The military services are making progress on strengthening and modernizing their organic industrial base, service officials said.
Lt. Gen. Duane A. Gamble, Army deputy chief of staff for logistics, said the organic industrial base in important to strategic readiness. "The material readiness it enables is critical to ensuring our Army can provide the responsiveness, the depth and the capability demanded of us in the National Defense Strategy."
Gamble was among the representatives of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps who appeared Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on readiness to discuss the modernization of the organic industrial base.
The industrial base includes the infrastructure and facilities owned by the government to maintain and refurbish military hardware, including aircraft, tanks and ships.
Gamble told lawmakers the skilled workforce at its facilities is the backbone of that industrial base and attracting the best talent is critical.
He said Congress has helped that effort through legislation that grants authority to do direct hires into the workforce. That authority helped the Army process 3,560 personnel actions during 2019, and more than 4,800 since 2017, he said. "It's helped us reduce our hiring time from 114 days to 85 days, which allows our [organic industrial base] to remain competitive with industry employers seeking the same critical skills," he said. "It's a competition for talent."
Gamble also said the Army has an infrastructure master plan to help it maintain the appropriate level of readiness with an aging organic industrial base, more than half of which was built before 1945.
"That plan will carry us over the next 20 years," he said. "This plan is a forward-looking and forward-thinking solution that will keep our OIB, facilities and infrastructure postured and programmed to sustain Army readiness."
Representatives from both the Navy's Sea and Air Systems Commands also testified about the status of the Navy's organic industrial base.
Vice Adm. Thomas Moore, commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command, said four shipyards have seen a 25% increase in planned work since 2010.
To match that growth, the Navy has increased the size of the public yards by more than 9,000 people: from 27,368 in 2010, to 36,696 in 2018, he said.
The Navy achieved that growth about a year sooner than planned, which has allowed backlogs to be eliminated earlier than expected.
One drawback of that expansion is that the workforce is fairly new — about half of workers have been on the job less than five years. Because of that, the Navy has responded with changes in training.
"The shipyards have transformed how they train new employees through learning centers that use both virtual learning tools and hands-on work," Moore said, which has cut in half the time it takes to make a productive worker.
Moore also said the Navy is now in the second year of a 20-year, $21 billion shipyard infrastructure optimization plan that will support current and future ships.
"The Navy fully understands that on-time delivery of ships and submarines ... is a national security imperative," Moore said. "The department has taken a holistic approach to ensure both our public and private yards have the information, people and equipment needed to maintain the world's greatest Navy."
In addition to ships and boats, the naval aircraft also take off from carriers. Vice Adm. Dean Peters, commander of the Naval Air Systems Command, discussed successes in efforts to modernize the organic industrial base that keeps Navy aircraft ready.
Peters said improvements can be seen in the 80% mission-capable rates for F/A-18 Hornets, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, and EA-18G Growler aircraft.
He said the Navy surged to 372 mission-capable Super Hornet aircraft on Sept. 30, 2019, after years of having an average of 250 to 260 mission-capable aircraft.
"Our aircraft depot lines and component repair lines are now delivering more effective and reliable products with reduced turnaround times and significant improvements in quality," Peters said.
Such depots now do much more than completing repairs and then sending them back to the fleet, he said. Now, the depots return fully restored aircraft to promptly support squadron flight schedules, he said.
The first of the new KC-46 Pegasus refueling aircraft, meant to replace aging KC-135 Stratotankers, was delivered to the Air Force in January of this year.
Lt. Gen. Donald E. Kirkland, commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center, told lawmakers that just last month the service opened the first hanger of a depot campus dedicated to the KC-46 at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.
Kirkland also said the Air Force is continuing to expand support of the F-35 Lightning II aircraft at both the Ogden Air Logistics Complex in Utah and at Warner-Robbins AFB, Georgia. The Air Force is also making preparations for depot support to the B-21 Raider aircraft, Kirkland said.
The general told lawmakers that current funding is not enough to achieve and maintain the depot capacity that is needed to keep the Air Force's fleet ready.
"Over the next 20 years, we will need resources above current thresholds to modernize across four major dimensions of our industrial base," he said.
Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Shrader, commander of the Marine Corps Logistics Command, said the Marine Corps has a plan to repair, repurpose, consolidate and construct new facilities within its organic industrial base.
"We are pursuing innovative and state-of-the-art technologies, such as robotics on our main production lines and sub-shops, also 3D printing and additive manufacturing to augment the supply chain and extend our operational reach," he said.
Shrader also said that the Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Georgia, will be one of the first Defense Department locations to get 5G to better enable them maintain Marine Corps gear.
"Our commandant's vision for the Marine Corps is to be manned, trained and equipped as the world's premiere naval expeditionary force in readiness, forward postured with the Navy's fleets to deter conflict and respond to crisis and to be globally recognized as an elite corps of Marines of exceptional talent," Shrader said. "A ready and modern organic industrial base plays a key role in achieving the commandant's vision."