By Ms. Sofia Bledsoe (ASA (ALT) )August 31, 2012
Safety, airworthiness and responsive support of all the non-standard rotary wing platforms are the core functions of the Army's Non-Standard Rotary Wing Aircraft Project Management Office.
Since its inception in January 2010, the Army's Non-Standard Rotary Wing Aircraft project management office has grown in its scope of responsibilities and number of non-standard platforms that it manages.
Today, one of its product offices managed by Lt. Col. Shawn Powell, is responsible for almost $1 billion in Foreign Military Sales. Powell is the Army's product director for all non-standard scout, attack, utility and cargo platforms -- "non-standard" essentially meaning, any rotary wing aircraft procured and/or supported by the U.S. military that is not currently in the U.S. Department of Defense inventory.
Powell's ultimate mission is to support the Department of Defense and the State Department in implementing their security assistance and defense cooperation goals. A more specific mission requirement, Powell said, is "to make sure that we bring our programmatic and acquisition rigor to the process to ensure that all of the country customers are consistently getting the best value for their money, and getting safe, flyable, supportable, and airworthy platforms."
Because there is always a potential for U.S. uniformed personnel or government contracted personnel to either ride in these aircraft or sometimes even fly them, "often we have to go beyond what some countries would normally do when procuring non-military aircraft," said Powell. "This requires the Army to certify the safety and airworthiness of a civilian platform to our high military standards, and in doing it through this single non-standard PM office, we're ensuring the standards and requirements are implemented accurately and consistently across all of the platforms procured for our international partners."
Most cases in the non-standard product office begin with allied countries contacting the U.S. government and asking for help either through security assistance or defense cooperation channels. Currently, all the Original Equipment Manufacturers that build and provide support to these aircraft that Powell and his team work with are U.S. or U.S. based companies. "We are very happy that, to date, we've been able to focus solely on contracting with U.S. based companies to facilitate putting their products and/or support in a foreign country."
Currently, Powell and his team are working with various partner nations such as El Salvador, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Costa Rica, Colombia, Indonesia, and Mexico, just to name a few. A given country may have a single case or multiple cases in the works for completely different internal government organizations. "Our foreign allies have varying government and military organizational structures. Just like where we have a separate Army, Air Force and Navy, a partner country might have a Ministry of Interior, a Ministry of Defense, or a National Guard that we would work with as separate and unique entities," said Powell. "They each have their own command and approval chains, so they often each have their own cases."
His office is responsible not just for procuring the aircraft but also for the support, repair and supply cases that are associated with these aircraft. Sometimes, the work -- or cases as they are called -- deal with countries that already have aircraft and just need some help in areas such as supply line, maintenance and support, or repair. "In some cases we've gone in and just identified tools and training that they might need to help fix or enhance their aviation maintenance capabilities."
Powell has recently fielded MD Helicopter, Inc. MD 530Fs to Afghanistan and will soon be fielding the same model aircraft to Saudi Arabia. The MD 530F was selected to be used as a primary trainer for rotary wing flight schools in both countries. The product office is currently on contract to deliver MD 500E aircraft to El Salvador, as well as a Bell Huey II to Columbia. "We've recently taken over some cases with Egypt working with Agusta-Westland out of Philadelphia providing both AW-139 aircraft and training. We're also working with Bell Helicopter on a few pending cases to procure more of their Huey II helicopters. We definitely get to spread the work around."
According to Powell there seems to be a never ending line of potential cases coming in from our defense partner nations. "The last few months have been a very busy for us," he said. The U.S. Defense Industry provides highly coveted products that are in demand around the world, but within the non-standard office, it is not limited to militarized versions of these products. "Most of the non-standard platforms that we are working on today are not militarized at all. They are basic platforms with avionics or sensor packages available to anyone in today's commercial aviation market," says Powell. Usually if a country wants a true military aircraft from the U.S. they will pursue one of those that we are using in our inventory. But then sometimes the unique militarized non-standard case will come along. The latest example is a case with the Saudi Arabia National Guard for Boeing's new AH-6i, a light armed scout helicopter that will be the largest FMS case in his product office's short history. "Saudi Arabia has signed a case requesting that we procure this new aircraft for them. We will be responsible for ensuring it is integrated, tested and qualified to Army standards and then we'll field the first AH-6i's, not to anyone in the U.S., but to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia." Powell has stated that he personally promised the Chief of Aviation for the Saudi Arabia National Guard that he would implement and manage the program as if he was planning to field the aircraft to his own U.S. Army aviation brethren.
There is a lot of pre-case work involved and it begins when the U.S. government officially receives a letter of request or even just a simple inquiry from a partner nation. "We'll evaluate the request and go back and forth through the security assistance channels, responding to questions about the potential cases." Then depending on the detail of the request, the product office would work with the OEMs to obtain estimates called pricing and availability information. "We put that together in a letter of offer and acceptance that will go back to the country to be signed. Once a letter of offer is signed and accepted, usually that's when the case is activated, funding comes and we actually begin executing a case."
Any pre-case work could take months to years depending on the country. "Some countries don't really move that fast and want to talk and think about things for a very long time before they commit." Others know exactly what they need and move out very quickly. Such was the case with the Iraqi Armed 407 program, a Bell helicopter platform that is currently being managed by the Armed Scout Helicopter Project Office. That program and the PM office has received many accolades for what is has been able to accomplish and such a short amount of time. The program will eventually transfer to PM NSRWA and Powell's team after fielding is complete.
As with any large program, it takes a team effort to successfully execute and maintain the positive relationships needed with all the stakeholders. Powell's biggest partner within the Army is the Security Assistance Management Directorate (SAMD). "We are lucky to have SAMD actually co-located with the PM. They work side-by-side with us on a daily basis." DoD's preferred approach to supporting its FMS cases is to provide the customer with what they call the Total Package Approach. "The intent is never to give them a piece of equipment and then just walk away. We'll build a case using this approach which includes the material, the associated training, and both spare and repair parts support so a long term strategy can be emplaced to allow a customer country to sustain and maintain their procurements as long as desired." Working closely with SAMD allows the team to fully understand and meet the customer requirements and expectations for a given case. A country partner always has the option to take the entire package or to tailor the case with as much or as little as they want. "We absolutely approach it to make sure that they have everything they need and we work with them very carefully to make sure that we do not set them up for failure. This leads to their confidence and trust and that we know what we're doing and truly have the country's best interest at heart." Bottom line, the combined security assistance team ensures the long-term sustainment and support capability for a given customer is imbedded into every single case.
The result? "The entire team supports the security assistance mission and establishes and maintains that positive relationship with our allies both in the near term and for the future," said Powell.
Powell became the product director in July 2011 and started with about five people supporting the programs and its mission. Since then, the office has grown to over 25 people. "And we're still growing because these cases and workload are outpacing us."
Each program is uniquely funded by the individual countries or the associated defense cooperation funding line, which is why Powell has a very challenging job to keep them separate. "My cases alone, I am approaching $1 billion and for any given case, I need to ensure those associated funds are being used for work and support related to executing that case." What happens if there is extra money on a case? "When executing a case, our goal is to streamline and be as efficient as we can with the country's money. If we don't spend the money, we do send it back. If we can do things better, cheaper or for under the cost of what we originally estimated, the money will go back to country." And to date his team has not underestimated any case and has actually been able to return funds recently because of efficiencies realized.
Powell says the diversity and the challenge make the job extremely rewarding and fun. On any given day, his team may be working on several different cases, talking about completely different aircraft, supporting completely different countries and striving to meet completely different requirements. "We're building a great team here and none of this would be possible without those around me everyday working and supporting these cases for our allies. But it is not just the part of the team in our offices, our industry partners are amazing and continue to do great things to support our efforts as well." Powell says the Non-Standard Rotary Wing Aircraft Project Management Office will continue to work closely with its industry partners, the Department of Defense, allied nations and combat theaters of operation and others to improve and ensure support to the U.S. warfighter and our allied forces. The Project Management Office is continuously applying lessons learned and breaking new ground that will allow them to remain responsive to the new non-standard customers.
"At the end of the day, the bottom line is the safety and security of all our U.S. and allied military and civilian personnel who fly, operate, maintain or sustain our platforms."