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Advancing Aviation Depot Capability Forward on the Battlefield

The key to mission success is being effective. Although efficiency is logistically important, without effectiveness, efficiency is irrelevant.

In recent years, Army National Guard aviation classification repair activity depots (AVCRADs) have transformed faster than changes could be made to their tables of distribution and allowances or modification tables of organization and equipment. Deploying to Southwest Asia while they are transforming has increased the challenges AVCRADs face.

An AVCRAD performs two combat service support (CSS) functions executed at the depot level: maintenance and supply. It is responsible for limited depot aircraft maintenance, component repair, pass-back aviation intermediate maintenance (AVIM), and operation of a supply support activity (SSA). [Pass-back AVIM is repair that cannot be performed by the units designated to provide it because they have an excessive amount of work requests, lack personnel with the required training and expertise, or lack the proper tools and equipment.]

The Army National Guard has four AVCRADs. They are located in Connecticut, Mississippi, Missouri, and California. These units were originally designed either to operate from a fixed base at their home stations or to fall in on Corpus Christi Army Depot, Texas, to augment that depot’s workforce.

AVCRADs deployed to the Southwest Asia area of operations support aviation reception, staging, onward movement, and integration (RSO&I) and the National Maintenance Program (NMP) for Army Materiel Command (AMC) Southwest Asia. The AVCRADs also are the Coalition Forces Land Component Command's (CFLCC's) reserve aviation maintenance resource.

AVCRADs have been instrumental in providing aviation maintenance support for Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF). The 1109th AVCRAD in Groton, Connecticut, deployed to OIF 1 in 2003 and established depot operations in a warehouse in Kuwait. The 1107th AVCRAD in Springfield, Missouri, took over operation of the warehouse from the 1109th in 2004 and converted the warehouse into a series of shops that produced depot-repaired components in support of the NMP. The 1106th AVCRAD in Fresno, California, deployed to Kuwait in 2005 to support OIF 04–06 and expanded the operation to provide support to OEF. This article describes the experiences of the 1106th AVCRAD.

Mission Analysis Team

Within a month of its arrival in Kuwait, the 1106th AVCRAD sent a mission analysis team to Iraq to determine the warfighters’ forward depot operations needs. The key problems identified by the team were difficulty in moving maintenance contact teams and components within the theater and in communicating requirements from units in Iraq to the AVCRAD in Kuwait.

From the initial identification of a maintenance requirement, it often took as long as 10 days to move a depot contact team into Iraq. Once the team was on site, it might not have all of the materials and tools required for the job (due, in part, to the difficulty in communicating depot requirements to Kuwait). Another problem was that aircraft on ground (AOG) components and other high-priority components that were picked up by liaison officers at the SSA in Kuwait often were lost in the transportation system. [AOG is a supply status used for aviation parts that can only be used when three or fewer parts are needed to make an aircraft flyable. It is the highest priority aviation logistics request. Using the AOG designator causes supply and transportation personnel to expedite delivery of the parts so that the aircraft can be back in operation in the shortest time possible.]

Field Manual 4–0, Combat Service Support, defines the eight characteristics of CSS as responsiveness, simplicity, flexibility, attainability, sustainability, survivability, economy, and integration. The mission analysis team identified three primary areas of concern for application of the CSS characteristics: operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the SSA, and maintenance support.

Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan

When an aircraft suffers battle damage or is damaged in a hard landing, for example, it must be repaired and returned to the fight as quickly as possible. Repairing a damaged aircraft requires parts, special tools, and skilled, technically adept personnel. To meet these needs, the 1106th AVCRAD developed the forward operations cell (FOC) concept of support.

The FOC provided depot expertise forward to communicate requirements, positioned a movement control team (MCT) in Iraq to manage parts flow, stationed depot teams and tools forward to reduce response time, and served as a forward command and control node for the AVCRAD commanders. The FOC was able to respond to customer requirements within minutes or hours instead of days, as had been the case when the AVCRAD had to respond from Kuwait.

Supply Support Activity

After an AOG component was picked up from the SSA, visibility of that component was lost for the 4 to 7 days that it took to get it to the unit. Sometimes the components got lost in the transportation system. The 1106th developed a tracking mechanism and established MCTs at Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, and at Camp Anaconda, Iraq, to expedite the movement of AOG components. As a result, delivery time was reduced to 1 1/2 to 2 1⁄2 days.

When the 1106th took over operations in December 2004, the SSA contained approximately 7,000 lines of authorized stockage list and nonstockage list items. The SSA routing identifier code was not on the Standard Army Retail Supply System (SARSS) search matrix, so the only way units in Iraq could get components was by using a walk-through process established by CFLCC. To automate the process, the 1106th coordinated with CFLCC to establish a new SSA routing identifier code in the search matrix in order to deplete the nonstockage list items andplace NMP-repaired components into the search matrix. To make more parts readily available to the warfighter, the 1106th established a remote SSA in Iraq that was filled with approximately 30 lines of critical, high-use components. This reduced the fill time of requests for those AOG components from 2 to 4 days to 1 hour.

The AVCRAD component repair mission required that unserviceable, reparable components be transported to Kuwait. Often, after receiving a component, the AVCRAD found that it would have to be evacuated to the continental United States (CONUS) for repair. Part of the FOC mission was to reduce the number of components being transported unnecessarily on the hazardous roads of Iraq by placing AVCRAD supply and technical inspectors forward in Iraq to classify unserviceable equipment. Only components that could be repaired by the AVCRAD’s shops were shipped to Kuwait. Components that could not be repaired in Kuwait were consolidated and shipped by strategic airlift back to the appropriate CONUS depot.

Maintenance Support

The 1106th refined the maintenance process and made it more effective by selecting as critical components only those that are used extensively by Southwest Asia units in order to focus repair capability on fewer components. This reduced NMP repair lines by one-third. The portion of the AVCRAD’s workload devoted to repair and return was reduced from 50 percent to 10 percent, and the portion devoted to the NMP was increased to 90 percent. This reduced the number of lost repaired components and the time customers had to wait for serviceable parts. A repair transaction effectively became a supply transaction ordering parts for the customers instead of a work order transaction sending parts for repair, with its accompanying difficulties of transportation, repair, and coordination.

Application of CSS Characteristics

The AVCRAD had to take the CSS characteristics into account when deciding how to address the problems identified by the mission analysis team. They addressed each of the characteristics as follows.

Responsiveness. Responsiveness is providing the right support in the right place at the right time. This was accomplished by establishing FOCs in Iraq and Afghanistan. The FOCs provided depot supply, maintenance, aircraft battle-damage repair, assessment, and technical assistance support forward, eliminating the customer wait time previously required for coordination and transportation from Kuwait.

Simplicity. This characteristic was exemplified through the establishment of a system for tracking AOG components being transported from Kuwait to customers in Iraq. Establishing MCTs to account for AOG components leaving Kuwait and arriving in Iraq was a simple concept. It involved placing Soldiers at chokepoints to track specific components and intercede at the first sign of trouble. This did more to improve delivery times and reduce the loss of parts in the system than any other procedure put into place. The MCTs also established an Army Knowledge Online collaboration site using Excel spreadsheets so that supported customers could track their AOG components in the system.

The 1106th Soldiers demonstrated their adaptability many times during this deployment. Flexibility was crucial to having an effective logistics operation. The lines of communication and transportation between the customers and the AVCRAD presented the greatest obstacle for the Southwest Asia operation. In the past, the AVCRADs had not established or operated FOCs or run MCTs and they were not part of the AVCRAD’s established mission. To deliver the right support to the warfighter in Iraq and Afghanistan, leaders had to think “outside the box.” This was demonstrated by the establishment of a second SSA, use of MCTs, and placement of FOCs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Attainability. Attainability is the ability to determine the minimum essential support needed to begin operations. The 1106th displayed this characteristic with the phased establishment and manning of the FOCs. While the AVCRAD was heavily involved in RSO&I operations at the beginning of the deployment, it continued to maintain a minimum support presence in the FOCs. During the operational phase of the deployment, it manned the FOCs very robustly to assist in meeting pass-back AVIM and depot maintenance requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the end of its rotation, the 1106th reduced the manning of FOCs to support redeploying forces in Kuwait and the inbound deploying forces through the RSO&I process.

Sustainability. Sustainability is the ability to maintain continuous support during all phases of operations. Sustainability was demonstrated repeatedly by the manning level reductions and increases made at different phases of the deployment. The AVCRAD commander ensured that the unit was never engaged in operations that would hinder its ability to lift and shift resources to higher priority requirements. This strategy was established to maintain the ability to be the theater commander’s reserve maintenance capability for unforeseen mission requirements.

A good example of this was the AVCRAD’s involvement in an air port of debarkation to sea port of debarkation operation in Qatar. A strategic air-to-sea-lift operation was used to move aviation units from Afghanistan using intratheater airlift assets to Qatar for redeployment using sealift resources.

Survivability. Survivability is the ability to protect support functions from destruction or degradation. The supply personnel and technical inspectors, working together to classify aircraft components as far forward as possible, supported the survivability of U.S. forces by reducing the amount of retrograde components trucked to Kuwait on the treacherous highways of Iraq. One less truck on the road was one less risk for the Soldiers and contractors supporting the war effort.

Economy. Economy is providing the most efficient support to accomplish the mission. A benefit of determining repair requirements forward was that unserviceable components were sent directly to the quickest source of repair, whether that was in Kuwait or CONUS. This ensured that components were not delayed in transit and were quickly repaired and returned to the warfighter.

Integration. Integration consists of synchronizing CSS operations with all aspects of operations. The 1106th AVCRAD depended on CFLCC, AMC Southwest Asia, and the Multinational Corps-Iraq to establish priorities when resources were short. It established liaisons with aviation brigades and battalions in Iraq and Afghanistan to ensure that customer requirements were properly identified and supported. Through its forward presence and use of liaison officers, the 1106th became part of the brigade combat teams.

Through the effective and efficient application of the CSS characteristics, the 1106th AVCRAD made itself a combat multiplier for OIF and OEF. Depot support was placed forward in Iraq and Afghanistan, reducing response time to hours versus weeks and days. AOG average wait time was reduced from an average of 5 to 7 days to 1 1⁄2 to 2 1⁄2 days.

Lieutenant Colonel Mark A. Van Dyke, California Army National Guard, is the Commander of the 1st Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment, in Los Alamitos, California. He was the Operations Officer for the 1106th Aviation Classification Repair Activity Depot in Fresno, California, when it deployed to Kuwait in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. He has a B.A. degree in organizational development and human resources from Fresno Pacific University and is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College.