MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C.– Aircraft maintenance professionals with Fleet Readiness Center East’s F-35 Rapid Response Team play a critical role in keeping the Marine Corps’ F-35B Lightning II fleet healthy.
In support of this goal, FRCE’s F-35 Rapid Response Team (RRT) recently conducted simultaneous deployments to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, and aboard the USS Makin Island, underway in the Arabian Sea. RRT maintainers inspected and repaired 12 F-35B aircraft, all in under 40 days – including travel, precautionary restriction of movement and workdays.
“The F-35 Rapid Response Team is a strategic asset within our Navy-Marine Corps team, and I couldn’t be more proud of the drive and dedication these individuals display with every mission,” said FRCE Commanding Officer Capt. Mark E. Nieto. “They’re ready to pack up and ship out to anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice and, when they arrive, they get to work and stay on task until the job is done. The RRT plays a vital role in aviation readiness, and you won’t find a finer crew of maintainers anywhere in the armed forces.”
The RRT consists of expert artisans cross-trained in multiple maintenance trades to ensure efficiency and flexibility. Having team members with multiple skill sets allows for a flexible configuration, which means the team can pick and choose which artisans to deploy to a mission based on what the technical requirements will be.
The RRT arrives on-site with skill sets and tools that aren’t normally required for repairs at the squadron level or on a ship, said Maj. Randy Brazile, F-35B Detachment maintenance officer for Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164 (Reinforced), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, aboard the Makin Island.
“The FRCE RRT was called to the USS Makin Island to execute repairs to the 15th MEU’s F-35s, with specialized tools that are not resident in a fleet F-35 squadron,” Brazile said. “They are very experienced artisans and possess qualifications that are not frequently required by operational squadrons. This combination of qualifications, tooling, and the ability to rapidly deploy worldwide provides a valuable resource to the fleet forces when specialized repairs are required.”
The team arrived quickly and showed up ready to perform and share their knowledge with the Marines aboard the Makin Island, Brazile added.
“The RRT deployed in under 48 hours and arrived on ship eager to work,” he said. “The team worked very closely with the Marines of VMM-164 (Rein.) and RRT took every opportunity to teach and instruct the younger Marines.”
Having these repairs conducted on site, rather than having to send the aircraft to intermediate- or depot-level facilities for modifications helps reduce downtime for the aircraft, and get them back in the air as quickly as possible.
“The ability of the RRT to execute repairs on ship allowed the 15th MEU and Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group to continue operations while the aircraft repairs were ongoing,” Brazile explained. “The 15th MEU F-35s continued flying combat sorties in support of the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility simultaneously to the RRT repairs. Overall, this was an excellent demonstration of the Naval Aviation Enterprise reacting to unexpected maintenance requirements while maintaining operational capability for the combatant commander.”
Reducing aircraft-on-ground time is especially important for forward-deployed units like VMM-164 (Rein.) and units scheduled for deployment, including Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 at MCAS Yuma.
Ike Rettenmair, F-35 branch head at FRCE, said the RRT provides a strategic capability in supporting F-35B readiness throughout the Marine Corps; however, the team doesn’t work alone. The F-35 Fleet Support Team provides critical support to the RRT. This team includes engineering, logistics and program management across both government and contractor agencies and is a key player in the success of the deployments. While much of the support team’s work is done in the background, these elements coordinated seamlessly with the RRT to ensure delivery of technical instructions, tooling and consumable supplies were staged and ready for use once the team arrived on site.
“While the team was deployed, many government and contractor support groups were constantly working behind the scenes to be certain the forward-deployed teams were successful,” Rettenmair said. “The FST led daily phone conferences were held to keep all parties up to speed and informed of the needs of the team. From the moment we got the notice of need, it was all hands on deck for our F-35 modification team, the F-35 FST, the F-35 Joint Program Office, FRCE support equipment engineering and logistics, logistics management and Naval Aviation Logistics Command.
“We deployed to two separate locations within 10 days of each other,” he continued. “Once we received notice of the need, the support team had less than 48 hours to work through the logistics of getting our artisans and the tooling to the USS Makin Island, including everything from COVID testing and orders to securing a military flight and gathering tools and consumables. It was truly a team effort.”
The RRT maintainers’ skill and passion for service, supported by the FST’s logistics and engineering capabilities, set the team apart in terms of what they can accomplish in challenging environments, Rettenmair said.
“I had full confidence in what these artisans could do when given the opportunity to show not only the warfighter in need, but also the world what makes FRCE unique,” he said. “They performed very well under sometimes-less-than-ideal conditions, and proved again what a critical capability the RRT provides.
“While most of the team was comprised of regular RRT-designated members, there were a few on each team who don’t normally work RRT missions but are trained and seasoned professionals, and were willing to volunteer in support of our warfighters,” Rettenmair added. “The majority of these artisan are military veterans, which gives them even more pride in what they do – they have been on the other side, and understand the need for support firsthand. And while the deployments were a team effort, these artisans deserve most of the credit for the events’ success.”
Matthew Crisp, F-35 Joint Program Office site lead at FRCE, said experience from previous missions has given the RRT a firm foundation to build upon, and that know-how paid dividends with these deployments.
“This isn’t the first time the RRT has been deployed for unscheduled F-35 repairs and it most certainly will not be the last,” he explained. “We are fortunate to have had opportunities in the past for the RRT to come to the support of the fleet on less time sensitive and critical repairs which were good to ‘sharpen our pencils’ before this event.
“This evolution certainly flexed the RRT and Fleet Support Team’s speed and agility to a new level and clearly showed the value that the team has,” Crisp continued. “This success has set the bar higher than ever for the RRT and support team and the collective team will continue to fill this much needed role across the F-35 program for years.”
Every event provides a learning opportunity, Rettenmair noted, that will help improve the team’s performance in the future.
“There are lessons learned and we will gather notes, brainstorm and make the next effort even better for all parties involved,” he said. “It all leads to FRCE and the RRT being better able, and always willing, to support the U.S. warfighter at any time, anywhere in the world.”
FRCE is North Carolina’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The facility is the lead site for depot-level maintenance on the F-35B (short takeoff-vertical landing) and F-35C (carrier) variants and generates combat air power for America’s Marines and naval forces while serving as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.