Modernization, Expanded Workforce Coming Slowly to Fleet Readiness Centers
By EVAMARIE SOCHA, Seapower Special Correspondent
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Building modernization and more personnel, from enlisted to civilians to officers, are keys to readiness for the Navy’s eight Fleet Readiness Centers (FRCs), but it’s not happening fast enough — something their leader put on his own shoulders.
“When you have the best workforce, it’s what you’re reaching for,” said Rear Adm. Mike Zarkowski, commander of Fleet Readiness Centers under the Naval Air Systems Command. “I’m not moving quickly and well enough to make that happen.”
Zarkowski’s remarks came April 4 during a briefing on FRCs at the 2017 Sea-Air-Space Exposition. He answered a question regarding Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson’s comment to all naval leaders that they should feel uncomfortable about the Navy’s readiness and use it to get to a higher, better state. All should “be ready to fight tonight,” Richardson has said.
One reason is the massive personnel hit the FRCs took around 2013. The workforce shrank to about 8,000 employees because of sequestration, furloughs and voluntary resignations. An aggressive hiring plan aims to get the workforce back up to about 10,000 in a year or two, Zarkowski said.
Those employees, in service and civilian, need the craft and training to all can be a depot-level artisan, he said.
Also, FRCs are in dated buildings that range in age from 40 to 70 years old, Zarkowski said. It’s a problem, for instance, working on the new and elite F-35 Lighting II fighter aircraft in such facilities, where a climate-controlled environment is less than likely and components must be protected from leaking roofs and such.
Zarkowski estimated the FRCs are about in the middle, or “proactive” stage under NAVAIR’s Vision 2020, a plan to improve readiness. That plan includes additive manufacturing — using 3-D printers and tools for onsite product needs — budget alignment and NAVAIR’s Vector program, a Web-based readiness analysis toolset that lets all working on naval air programs to contribute to and see equipment status reports.
Component production and aircraft maintenance have improved, Zarkowski said. In-service repairs now happen in less than 120 days. However, it’s still not enough to get components — some 200,000 for more than 500 aircraft — through the supply line at a good pace.
“We don’t just accept that there are time constraints,” he said, noting an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to getting aircraft through service according to their required time lines.
Other goals include:
■ Standardizing operations at all FRCs so essentially “one depot is like all depots,” Zarkowsi said.
■ The ever-popular additive manufacturing, which is boosting 3-D production of V-22 Osprey components at all FRCs.
■ Using NAVAIR’s Vector program, combining information from 19 data sets and millions of lines to produce charts, pictures and other resources to study what is happening in the trenches of operations. Vector is a Web-based readiness analysis toolset that lets all working on naval air programs to contribute to and see equipment status reports.