NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—The need to partner, collaborate, and innovate with small businesses and industry was the prevailing theme during the second day of speaker events presented by Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), one of many exhibitors at this week’s Sea-Air-Space 2022 Conference and Exhibition, taking place at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, National Harbor, Maryland.

At center-stage during the event was the “One Team, One Fight” panel, hosted by Vice Adm. Carl Chebi, Commander, NAVAIR, who stressed the importance of government-industry collaboration for delivering the integrated, “warfighting capability the fleet needs to win at a cost we can afford.”

Vice Adm. Carl Chebi (far right), Commander, NAVAIR, hosted the “One Team, One Fight” panel of key naval aviation leaders at Sea-Air-Space to discuss the importance of government-industry collaboration. (Seated, from the left: Rear Adm. Joseph Hornbuckle, Tom Rudowsky; Rear Adm. John Lemmon, and Dan Carreño.) Credit: U.S. Navy

“Balancing that equation between capability and affordability is so critically important to how we execute our flight plan and how we deliver the ‘Air Wing of the Future’ moving forward,” Chebi said.

“[We need to better] understand the business of how and what we do and how we leverage what we have, for the greater good for naval aviation,” said NAVAIR Deputy Commander Tom Rudowsky. “There are three areas that we’re focused on, the first one being cost transformation. The transformation is about changing the mindsets that we think, act and operate about the business of naval aviation. The second area is high-end, very aggressive measures that are going to challenge us to better understand our business, and being able to get after an opportunity is key. The third is looking at new programs coming down the pike and asking what will be the cost [for certain aspects of those programs] per year, and think about how we design, build, test and deploy those systems.”

Rear Adm. John S. Lemmon, Commander, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), and NAVAIR Chief Engineer, expanded upon the mantra of affordability in keeping with capability and said it certainly did not mean “doing more with less.”

“What that means is we’re looking for things that we can do differently in a way that becomes more efficient, things that we perhaps could not do anymore, or divest of doing. But all of that would be done in collaboration with our customers—in close partnership and collaboration with them, we’re going to continue to look for those opportunities.”

Lemmon said both NAWCAD and Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) are both in a strong position to collaborate with industry in a mutually beneficial manner, particularly in moving toward a digitally integrated environment, developmental testing and training.

Echoing Lemmon’s sentiment of collaboration and working together, Dan Carreño, executive director for Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD), said testing in a joint simulated environment was important for not only testing but training as well, particularly when it comes to weapon development.

“The NAWCWD and NAWCAD and other warfare centers have vehicles where we can bring in nontraditional participants and develop technology, while having access to our fleet, facilities and infrastructure. I see that as a very positive opportunity to increase speed of development,” Carreño said.

Representing the “anchor for the sustainment arm for naval aviation,” Rear Adm. Joseph B. Hornbuckle, Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers, explained the crucial role the FRCs play in keeping the warfighter deployable and extending the lifespan of aircraft.

“Each year, we provide about 500 aircraft plan maintenance intervals (PMI)—a five-year overhaul of most aircraft—to treat corrosion and structural issues. Each year, we overhaul about 3,000 engines and engine modules, as well as about 150,000 components between the intermediate and depot level facilities. Finally, we provide the fleet sustainment teams that work closely with the NAWCs and they make sure we provide the engineering and logistics support that our warfighters and programs need.”

Hornbuckle spoke about the creation of the Naval Sustainment System—Aviation that was spurred by a Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) directive to increase the number of mission capable and fully mission capable F/18 Super Hornets. In order to reach that goal set by the SECNAV, Hornbuckle said the FRCs needed to reform and reach out to industry partners and operational teammates to “get after every aspect of readiness.” In doing so, the FRCs were able to quickly achieve and surpass the benchmark, and then began taking those tenets and applying them to other aircraft brought into the depots for PMI, ultimately reducing the PMIs by half or greater.

“When we looked across our organization, we found that some of the best ways to expand performance life was when we had industry and government collaborating,” Hornbuckle said.

One of NAVAIR’s more recent small business and industry outreach programs—the NavalX Tech Bridges effort—was presented earlier in the day.

Tech Bridge director for Central Florida Diana Teel, program manager for industry outreach at the Naval Air Warfare Training Systems Division (NAWCTSD) in Orlando, Florida, and Rick Tarr, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Office of Research and Technology Applications Lead and Director of the Southern Maryland Tech Bridge, led the presentation.

The NavalX Tech Bridges are a connected network that enhance collaboration between naval labs, industry, academia and other military branches in a commercial business space, rather than on a base. An off base location offers a more easily accessible landing spot to foster a collaborative ecosystem to build productive partnerships and accelerate delivery of dual use solutions to the warfighter.

Teel explained the concept of a “Tech Grove,” a collaborative space where various partners could work on specific programs for development, including human performance and cybersecurity. These innovations could include advancements or developments in artificial intelligence and virtual reality, for example.

Tarr gave an example of how the innovative pipeline concept devised by the Tech Bridge has shown results.

“We worked with a fleet requirements officer and a program office to curate a problem that bubbled up on a requirement list. We moved it through the tech scan to do a deep dive to identify the players—whether they were traditional or nontraditional. Out of that, we designed a prize challenge that met the capabilities at which industry could currently perform. Then, post-challenge, we selected a company that successfully performed and were evaluated to go into an OTA (other transaction authority) prototype with them using the Naval Air Consortium.”

Once out of the prototype phase, the model was then sent out for fleet experimentation and evaluation, before being sent back to the program office for transition and sustainment planning.

More information about NavalX and upcoming Tech Bridge events can be found here:

In a solo presentation, Carreño gave an overview of how NAWCWD partners with industry to develop weapon systems for the warfighter.

Carreño highlighted an incident in July 2019 when two earthquakes severely damaged labs and other buildings at the Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake. Carreño said the Navy took this opportunity to update the labs to modern facilities instead of replacing what was already standing, in an effort to draw partnerships and find “new ways of doing business.”

“We will have the most state-of-the-art labs in the DOD” when rebuilding and new construction is finished, Carreño said.

Carreño also presented examples of where NAWCWD has taken government designed products and brought them to industry partners who could then tailor and produce them in a rapidly—including a rocket motor that was recently fired for the first time—as well as experimentation with biofuels.

Capt. Kevin Watkins, program manager for Naval Air Traffic Management Systems Program Office (PMA-213) addressed ways current and evolving technology is presenting challenges for air traffic control operations and how his team is looking to address it. He spoke about developing GPS-type technology to allow aircraft to fly or land in any airspace throughout the world. This includes developing portable air traffic control equipment and landing systems, but also finding ways to integrate existing systems with newer technology.

“We’re taking our expeditionary air traffic management systems, and integrating them with the existing command and control systems the Marine Corps already has,” Watkins said. “Instead of having two separate systems out there, we’re looking to tie those systems together and make sure that they interoperate. We’re also providing lighter, more mobile systems. And that’s important because as we go forward, we got to make sure that we are providing the warfighter with what they need.”

As the airspace becomes more complex, Watkins stressed the development of the Combat Identification System.

“This is important to make sure that not only can we identify all the friendlies out there, or identify ourselves as friendlies, we can also make sure that we’re not conflicting with civilian traffic across all domains in every environment.”

Sea-Air-Space brings the U.S. defense industry and key military decision-makers together for informative educational sessions, important policy discussions and a dynamic exhibit hall floor. The event is owned and produced by the Navy League of the United States, and attracts maritime leaders from sea services around the globe.

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