|Deputy Commander Fleet Readiness Centers Dennis J. West addresses the Fleet Readiness Center East F-35 team during an informal assembly, June 18. West and Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, Headquarters Marine Corps, visited FRC East to congratulate the team on its outstanding performance during the past two years. (U.S. Navy illustration)|
MCAS Cherry Point July 7, 2015 - On the verge of the Marine Corps achieving initial operational capability (IOC) for the Joint Strike Fighter, Marine Aviation and Navy Air Systems leaders skipped ahead of the formal celebrations to laud the Fleet Readiness Center (FRC) East team for its unrelenting efforts to deliver five modified F-35B aircraft.
FRC East Commander Col. Vincent Clark opened an informal assembly June 18, to recognize the artisans’ success and to acknowledge they met a July 1 commitment to Marine Corps aviation, the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office and Lockheed Martin.
“I never had any doubts that you’d make it and that you’d make it on time. I’m immensely proud of all of you and what you’ve done out here,” said Lt. Gen. Jon M. Davis, deputy commandant for Marine Aviation, calling FRC East a winning team that figured out how to get the job done. “You showed the world the way to get the [modifications] done on the F-35B, and how you can do it on a timeline. The whole world is watching you. They’re watching me. They’re watching us.”
In June 2012, COMFRC made the establishment of the F-35B modification line FRC East’s top priority, with an added stipulation of inducting the first aircraft a year later. Meeting these commitments will keep the Marines on track to reach IOC, which is when the aircraft is ready to be fielded and used in combat missions.
“I’m personally grateful you guys pulled this off, through all the challenges thrown at the depot,” said Dennis J. West, deputy commander of the Fleet Readiness Centers. “FRC East has the best aviation industrial specialists in the world.”
Although the F-35 modifications were a priority, day-to-day responsibilities of operating a Navy depot continued. The FRC team also had to deal with some curve balls thrown its way.
“We took some key leaders out of here to work some national issues; you went through two changes of command; you endured a mandated hiring freeze for almost a year; you had a furlough,” West said. “You had to make some really hard decisions across TMS (or type/model/series) to make this possible.”
Despite the challenges, much was accomplished along the way, West noted.
The readiness center produced 301 aircraft, 415 engines and 57,693 components; achieved competency alignment; and more, all while establishing the F-35 capability — producing 16 modified F-35 aircraft, including the five to meet the Marines need.
According to FRC East leaders and managers, the artisans made an extensive effort to meet the July 1 goal. Those assigned to the project worked 12-hour days, five days of the week and eight hours most Saturdays and many Sundays over the course of the past year.
“The artisans are the real heroes here,” said David Rose, F-35 aircraft production manager. “They were thrown into the fire, learning things for the first time, making a sacrifice to work six to seven days a week. Many did it out of patriotism and a willingness to meet the mission put in front of them.”
“Give you what you need and you’ll turn wrenches and you’ll get it done, and you’ve proven it again here,” West said, speaking specifically to the team of more than 140 integrated product team leaders and JSF-dedicated artisans from all trades and contractors. “You operated like a depot in a depot. The artisans were applying their skill and artistry to building these jets. And you’ve built good solid reliable jets.”
West also expressed gratitude to other partners, such as Lockheed Martin and the JSF Program Office for the different roles each played in the process.
“Their support and help has made all the difference in achieving the milestone,” he said, acknowledging their cooperation and professionalism. “I view Lockheed Martin as a valuable partner in this, and I certainly anticipate more success with them in the future of JSF support.”
This accomplishment is only the beginning, according to leaders. “The JSF program is so big and only getting bigger. We’ll be in the business a long time,” West said, after running down a list of upcoming scheduled modifications and the projected needs of the Navy and Air Force within the next two years.
Davis said the Marines look forward to achieving initial operating capability by the end of July, with additional long-term plans to purchase 420 aircraft and activate about five squadrons at Cherry Point by 2022.