Ten years ago, the Air Force did not have enough spare parts to sustain wartime operations. In fact, 7.4 percent of the fleet was grounded by supply shortages in peacetime. The maintenance troops dug routinely into war reserve kits and borrowed parts off one airplane to get another one fixed. The wheezy old data system could not even forecast the spare parts requirement.
Given that state of affairs, there was some smirking in 1983 when Air Force Logistics Command announced it was switching emphasis from peacetime efficiency to wartime effectiveness and that it had a plan to fix the spares shortage, the grounded airplanes, and the data management system.
Nobody is smirking now. When Operation Desert Storm opened last August, the Air Force’s wartime readiness kits and operating stocks were in excellent shape. Logistics Command accelerated the repair of some 80,000 critical parts and expedited the overhaul of seventy aircraft. Returning these aircraft to operation ahead of schedule gave the Air Force a cumulative 931 days of additional flying service.
Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center (ALC) became the second largest aerial port operation in the United States as cargo volume increased from sixty tons to 300 tons a day. San Antonio ALC surged and shipped 539,183 propulsion parts and accelerated the overhaul of 45 jet engines.
Flying units in Saudi Arabia were so well-stocked with spares that readiness rates for many systems were better than at home in peacetime. Depot maintenance teams went to the war zone to repair battle damage on the spot. The list could go on and on.
In May, the Federal Quality Institute presented Air Force Logistics Command the 1991 President’s Award for Quality. It was an honor richly deserved.
Logistics excellence is not all wartime surge and excitement. It depends in great part on careful attention to details and everyday persistence. Is the part that’s supposed to be in the warehouse actually there? Is it really the part showing on the inventory? The AFLC work force (which is ninety percent civilian) demonstrates an impressive sense of purpose. A “Quality Bill of Rights” entitles anyone in the command to challenge procedures and expect quality to be put ahead of production.
Wayne Hayes, a sheet metal mechanic on the F-15 repair line at Sacramento ALC, had occasion to discover how sincere that policy is. Mr. Hayes, working with parts from a repair kit, was not satisfied with the fit of a cap on the aircraft’s vertical stabilizer. He exercised his quality rights and stopped the F-15 repair line. The commander backed him and sustained a nine-day shutdown until the problem was corrected.
Gen. Charles C. McDonald, AFLC commander, told the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, Sustainability, and Support that the transition to wartime operations last August was “almost transparent” because the command was already attuned and geared to support combat.
In July, just days before Iraq invaded Kuwait, AFLC planners had completed one of the computerized logistics exercises they run regularly. This one, by coincidence, had a Middle East scenario, so the system was primed even more than usual when Saddam Hussein made his move in August.
The loggies are living up to the promises made in 1983. Even the new data systems, which looked to be the hardest part of the task, are working out well. Nine projects, known collectively as the Logistics Management System, are coming on line gradually. Some proved their value in the Gulf War.
The Weapon System Management Information System (WSMIS), for example, tracked each unit’s 30-day combat capability and impending parts problems. The ALCs then used this information to expedite repair or procurement of critical items. The system, General McDonald told the Senate, was spotting weapon system support problems in one to seven days. Previously, identification of the same problems would have taken sixty to ninety days.
In the aftermath of the Gulf War, the loggies have a big job on their hands. Aircraft and engines were flown near or beyond their limits. There is battle damage to repair. Regular depot maintenance, sidetracked to support the war effort, awaits completion.
A leading concern is the spare parts and other stocks that were expended in combat. Operation Desert Storm was fought on the strength of war readiness kits and spares funded between 1984 and 1987. Since then, budgets for these items have been cut sharply.
Like the rest of the Air Force, the loggies are searching for ways to preserve their effectiveness while absorbing the reductions that have already begun. It is some comfort to know that they approach the lean years with their priorities straight, their data systems in good order, and a tradition of quality established.