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Research Questions

  1. What are the potential impacts of F-35A AFS consolidation on maintenance manpower requirements, costs, and readiness?
  2. Are consolidated AFS concepts able to support new and evolving combat strategies designed to better address emerging threats?
  3. If the Air Force pursues new AFS concepts, what obstacles is it likely to face and what steps might it take to improve outcomes?

The U.S. Air Force (USAF) has a goal of reducing the life cycle operating and support (O&S) costs of the F-35A. Maintenance manpower is a significant driver of O&S costs, and consolidation and reorganization of maintenance career fields could reduce manpower and training costs. Such consolidations might also apply to other objectives, including reducing aircraft downtime due to maintenance, improving combat resiliency, and developing a maintenance workforce that can be employed in leaner, more-mobile adaptive basing concepts.

The authors of this report evaluate the costs and benefits of six F-35A maintenance manpower force structures that merge maintenance career fields in different ways, including two alternatives that are being explored by the USAF at the time of publication: the Blended Operational Lightning Technician (BOLT) and the Lightning Integrated Technician (LIT). In addition to quantifying impacts to O&S costs if merged Air Force Specialty (AFS) concepts are adopted, the authors discuss the applicability of such concepts to future basing concepts and identify implementation challenges.

The analysis finds that some—but not all—merged AFS concepts offer the potential to increase readiness through increased sortie-generation capability or lower O&S costs through manpower efficiencies, but significant barriers to implementation exist. If the USAF adopts merged AFS concepts, only those that are aggressive mergers of career fields—such as BOLT and LIT—should be pursued. Additionally, before adopting merged career field concepts, the USAF should further explore implementation barriers identified in the analysis, particularly those related to maintainer proficiency and training.

Key Findings

Some merged F-35A AFS concepts can benefit the Air Force, but careful evaluation is needed to determine which concepts will work in the long term

  • For some merged AFS concepts, cost-saving potential in terms of fewer maintenance personnel needed is greater than the increase in training costs. If manpower is not reduced, merged AFS concepts increase the sortie-generation potential, with a small O&S cost increase.
  • Concepts that aggressively consolidate AFSs (such as BOLT and LIT) have cost and readiness benefits even when applied to only part of the force. Smaller consolidations do not offer enough benefits to justify the challenges of implementation.
  • Merged AFS concepts could contribute to readiness for integrated basing concepts and agile operations by better enabling operations from smaller footprints and resisting performance degradation in high-casualty environments.
  • There are implementation concerns for merged AFSs that must be addressed, particularly personnel-retention issues, cultural resistance to implementation, and training.

Recommendations

  • If the USAF pursues a merged AFS force structure for F-35A maintainers, only aggressive consolidations, such as BOLT and LIT—which have cost and readiness benefits—should be considered.
  • Ensure adequacy of training to provide the required knowledge, proficiency, and experience necessary to conduct the broader set of tasks required of maintainers.
  • Invest in change management to facilitate smoother transition to new AFS concepts.
  • Invest in strategies to retain maintainers, particularly at the senior level, who are trained into merged AFS concepts.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Approaches for Organizing and Training F-35A Maintainers

  • Chapter Three

    Technical School Times and Costs Under Alternative Air Force Specialty Concepts

  • Chapter Four

    Maintainer Availability Under Alternative Maintenance Manpower Force Structure Concepts

  • Chapter Five

    Sortie-Generation Capability and Costs of Alternative AFS Concepts

  • Chapter Six

    Performance of Merged AFS Concepts Under Alternative Combat Operational Concepts

  • Chapter Seven

    Implementation Challenges of Merged AFS Concepts

  • Chapter Eight

    Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Appendix A

    Lessons Learned from Rivet Workforce

  • Appendix B

    Impacts of Merged AFS Consolidation on Maintainer Proficiency

  • Appendix C

    Sensitivity of Availability Analysis Results to Uncertainty in Assumptions

  • Appendix D

    Using LCOM to Find Efficient Combinations of AFSs

  • Appendix E

    Other Ways to Organize the Maintenance Force

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Air Force and conducted within the Resource Management Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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