2007: Britain’s NAO Reviews RAF’s New Maintenance Approach
Over the past few years Britain’s defense procurement went through significant reforms, especially in the area of aircraft maintenance. Platforms that are now handled under a full “future contracting for availability” full-life maintenance framework (i.e. pays for available aircraft rather than paying for spares) include CH-47 helicopters, E-3D Sentry AWACS radar surveillance aircraft, and Tornado fighters. Platforms that are using contracting for availability but are not yet through-life contracts, or are progressing via availability contracts for sub-systems etc. as they work their way up, include the RAF’s Hawk trainers, Harrier jets, VC10 aerial tankers, Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft, and others. Even these partial implementations, however, have seen significant changes to maintenance arrangements and contract structures, as Britain works through the issues related to the change and implements its Defence Industrial Strategy.
Recent events include the signing of a Long Term Partnering Agreement (LTPA) Foundation Contract with BAE Systems. It covers intended progress toward an eventual binding agreement that will provide effective through-life support to the RAF’s entire fixed wing fleet for front line service. Which leads to the logical question – have the changes worked? Enter Britain’s National Audit Office, with its July 17/07 report: “Transforming logistics support for fast jets.” Press notice | Executive summary | Full Report [PDF, 2.1 MB]. Key metrics associated with the Tornado and Harrier support contracts include:
- The Tornado and Harrier Integrated Project Teams’ costs fell from a total of GBP 711 million in 2001-02 to GBP 328 million in 2006-07, creating cumulative savings of GBP 1.3 billion (Tornado) and GBP 109 million (Harrier) over the period 2001-02 to 2006-07. GBP 1.4 billion = $2.87 billion at current conversion rates.
- Reduced Service personnel involved in depth repair by around 360, with further cost and manpower reductions planned for both aircraft fleets.
- The main cost of change is GBP 140 million, associated with the super-hangar at St Athan and the subsequent closure of the Defence Aviation Repair Agency’s fast jet business.
- From 2000 to 2003, operational availability of the Tornado GR4 strike aircraft averaged 100% of target. There was a dip as low as 93% from 2003-2006, but the target was met from the end of December 2006.
- The Tornado GR4 has reduced minor maintenance repair time by 37% compared with that previous DARA figures. Further improvements are expected.
- Since entering into a partnered availability contract with Rolls-Royce, the Department has achieved 100% availability of the Tornado RB199 engine, and reduced rejection rates and hence the number of engines under depth repair.
- The pulse line at RAF Cottesmore reduced the time taken to perform minor Harrier maintenance by 19% since 2002, and the commencement of the Joint Upgrade and Maintenance Programme at RAF Cottesmore achieved a 43% decrease in the time taken to upgrade Harrier GR7 aircraft to GR9 standard.
- Operational availability of Harrier aircraft was below target before the change. It dropped further in April 2003 with the start of the Harrier upgrade program, but improved as work was transferred to the new depth repair hub at RAF Cottesmore. In the last half of 2006 aircraft availability has been at or close to 100% against a revised target, mainly because there were fewer aircraft under depth repair.
- The new maintenance arrangements that reduced depth repair made an extra 11 aircraft available to the front lines. The Department has also met a significant surge requirement for repair associated with operations in Afghanistan.
- Improved repair processes on the pulse line for the Harrier’s Pegasus engine have reduced turn around times by 59%.