A partnership between Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) and Sikorsky is helping meet the fleet’s needs for critical parts for CH-53E Super Stallion and MH-53E Sea Dragon heavy-lift helicopters.
Under a performance-based logistics contract that is part of a public-private partnership (PPP) between FRCE and Sikorsky, the depot’s artisans provide the skilled labor required to repair and overhaul certain H-53 components, while Sikorsky provides the parts and logistics support. In fiscal year 2021, the partnership successfully reduced high-priority component backorders to help boost aviation readiness.
FRCE’s support of the partnership has proven successful even through a challenging production environment complicated by material constraints and pandemic-related considerations, which is a testament to the drive and dedication of the workforce, said David Rose, acting director of the Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) Production Department at FRCE.
“Our team has done a great job in mitigating not only the normal challenges to production, but has done so during uncertain times,” Rose said. “We managed to deliver the product and we pride ourselves on that. At the end of the day, it’s all about meeting the commitment we made to get the warfighter what he or she needs, and our performance in this program allows us to do that through the partnership with Sikorsky.”
FRCE helped Sikorsky meet the fleet’s needs by prioritizing workload to fulfill high-priority backorders, also known as Issue Priority Group 1 (IPG-1). An item becomes an IPG-1 based on a force activity designator, which is a classification assigned based on several factors including the requesting unit’s deployability.
“If you look at the last year, I think the big takeaway is that we were able to continue meeting our production goals on time despite the challenging environment, and bring down those fleet backorders to progress to the point that we promised our customers,” said Jamie Byrd, an industrial specialist in the Public-Private Partnership Management Branch of the MRO Business Office at FRCE. “Sikorsky was able to provide the material source that we needed, and production was able to step up and increase their output and meet the numbers that Sikorsky requested.
“With all of this, we were able to go beyond just filling the high-priority backorders to get a positive balance as far as inventory, and make the customer very, very happy,” Byrd added.
One example of FRCE meeting a stretch goal set by Sikorsky occurred in the H-53 blade shop producing almost three times its usual monthly output to close the fiscal year. In an average month, the blade shop produces about 15 main rotor blades; in September, Sikorsky requested 31, said John Miller, the Public-Private Partnership Branch program manager.
“They set some pretty lofty goals for FRC East to meet,” Miller said. “Not only did we meet that, but we exceeded it and produced 42 blades for the month of September. Doug Ford and his team in the blade shop never cease to amaze me. In August 2019, Sikorsky had more than 50 unfulfilled requisitions for H-53 main rotor blades; as of today, Sikorsky has zero unfulfilled requisitions and ample stock on shelf.”
The hydraulic shop provided another recent example of a team going the extra mile to meet the needs of the fleet through the Sikorsky partnership. The hydraulic and paint shops came together, Miller said, to produce nine primary servo cylinders in under a month – a timeline that had been unheard-of until that effort. The primary servo cylinder is a critical component on the H-53; it controls movement of the rotary-wing blades and is part of the cyclic pitch control system that allows the pilot to control the forward, aft and lateral movements of the helicopter.
“The hydraulic shop, the paint shop, quality assurance – they all came through when we needed them to,” Miller noted. “Everybody was really hustling and bustling to meet this goal.”
In addition to filling the IPG-1s, FRCE also managed to reduce turnaround times on critical items such as the H-53 main rotor head, one of the most complex components worked at the depot in terms of the number of sub-components and parts comprising the finished product. FRCE began servicing the main rotor head as part of the Sikorsky partnership in 2019.
“The turnaround time we quoted for the rotor head was a year – that’s how long it takes to get it processed, repaired, and back out to the fleet,” Byrd said. “And now the shop is doing it in seven to eight months. They’ve managed to reduce the turnaround time for that component in under two years.”
The extra effort FRCE puts into the partnership doesn’t just benefit the fleet, Byrd noted; it also helps secure future workload for the depot.
“We’ve been in this partnership with Sikorsky since 2006,” Byrd explained. “Because we were doing so well on Phase One, in 2019 we added 56 components to the partnership as Phase Two. And now, we have done so well with these that Naval Supply Systems Command is considering adding more components as a Phase Three. This partnership is positioning us to show that we can support the performance-based logistics contracts as we move to the H-53K and other future aircraft.”
Rose agreed that the strong relationship with Sikorsky benefits both the fleet and the depot.
“We’re their predominant partner, and that’s something that we value,” he said. “It’s like the old adage: You’re going to keep taking your car to the same place as long as you’re a satisfied customer. We want to make sure our partnership with Sikorsky stays solid because, at the end of the day, it’s all about getting the warfighter what they need, and this partnership provides FRC East another avenue to support the fleet. It takes an effort from the whole team: the production controllers, the estimator and evaluators, the engineering support, all of these people working behind the scenes before the component ever gets handed to the artisan who assembles it.
“It sounds cliché, because we say it every time: You give FRC East what FRC East needs, and we will always accomplish the task, and do it in line with the commitment that we made,” Rose continued. “The sky is the limit with the workforce here.”
FRCE is North Carolina’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.