Preparing for planes not yet in the skies while maintaining ones that have been around since the 1950s — that’s the challenge for the Air Force Sustainment Center headquartered at Tinker Air Force Base.
Congress is figuring out how to get the AFSC and other military maintenance divisions ready for the future. AFSC Commander Lt. Gen. Gene Kirkland told a House Armed Services subcommittee on Thursday taking care of $26 billion in assets now is not easy.
"Readiness and sustainment challenges driven by legacy weapons systems are complicated by an aging infrastructure footprint, a diminishing supply manufacturing base, and a federal workforce hiring process that is improving but not yet conducive to supporting today’s environment," Kirkland said.
Kirkland said while Tinker just opened a refueling station for the new KC-46 Pegasus aircraft, it’s also struggling to find parts at times. When that happens, it falls to workers to reverse engineer those components.
"Reverse engineering provides us a technical package, which we can then manufacture the part either organic or outsource that to commercial industry when that might make sense. And that works really well for small batches … can return a part in days or weeks instead of months or years," Kirkland said.
Kirkland said what he really needs is a steady stream of qualified workers to boost morale.
"As we put more and more work into the same facilities and same workforces, that has a beneficial effect of keeping every employee gainfully employed and providing upward mobility with supervisory opportunities," Kirkland said.
The Air Force has a 20-year, $26 billion plan to improve maintenance operations, though it will be up to Congress to find the money for it.
Lawmakers suggested on Thursday military maintenance branches address immediate worker and part shortages by forging more partnerships with colleges, technical schools and private industry.