By DONNA DOLEMAN, Aviation Aftermarket Defense
Lockheed Martin’s C-130 transport aircraft family holds the record for the longest continuous production run of any military aircraft in history. Designed in the 1950s, the C-130 has proven so remarkably adaptable to upgrades that it now appears the Hercules may continue to fly for close to 100 years. Aviation Aftermarket Defense interviewed Kanwal Mahal, Lockheed Martin’s Director of C-130 Fleet Support, about the challenges and opportunities in sustaining this iconic aircraft.
AAD: Lockheed Martin’s total life support program for the C-130 requires participation by a number of strategic partners. How do you manage to integrate all the players so that this collaboration appears seamless to your customer?
Mahal: Our strategic relationships extend across the entire spectrum of aerospace companies, ranging from suppliers of large subsystems, such as the propulsion system, to producers of software-intensive systems and small components. In addition, a number of Lockheed Martin sister companies bring relevant solutions to the C-130 operators. At Lockheed Martin, that may include IT (information technology), training, sustainment, logistics, spares, warehousing, and so on, for many platforms. We make [this collaborative effort] seamless by taking on the planning work for the customer and offering a single face.
Our engineers and logisticians are looking across the enterprise to optimize the solution space. There are many common sustainment basics between aircraft, surface ships, rail, air defense, IT, and command and control sustainment. By integrating our solutions horizontally, we bring affordable, flexible, and agile solutions to our customers for consideration.
For example, we are evaluating the consolidation of supplies staged in regional warehouses. We could offer a regional solution that permits nations with similar geo-socio-political objectives to take advantage of this strategy and potentially reduce inventory on the shelf.
We go the extra mile to enable C-130 owners/operators to leverage their own industrial complex and honor public-private partnerships so that they can build an organic capability to sustain their fleet. We also have taken on subcontractor roles to in-country service providers, as long as the customer achieves an optimized solution tailored to meet their operational and fiscal requirements.
Customers with few to no organic capabilities can leverage our network as the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to stand up organic maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) facilities, to allow us to perform these services, or to guide them to a preferred Lockheed Martin–approved MRO [service provider]. Our goal is to give every nation a full spectrum of product support choices with which to meet their sustainment and support needs. For smaller fleets, these services can be procured through the C-130 Program’s Fleet Support Mission Area or through one of our approved service centers.
AAD: Lockheed Martin obviously has top-tier strategic partners. Do you also have smaller system and component partners at various levels in the supply chain?
Mahal: Oh, yes. We form prime/sub-relationships with companies of all sizes to bring value to our operators. Our supply chain is made up of 569 suppliers. Of those, 525 are domestic and that includes 212 small businesses; internationally, we work with forty-four suppliers.
These small businesses form an essential part of our supply chain. For example, a key supplier could provide one or two large components or numerous small and medium-size components, as well as software for fleet management systems. These relationships deliver effective lifecycle cost savings that influence 67 to 70 percent of the total ownership cost of a weapons system.
We also have enduring relationships with our Heavy Maintenance Centers (HMCs) and numerous Hercules Service Centers (HSCs) to offer ongoing support for C-130J and legacy aircraft, respectively. Although each sustainment solution is tailored to each nation’s specific requirements, select nations choose to take advantage of these centers in order to efficiently manage their lifecycle costs. If a nation operating a C-130 wants to offer their organic capabilities to others, we support that model as well.
We’ve had an approved HMC at Marshall Aerospace in the United Kingdom for some time now and are in the final stages of approving Cascade Aerospace in Canada, already an HSC, as a Lockheed Martin–certified HMC. As we grow the worldwide fleet, I see a need for additional HMCs in Asia and Africa. Furthermore, we already have entered into joint ventures in the Middle East and India, furthering our long-term commitment to the C-130 franchise. We position ourselves worldwide to support our global fleet so [customers] can benefit from effective management of depot-level repair, reach-back engineering, and supply chain and logistics support.
AAD: If the C-130 continues in operation for another40 years or so, the aircraft may well approach 100 years of service. What challenges do you see in sustaining the aircraft, especially in a global environment? And what sort of plans are you making to ensure customer support in the future?
Mahal: The original requirements for the C-130 were simply to build an aircraft that could carry troops and cargo, and land and take off from improvised airfields. Today, the aircraft has a diverse array of requirements, implemented in seventy-plus aircraft variants, performing upward of twenty-two distinct missions.
While the past has taught us many lessons, the future will be driven by leveraging large amounts of useable data to deliver comprehensive product support offerings. To get to the 100-year mark, Lockheed Martin intends to lead the franchise with this innovation.
We now have over 1 million flight hours on the C-130J, and that data offers insight into how the aircraft is meeting mission needs. We also have data from hundreds of hours of scheduled and unscheduled maintenance. We have thoroughly exercised our supply chain and logistical support network, which has yielded additional information.
Furthermore, we have an active production line delivering twenty-four aircraft per year, and a robust planned upgrades program, determined by a Joint Users Group, yielding engineering design, production, and flight-line data, which further enriches the quality of useable data.
Our vision for the future is to synthesize all of that information to make informed decisions regarding where to focus our continuous improvement and affordability initiatives. We are reaching into these rich databases globally with talented sustainment engineers to continually improve reliability, as well as to reduce both scheduled and unscheduled maintenance events, and therefore downtime. We have created a “HercFusion” team and staffed it with members from the C-130 Program, Advanced Development Programs (also known as “Skunks Works”), Lockheed Martin Corporate Engineering and Technology, Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training, and Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions to leverage best practices from all enterprises within the company.
Imagine, for example, if you could reduce scheduled maintenance downtime by 20 to 25 percent by analyzing data and making, in effect, an additional aircraft available to the fleet commander. That is a very realistic and significant improvement. So, we are extracting the “intelligence” from all data, fusing it, and then predicting whether an aircraft is a candidate for a revised scheduled maintenance plan. Our ability to extract operational behaviors from data affords us the opportunity to predict maintenance interval durations, thereby minimizing downtime — a key enabler for the station commander.
The HercFusion team is already identifying resources, the data needed, and what steps should be taken first, based upon the biggest drivers of aircraft downtime, whether it is a component, system, or event. With that knowledge, we can engage with the nations and explain how they can lower their operational costs, thanks to the integration of knowledge from all sources. No one else has the ability to collect and analyze so much C-130 data this way.
We also can even help customers optimize their “sovereign” inventory, especially if they are willing to collaborate with partner nations with whom they typically share airlift requirements in theaters of operation. A pilot project with select nations is planned for the near future.
Perhaps the most important role we play is in finding ways to offer customers additional capabilities while sustaining their fleets. As an example, we are developing methods and systems so that customers can implement a new capability — such as an updated system — during a scheduled maintenance period. They can perform this activity without removing the aircraft from the fleet for an extended period of time, as often occurs now. This is critical for nations with smaller fleets. We have the capability at Lockheed Martin to perform this planning to align maintenance and upgrade-related actions. We envision our role as enablers where nations see us working side-by-side with them to solve their most complex issues.
AAD: The C130-XJ will offer a lower-cost, but expandable version of the Hercules, eliminating, for example, the enhanced cargo-handling system. What value does it bring to the market?
Mahal: With the XJ, we can offer nations, [particularly those] with small fleets and/or a very specific definition of needs, a platform to perform only the missions they really need. They receive a lower-priced aircraft. Yet they retain the ability to add any of the other capabilities at a later time.
Also, we are able to offer these customers the ability to share inventory. For example, a fleet of two aircraft typically is provisioned with one spare engine; a fleet of six aircraft can be provisioned with two spare engines. All other things being equal, if both nations agree to share their spare engines, they could both, conceivably, improve their availability with three spare engines in the combined fleet of eight aircraft.
AAD: What do you believe is the greatest benefit of Lockheed Martin’s Hercules Operators Council?
Mahal: This year, we will be holding the twenty-fifth Hercules Operators Council (HOC). I believe the greatest benefit of this event is that the participating nations and suppliers get to discuss lessons learned with each other. Even the smallest operators bring unique insights that may have been overlooked by a larger fleet operator. The participants also hear firsthand from Lockheed Martin about areas of sustainability, maintainability, and keeping their aircraft fit for purpose.
The conversations at mealtimes between operators, coupled with many speakers who cover numerous aspects of the aircraft’s use, performance, and newly offered capabilities increase the operator’s overall knowledge, while providing tangible lessons that they can take home and implement. For example, two initiatives addressing affordability include carbon brakes that, when implemented, improve operational costs and reduce cooling-off periods after assault landing. On the other hand, microvanes, small strakes or aerodynamic surfaces mounted on the aft fuselage to improve airflow characteristics, significantly reduce fuel burn.
Lockheed Martin continues to receive positive feedback from operators and suppliers for organizing this premier annual C-130 event. We welcome all suggestions to enhance the HOC experience and look forward to seeing you there.