Military News

Thursday, October 15, 2015

EW Barn aims for 100 percent effective fleet

by Senior Airman Aaron J. Jenne
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

10/14/2015 - SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- For more than 25 years, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, has been home to the F-15E Strike Eagle; from day one when it was just getting airborne, to the high-tech bird it is today.

The first production Strike Eagle, a dual-role fighter designed for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, was released in 1988 and reached initial operational capability in 1989.

Master Sgt. Rodger Boles, 4th Fighter Wing avionics manager, said many of the electrical systems and components are original and few upgrades have been implemented during the life of the airframe.

To combat degradation in the jet's Electronic Warfare systems, the 4th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron's avionics working group established an EW Barn in January 2015 to temporarily bolster routine maintenance and get every jet up to a fully functional status.

According to Boles, the average age of the jets assigned to the wing is 30 years old. To ensure functionality routine inspection and maintenance standards were established.

The EW Barn augments routine inspection by taking jets off the flightline three days at a time to focus solely on testing and repairing the ALR-56C Radar Warning Receiver System and its constituent components. As the aircraft's primary defensive system, it detects incoming enemy radio transmissions and alerts aircrews they're being targeted.

"This system is very sophisticated," Boles said. "It isn't like a radar detector in your car. It doesn't just have blinking lights; it will tell you what is lighting you up - this type of missile, aircraft, anti-aircraft artillery - and where it's coming from. Without that critical situational awareness for the aircrew, they could get shot down in a hot zone and never know they were even being targeted. Knowing what threats are in an area is extremely important for their safety and also for completing their mission."

According to Boles, the RWRSs installed in the wing's aircraft are as old as the airframes themselves.

"We want this system to have maximum sensitivity, so the aircrew has the maximum amount of warning time they need," Boles said. "This is not a system we can afford to become compromised."

Boles said flight crews rely on every component and system of the jet to function properly. Even one system malfunction could prove catastrophic.

Tech. Sgt. Michael Price, 4th AMXS NCO in charge of the EW Barn, said this system is regularly tested. In fact, they are required to test it every 180 days for each aircraft, but often when an issue is identified in routine inspections, repairs can't always be made immediately.

"The biggest obstacle we face is working around flying schedules," Price said. "The test itself is complicated and can take anywhere from two to six hours depending on multiple factors. When avionics troops find an issue, they might not have time to fix the jet on the spot because it's needed for training the next day."

The avionics working group noticed a trend where fewer and fewer of these systems were functioning at 100 percent, Price said. They started looking to successful programs used at other bases, and adopted a system used at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho.

Two NCOs were permanently placed to each lead three-man shifts of avionic technicians assigned to the barn on three-month rotations. To date, 26 avionics Airmen have worked in the barn and 90 jets have cycled through, each tested, repaired and re-tested.

Price said he observed three main impacts of the EW Barn: a decrease in test failures across the fleet, the Airmen who discovered the discrepancy in testing were the same ones who fixed the issue, and the 26 Airmen became extremely proficient with the complicated testing equipment.

"My guys have done great work this year," Price said. "We've fixed a lot of jets and made sure these detection systems continue working at peak performance, because our pilots put their lives in our hands every time they fly, and they deserve our very best. Thanks to the awesome work my guys have done, I am confident our pilots will stay safe."

Boles said the program has been successful thus far, improving pass rates by nine percent for jets that have been through the barn versus those that haven't. His ultimate goal, however, is a 100 percent pass rate across the fleet.

Boles admitted the goal is high; however, setting high standards will only make the team more efficient, which in turn makes the aircraft safer.

"In the long run, the training it allows us to provide to our Airmen from each aircraft maintenance unit is the real solution," Price said. "After working with us, they are proficient with the equipment and procedures. When they go back to their units, they can share what they have learned with their fellow Airmen."

Members of the avionics working group agree the impact of the EW Barn has been positive. They are also hopeful the successes observed thus far are just a stepping stone to even greater achievements.

"The members of the EW Barn have done a monumental amount of work over the last 300 days or so," Boles said. "It hasn't gone unnoticed. I'm really proud of everyone's efforts. We've come a long way this year and I expect the trend to continue."

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