HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah; – After several months, an innovative program in the 388th Fighter Wing is proving it has the potential to deliver combat power more efficiently and may shape how the Air Force determines future requirements to sustain F-35A Lightning II operations.
“Our Airmen are learning to really unlock the combat potential designed into the F-35 and this program is going to ‘bring the future faster’ by providing greater operational capability and supports agile basing initiatives,” said Col. Michael Miles, 388th Maintenance Group commander.
BOLT combines six maintenance-specific Air Force Specialty Codes, essentially job descriptions, into two “tracks.” Currently there are more than 30 Airmen in the BOLT program. “Blended” maintainers in the Air Vehicle track are crew chiefs, fuels and low observable technicians. Airmen in the Mission Systems track focus on avionics, weapons, and egress.
“The jet was designed with ease of maintenance in mind,” said 2nd Lt. Daniel Parkhill, officer in charge of the BOLT program. “If a program like this is going to work on any aircraft, it would be the F-35. We can do almost all our maintenance ‘in the shadow’ of the aircraft.”
Officials project that nearly 30 percent of F-35 sustainment cost in future years will come from unit-level manning. By combining the jobs and cross-training maintainers in more capabilities, there is not only savings in manpower, but also time.
The Blended Operational Lightning Technician program could be described as an Air Force version of a start-up company. They're small, they're independent and they're looking to compete with the "big guys."
Since January, the program has seen several successes. They are providing aircraft at similar rates to a normal F-35A aircraft maintenance unit of the same size, but they are doing it with fewer man-hours.
“One of the metrics we use is measuring maintenance man-hours taken to produce one flying hour. On average, we’re using five fewer man-hours to produce one flying hour than a traditional AMU,” Parkhill said.
The goal of the program is not to pile more work on the shoulders of a handful of Airmen, Parkhill said, but to maximize the ability of those Airmen so there is less down time, and more productivity.
“Basically we’re making each hour in the day more productive.” Parkhill said. “If we have everything we need to fix a jet, BOLT Airmen are trained to do that and they don’t have to wait for another shop or specialty to come out.”
Reducing the size of the maintenance force also allows commanders more combat flexibility for quickly deploying a small number of aircraft to a remote airfield with fewer airmen.
“Normally, each aircraft will have several maintainers assigned to it when we deploy. We’ve gotten to the point where we’re going to start doing “small footprint” exercises with as few as one BOLT Airmen per aircraft,” Parkhill said.
The BOLT program has been functioning independently alongside the other aircraft maintenance units, but soon they will fully integrate with the 421st AMU and work alongside them to further test and prove the concept.
“It’s exciting for all of us to have the opportunity to be a part of this program that has the potential to really shape the future,” Parkhill said.