Photo Credit: Kiana Allen, AMCJames C. Dwyer, deputy chief of staff, Logistics G-4; Bill Andrews, deputy commanding general, AMCOM; Alan Estevez, assistant secretary of Defense for Logistics & Materiel Readiness, and Moheb Assad, director of Manufacturing/Process Production discuss future efforts for the Bearing Reclamation Facility.
CORPUS CHRISTI, TX—The federal government is not typically seen as a business, but Corpus Christi Army Depot (CCAD,) the Army's rotary wing maintenance and repair facility, has caught the attention of one high-level defense official who thinks that this is exactly what the government needs.
Alan F. Estevez, the assistant secretary of defense for logistics and materiel readiness, paid CCAD a visit in January 2013 to see how they're driving down the cost of sustaining some of the department of defense's most critical helicopters.
Estevez is responsible for providing world-class military logistics support to the United States armed forces, both in current operations as well as in the future. He came down to CCAD because he understands the criticality of the military's organic base. It is something he intends to make clear on Capitol Hill.
"Most people do not understand what is done in our depot structure,” he told Col. Christopher B. Carlile, CCAD commander. “Depot structures are a crown jewel of America's defense capability. What is being done here at CCAD is a prime example of the best of the best -- just spectacular work. The depot system is not going to go away because we need them. We need it for the next generation
"In order to sustain the force structure we'll need [in the future], we'll have to do things from a logistics perspective at a lower cost," he continued. "I think the things you're doing are exactly what needs to be done in order to do that. If you can't deliver a Black Hawk for less, then you're not going to get that Black Hawk. That's the reality."
Defense leaders understand that the future of defense helicopters is sketchy. Budget concerns and a changing operational tempo have stalled any efforts to replace the current fleet but Estevez makes one thing clear: "We'll have to sustain them if you want to buy them."
While there is still no word on the next generation of combat helicopters, a venture that would cost billions of dollars to execute, the military makes do with what they already have -- the Black Hawks, Apaches, Kiowa Warriors, the Air Force Pave Hawks. Those helicopters come to CCAD to get repaired, modified, upgraded and reset for another round of use. It's the most cost-effective solution to replacing worn aircraft with brand new birds each time a helicopter has a hard landing or needs a modified engine or component.
In recent years, however, the Army depot has been looking for ways to drive down the cost and time it takes to reset the fleet. That's when depot leaders began to look at processes, logistics and even the paperwork involved in getting helicopters back in the air. What they needed was a business make-over.
CCAD instituted a new way of doing business as a DOD maintenance facility by implementing efficiency and cost reductions at every level. Namely, through the adoption of an effective Enterprise Resource Planning, or ERP, system, the Logistics Modernization Program, known as LMP, CCAD has made strides in reducing the cost of maintenance support while maximizing production to sustain vertical lift operations. Similarly, the Electronic Shop Production System, or ESPS, streamlines the logistics of traveling parts and components throughout CCAD's 2.3 million square feet of industrial space.
Leaders at the depot credit the commercial sector for showing them how to do business smarter. ERPs are something used by every major corporation, it turns out. It could be that federal entities need to shift their perspective to something that can balance better business practices with the nation's needs on the Nation's dime. It's certainly the way Estevez sees the future of defense.
"ERPs are critical to our [DOD's] ability to monitor our workload, determine our cost and, in fact, increase our productivity," he said. "It's the same thing that's done in the civilian sector. It's critical to our ability to return value to the American taxpayer and, more importantly, to return value to the warfighters."
"The initiatives that Colonel Carlile is driving in this depot to lower cost and increase production are the types of action that needs to be taken by all our industrial sites," said Estevez. "These are the types of actions that we owe the American taxpayer, that we owe to the Warfighter in order to sustain the best military in the world. At the end of the day, I think you're doing what this country needs."
Estevez also highlighted a parallel need that the industrial base needs to accept more joint work from other areas of government. Though most of the programs at Corpus Christi Army Depot are specifically for Army, they accept work from other armed force helicopters.
CCAD has an entire hangar dedicated to the Air Force Pave Hawk, a variant of the Army's UH-60 Black Hawk, and they are looking to accept more work from Coast Guard and Homeland Security.
The future of defense, Estevez said, will require even more cooperation between services -- a concept that truly embodies the concept of "One Team, One Fight." America needs to emphasize the need for more joint work and for sustainment to achieve a fiscally conservative government.
During Estevez's visit, he had the opportunity to tour CCAD's production facility and the offices responsible for all the technical aspects of logistics, production schedules, and process improvement.
"[When] you walk along the floor, you see increasing production of Black Hawks, increasing production of [rotor] blades, increasing production in components -- all at a lower cost than it was four or five years ago or even seven or eight years ago. You see a drastic [cost] decrease," said Estevez. "This is what it's about. It's about taking great production techniques, taking lean six sigma techniques, taking continuous process improvement and continuing to get better and then using the backbone of LMP to increase that as a multiplier effect."
"It's a great return on investment for the American people," Estevez said. "Work doesn't go to the depot because we have one. We go there because it's costing what it needs to cost at a competitive rate. We need to sustain that."
But contrary to the idea that government facilities will stand head-to-head against the private industrial base, CCAD demonstrates that the two could co-exist symbiotically. In fact, most Original Equipment Manufacturers, or OEMs, maintain that they derive just as much benefit from working with CCAD because they augment their workload through some of CCAD's most unique capabilities when times get tough.
"There are things that the commercial sector does very well and there are things that we do well in the organic base. We need an industrial base in the United States. The next generation of helicopters is going to come from the innovation that comes out of our industrial base," said Estevez. "When you get those great partnership agreements is when we marry up what they do well. What [CCAD] does well is the touch labor and repair and you bring that best value right back to the community.
That community includes the nearly 6,000 civilians that make up CCAD. They're American taxpayers, nearly half of them are veterans, but all of them are patriots. They work around the clock because they know a soldier out there is waiting to see that helicopter dot that horizon to take them home.
But this is not the kind of workforce the media writes about. This is not the image they would paint of a federal employee but Estevez says that this perception couldn't be further from the truth.
"No one in our workforce is twiddling their thumbs waiting and expecting their paycheck. We need to recognize that and carry that message back to Capitol Hill."