviation is about cost, performance and schedules.”
Team members traveled to eight aviation maintenance sites worldwide to assess 10 aviation maintenance activities throughout AMCOM and the Directorate of Logistics to review contract management, supply chain effectiveness, property and special interest items.
“We walked the ground to look at all the facilities, equipment, people and resources. We took a one-on-one inventory of maintenance resources,” Pieper said.
“What we found was not enough attention was being paid to the details, there was a lack of controls in place and there was a lack of documented evidence that all procedures were being followed correctly. We are helping to develop processes and procedures, and to put them in place.”
This year, the assessment team’s activities have reached into theater, with the team members traveling to Afghanistan at the request of Maj. Gen. Tim McHale, deputy commander for support in Afghanistan. McHale made his request through the Army Materiel Command, which tasked AMCOM with the mission. Earlier this year, the assessment team visited the Theater Aviation Sustainment Group in Kuwait and seven of nine aviation forward operating bases in Afghanistan.
“Our job was to perform aviation assessments tailored to the combat theater,” Pieper said. “We assessed just how well all the aviation maintenance resources are working. We knew there would be issues with a lack of controls, but we were surprised by the extent of it. The only continuity from one unit to the next was from contractors. The contractors were operating without sufficient government oversight.”
In the past 18 months, the Army’s footprint in Afghanistan has quadrupled. During that time, the contractor " L3 " has been “doing a great job with aviation maintenance in the field,” Pieper said. The issue, though, is that the federal government is not providing the oversight required by the contract.
Both in the U.S. and in Afghanistan, the assessment team’s role has gone beyond surveying aviation maintenance activities and developing new procedures and processes to include implementing those procedure and processes. During an August/September trip to Afghanistan, they will revisit forward operating bases to assure implementation. Further, the assessment team plans to realign some aviation maintenance positions to take advantage of efficiencies in resources and equipment.
“During our revisit, we will see where we’ve made progress and where the roadblocks are since we began implementation of the new processes,” Pieper said. “We need to know where the next hurdle is.”
The issues " a lack of defined maintenance requirements, processes and procedures, property accountability and coordination " caused theater commanders to be concerned about aviation sustainment support. That’s a concern that AMCOM leaders want to manage.
“We need an aviation sustainment smart team on the ground to provide coordination between resource providers and users, and to work as an agent on the behalf of combatant commanders,” Pieper said.
“There is a lot of great aviation sustainment support, but nobody is ‘refereeing’ their needs and performance on the ground. This team would have the responsibility to make sure equipment is going where it’s supposed to, that it is being used to maximum effect and that our aviation maintenance teams are working at optimum levels.”
These teams would provide government oversight and “act as the combatant commands’ agent for all things aviation,” he said. “We want to optimize the resources that have been provided, gain efficiencies without losing effectiveness, eliminate redundancies, and give the taxpayers and the Army the biggest bang for the buck.”