Sustaining the Black Hawk Fleet: Ten Years of Recap at Corpus Christi Army Depot
by Col. Christopher Carlile, Jaclyn Nix & Brigitte Rox, CCAD Public Affairs
CCAD flight test crews inspect a UH-60 Black Hawk. Photo by Ervey Martinez (RELEASED).
Corpus Christi, TX (December 18, 2012) – This is an exciting time for the Army Aviation and Missile Command. We are coming down from over a decade of war and focusing on new challenges that will test how we maximize our capabilities with limited resources. Through it all, Corpus Christi Army Depot (CCAD) has been critical in its support to aviation maintenance and nowhere else is this support more evident than with its sustainment of the UH-60 Black Hawk fleet.
With more than 2,000 aircraft providing vital utility roles, the UH-60 remains the largest fleet of aircraft in the Army inventory. They move casualties, perform medical evacuation, insert troops, carry command and control assets. We wouldn’t have these capabilities or this size military without the fleet. It goes without saying that the UH-60 is the workhorse of Army aviation.
It’s been one of our greatest endeavors to modernize these birds since our Warfighters first set foot in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I came on as Depot Commander in 2010, CCAD was in the middle of its recapitalization journey. We are now in our tenth year of recap and I could not be prouder. In 2004, we recapitalized 11 “Alpha” to “Alpha” Black Hawks. We then produced 48 “Alpha” to “Lima” recaps in 2011, achieving a capacity we didn’t expect for another four years. This year, we produced our first “Lima” to “Lima” and, with it, our fiftieth UH-60 for the fiscal year.
As the joint Warfighter’s preferred value solution for rotary wing and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), CCAD is a single point for aviation sustainment. The recapitalization program is an investment in Army aviation’s future and the best way to sustain capability of the entire Black Hawk fleet. Capability alone is not enough for our industry these days. The key is for Army to think like Big Business and, I believe, the efficiencies here at CCAD make us better, faster, and more cost effective.
Our mission really is a function of available assets. In our case, we have been steadily driving down the cost. Today, we are about 20% below what we were the day we started. Now that we’re transitioning to L to L, it’s going to cost even less as we move forward. It’s all about reducing cost.
We can’t afford to purchase the number of aircraft that CCAD puts back into the fleet. The cost to recap a Black Hawk is four million dollars less than a new one and, with aircraft costs nearing twenty million dollars apiece, there is no other cost effective solution available. It’s cost prohibitive to buy new and even cost prohibitive to contract the work we do here. We simply cannot afford to not recap the fleet.
It’s just like taking care of the equipment on your car. If you don’t perform regular maintenance, it won’t last nearly as long. CCAD maintains the Army’s arm for utility operations on the battlefield. This really is the single point of failure for the DOD when it comes to helicopters due to the large number of secondary items we provide: transmissions, gearboxes, engines, rotor blades—all the things that are required for an aircraft to fly. We do so much of that work right here.
We take those beat up Black Hawks and fully restore the craft but with cutting-edge technology and systems. Our artisans beef up the structure, the two engines, the airframe and every component with more capability and power. Not only is the bird’s life extended for up to a decade, but it leaves our hangar in better-than-new condition.
Each Black Hawk is different. They all come to us worn out from intensive use on the field but they have issues. There are over 2,100 variances of the H-60 out there but each one has its own story. Because of that, each bird is recapped slightly different than the last one. Recap isn’t a one-size-fits-all program but CCAD artisans have found a way to streamline that process to maximize the time they spend here.
Everyone at the depot plays a vital role in sustaining our Black Hawks. It isn’t just about the people who put their hands on the aircraft. It’s everyone’s responsibility: the folks in delivery, the ones inputting time, the administration assistants, our information technology team and our engineers. We could not have achieved 50 UH-60s had it not been for the entire team.
What we’ve done in the past two years is prepare for the future. We make sure we have the right people in the right jobs, with a focus on continuous education. It’s an investment in intellectual capital and we have an amazing Skills and Development staff ensuring our team receives the best training opportunities.
When you add the workforce empowerment campaign we implemented during our depot reorganization last year, you start to see what sets us apart in DoD. We have business acumen like no other time in the history of this depot. We have people running the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior program and the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Shadow program, doing things we never thought possible. We have teams of civilians coming up with ideas to make us better, faster and more cost effective—things that weren’t even on our radar. They’re making the course of CCAD history and it’s because they’re personally invested. I don’t see anything this workforce can’t do.
We also train folks how to use the Logistics Modernization Program and Electronic Shop Production System to maintain schedule and quality. We learned about LMP the hard way but I feel it’s essential as we move forward in our transition out of war to make it work for us. There is so much value in this system. Every installation in DoD should learn how to make this software work if they expect to reduce the cost of readiness in a resource-constrained environment. We welcome anyone in the joint forces to visit CCAD to see what we’ve done. It might give you some good ideas for your own enterprise to adapt.
The operational tempo from the drawdown is a big change for us and our new mission to act fiscally conservative is a challenge, however, a lot of good comes from this. We now have the opportunity to decelerate the rate of hours we’re putting on our aircraft but, it in no way means our work will slow down. We will produce even more in the future. Our next goal is to increase our capacity to 60 recaps by 2014 and 96 by 2015. Around 2020, we will have our first “Mike” model Black Hawks coming in for recap and we’re initiating new workload with Unmanned Aerial Systems. The future of Army aviation is looking bright for the next decade and CCAD is poised for success.
In turn, being cost effective is good not just for the American taxpayer, but for our joint Warfighters. They now have more capabilities to train, execute, and sustain the future fight and be prepared for the Nation’s battles and you can bet that CCAD will be there giving them the best aircraft for the job.
A CCAD artisan trains U.S. Army Soldiers on CCAD’s first UH-60L to L recap. Photo by Ervey Martinez (RELEASED).