News | April 10, 2024

Fleet Readiness Center Southeast F414 Engine Product Line Soars Past NAE Engine Readiness Goal

The achievement was a joint effort between FRCSE, the F/A-18 and EA-18G Program Office, Naval Supply Systems Command, Defense Logistics Agency, General Electric and other organizations.

“By collaborating with several organizations, revisiting key processes and tapping into the power of our Fleet Support Team (FST), the F414 team wasn’t just able to overcome a significant backlog of engine demand, but achieved it record time,” said FRCSE Commanding Officer Capt. Al Palmer. “It’s a true testament to FRCSE’s ability to dissect a problem and create innovative solutions to meet fleet demands.”

The F414 engine, the power behind the Navy’s twin-engine F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler, is a turbofan engine manufactured by General Electric (GE) capable of producing 22,000 pounds of thrust. It has been a staple workload at FRCSE for more than two decades.

As the Navy’s sole source of repair for the F414 engine module, FRCSE rose to meet the lofty NAE goal of 341 mission-capable Super Hornets outlined during fiscal year (FY) 2019, but the upsurge in engines required to hit the goal put a strain on all aspects of the program, resulting in engine module shortages and sending RFI F414s in a downward trajectory.

The FY 2019 goal meant the command needed to ramp up production efforts on all six F414 modules: the fan, high-pressure compressor (HPC), combustor, high-pressure turbine (HPT), low-pressure turbine (LPT) and afterburner, which ultimately depleted the available stock of components and parts, creating a kink in the supply chain. As the Navy worked to purchase and deliver more parts, FRCSE fought to sustain mission-capable aircraft.

“From fiscal year 2019 to 2023, the F414 ecosystem was challenged to avoid letting engine numbers drop to bare firewall levels, while simultaneously increasing output to achieve ERG,” said Matt Lindberg, FRCSE’s Engines Production Line Director. “The increase put a strain on the supply system, which couldn’t fully recover until fiscal year 2023 and 2024.”

Every aircraft engine plays a vital role in our military’s ability to remain ready to fight. However, considering the F414 is the power behind the Navy’s primary strike fighter aircraft, the need for innovative ideas to keep engine modules built and aircraft flying demanded creativity and a hard look at processes, FST efforts, workflow and personnel.

The first step was to leverage subject matter experts. The F414 team found that by looking through the lens of the Naval Sustainment System and using the Navy’s “Get Real, Get Better” principles, they could significantly increase production.

They started by reallocating personnel—increasing the artisan workforce by 23 percent and support staff by 10 percent. While this step was vital to the overall outcome, the team struck gold when they evaluated the kitting stage of repair.

“The kitting process can begin when all parts are accounted for to make a complete component or module assembly,” Lindberg said. “Production controllers gather the parts and put them in a specifically designed cart that is rolled out to the artisan to build. While it seems like a simple tactic, each module within the F414 engine has hundreds of unique parts. We focused our efforts in process improvement around this procedure because once the artisan receives the kit, they are able to build it quickly.”

To keep the fine-tuned kitting process running smoothly, the team adjusted the focus of daily meetings and used various communication tools to make expectations clear and keep track of all parts.

“The new method ensured that parts routed were tracked effectively through industrial processes, and it also became easier to manage shortages and pinpoint issues in advance,” Lindberg said. “Ultimately, this led to an increase in module output of 35 percent.”

Simultaneously, in early 2023, a foundation was laid for FRCSE’s F/A-18 Propulsion FST by way of a weekly NAE F414 conference call known as HUD, a weekly, enterprise-wide conversation to address and curtail F414 issues from every level of maintenance—organization (O) level, intermediate (I) level and depot (D) level.

While FRCSE is a D-level facility and in-depth provider of maintenance, repair and overhaul of these engines, issues occurring external to the depot directly affect whether the command can meet its goals.

Consequently, as the F414 team struggled to meet RFI module demand, FRCSE’s FST evaluated issues at the O and I levels in an attempt to eliminate constraints at other levels of maintenance.

The team found that by supporting life limit extension on several key scheduled engine removal (SER) drivers, and by leaning into Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM), a specific, data-driven approach to evaluate a situation or solve a problem, engines could be kept on wing longer.

“By increasing life limits on two dozen critical subcomponents within the F414’s six modules, the team could drive down engine removals happening at the O-level, helping to cushion module supply at the I-level and, subsequently, keeping depot-level production advancing,” said David Renn, F/A-18 Propulsion FST Lead. “These changes are forecasted to decrease SERs by 10 percent over the next 10 years, resulting in more than $400 million in projected savings to the fleet. Since implementing the changes, SERs have decreased by over 35 percent. This reduction had an immediate and direct impact on ERG.”

Furthermore, the team designed a dynamic digital tool to cut down on artisan time and predict usable Composite Outer Bypass Duct (COBD), an area of the engine most commonly connected to unscheduled in-depth repair. The COBD is a structural component of the engine within the HPC that acts as a pressure vessel containing engine bypass air. It also, simultaneously, works as an attachment point for several control and accessory components.

The tool assigns scores to COBDs located within modules that were not ready-for-use. Any usable COBDs are extracted from non-usable modules and reallocated. The FST team delivered the tool to FRCSE Planners and Estimators in May 2023 and trained them on its usage shortly after that.

“This tool increased the usable COBD rate from a historical recover rate of 35 to 76 percent because artisans were no longer wasting time on repairs that would never come to fruition,” Renn said. “An additional 41 COBDs were extracted from non-RFI modules, removing the COBD barrier.”

From May to October 2023, back orders on engine module parts decreased from 338 to zero, and subsequently, the program reached its ERG of 1,451 RFI engines by November 2023—for the first time in over five years. The milestone represents the most RFI engines available since the command started working on the engine in 2002.

“We played our part in getting things done, but this was a Naval Aviation Enterprise team success,” Renn said. “An accomplishment of this magnitude speaks volumes about our ability to harness partnerships and overcome complex obstacles to meet or exceed fleet demand.”