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Powerful Example: Data Powers Naval Aviation Readiness

“Non-mission capable.” Not the phrase a Navy admiral wants to hear about his essential aircraft. Time is critical when F/A-18 Super Hornet jets scramble for take-off. These carrier-based strike…

Powerful Example: Data Powers Naval Aviation Readiness

Powerful Example: Data Powers Naval Aviation Readiness
Beth Johnson, DAU Staff Writer

“Non-mission capable.”

Not the phrase a Navy admiral wants to hear about his essential aircraft.

Time is critical when F/A-18 Super Hornet jets scramble for take-off. These carrier-based strike fighters, deploy on missions that range from power projection and forward deterrence to maritime security.

In his gut, Rear Admiral Jeffrey J. “Caesar” Czerewko knew too many non-mission capable aircraft took up precious space on flight decks. Non-mission capable is a readiness status that means an aircraft cannot execute its mission, and a carrier without mission-ready aircraft throws a wrench into naval aviation’s man-equip-train mandate. Now, Czerewko just needed the data to prove his theory.

Working with Dr. Adi Zolotov of CNA, Czerewko sought a solution that involved partnering his maintenance operators with CNA’s technical analysts to identify critical processes, then “iterate rapidly and continually” to improve maintenance.

“I was asking for something different than CNA would normally give us, which was a product and interim reporting,” said Czerewko.

In 2018, their efforts led to the genesis of the Force Readiness Analytics Group, or FRAG—naval aviation’s first office of data science. FRAG is forging a data analytics transformation in naval aviation, and accelerating a cultural change towards treating data as an asset to drive decision-making. The effort directly aligned with the 2018 National Defense Strategy and the Navy’s Business Operations Strategy, Agility and Accountability (FY 2019–2021).

Naval officers Lt. Cdr. Sean “Butterbean” Blackman and Cmdr. Jarrod “JROD” Groves were founding members of FRAG. At the start, their team spent months digging through data, assessing how to use that data to predict outcomes and inform decisions of senior leaders. To do so, they needed to alter the data environment to be more proactive and less reactive.

Blackman noted, “We didn’t have the right people with the right information able to act with good decisions and inform decision-makers with enough speed to really make sure that our hierarchies were protected and that we were able to be the most lethal force capable.”

They tackled the admiral’s request to be graded on mission capable readiness and flight hour execution. The group then hypothesized that the agile analytic data environment would need to identify levers of influence affecting readiness numbers.

Teams of operators and analysts worked together to employ machine learning--the science of causing computers to act without being explicitly programmed--and predictive advanced analytics--methods and tools that project future trends. They uncovered trends in maintenance shortfalls.

On their first, live prediction run, FRAG identified two squadrons that might struggle to meet readiness goals for the next quarter. They presented their predictions to Czerewko. Amazingly, FRAG’s forecasts about the two squadrons matched anecdotal inputs (hundreds of emails) that Czerewko had been receiving about the same two squadrons. The data provided an independent confirmation of his hunch. He was ready to act and directed squadron leaders to review manpower with a focus on positions that would improve the quality of maintenance. The result: fewer non-mission capable aircraft, precisely Czerewko’s intent.

As they continued to iterate with the massive amounts of data, FRAG moved from debating the validity of the data to debating solutions. In one situation, FRAG learned that customers needed visibility and transparency. Groves recalled that the “Air Boss” wanted to see his report card of readiness numbers on a weekly basis. FRAG created an online visualization process, capable of showing the status of all naval aviation on a daily basis.

As she coached FRAG, Dr. Zolotov assisted the commander in recognizing the “infinite opportunity in the space of data and analytics.”

Czerewko agreed and added that teaming maintenance operators with technical analysts allowed FRAG to bring “operational relevance” to the fleet as they continue to refine support to CNAF readiness levels.


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Image: ATLANTIC OCEAN (March 18, 2008) An FA-18C Hornet, assigned to the "Valions" of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 15, prepares to land aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8 are conducting tailored ship's training availability and final evaluation problem (TSTA/FEP). U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Christopher Mason

Key words: Defense Acquisition, Data Analytics, Lessons Learned, Best Practices, Navy, Naval Aviation, Data Literacy