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Craftsman : Craftsman 2011
26 RAEMECRAFTSMANWinter2011 26 The Black Hawk Modification Program (BHMP) – Achievements, Risks and Challenges Introduction As everyone would no doubt be aware, the Black Hawk aircraft is entering the twilight years of a venerable career in service with the Australian Army. Most notably the continued operational employment of the aircraft in Timor Leste, and the recent domestic assistance provided during the flooding, inundations and cyclonic aftermath across much of Queensland, again proved what a worthy platform this aircraft continues to be. However, as happens with all aging equipment, the Black Hawk has in recent years been plagued with increased reliability and serviceability problems. These problems have, at times, been compounded due to difficulties in getting old components and systems replaced or overhauled. Combined with this, a need had developed to modernise a number of aircraft systems and role equipment to enhance the existing levels of capability. Program Aim The program aim is threefold. Firstly, it seeks to enhance existing capabilities by replacing obsolete systems with contemporary ones. Secondly, it seeks to solve a number of obsolescence logistic management issues by removing obsolete systems from the inventory. Finally, to see improved aircraft availability and reliability achieved as a flow on effect of the first two aims. In achieving the aim the BHMP is largely targeted at avionics systems upgrades; however there is a considerable amount of Aero- Mechanical engineering effort required to support the installations of these systems. AASPO is becoming part of a rarer breed of SPOs in that a large part of our engineering efforts are conducted and managed ‘in-house’. This results in a large degree of Commonwealth ownership of the designs. In turn this allows us to quickly and easily react to any design change requirements. Program Scope The scope of work planned for the Black Hawk very quickly led to the decision to make it an in-service program of work , the BHMP. The BHMP draws funding and support from a number of different sources, including Major and Minor projects, and ‘in-house’ sustainment funding. The BHMP scope of work includes the following capabilities: • VHF/UHF and HF communications • Electronic Warfare and Self-Protection • Situational awareness and mission planning enhancements • Navigation systems • Crash Position Indication • Cockpit Voice and Data Recording • Role equipment modernisation • Upgrade of the aircrew and maintenance simulation devices In order to meet capability priorities, these areas have been grouped into priorities and are being addressed in accordance with customer requirements. Each of these areas is project managed. At program level economies are achieved when combining modifications onto the aircraft. Additionally, time and cost savings have been achieved by adopting an integrated program approach. Risks Several technical and logistic risks have faced the BHMP. I strongly doubt that any of these risks would surprise anyone reading this article, as they are in many cases generic to the defence industry. However, what I feel is of particular note regarding these risks is that some of them are very difficult to actually mitigate. The following represent some of the greatest challenges we have faced, and continue to face, as strategies are developed to combat their impact on schedule. Availability of Technical Workforce The retention of our technical workforce, particularly in the context of Australia’s resource boom, is a constant challenge. I would pose that the aviation industry faces additional pressure in this case, due mostly to it’s relatively small size when compared against world standards. The BHMP has been challenged with the task of attracting and retaining sufficient personnel, both in-house and with our prime contractor. In fact, analysis last year indicated that the in-house resources available were 25% of that required to complete the program on time. On both the engineering and installation fronts, the low availability of technical workforce has been managed by hiring in additional contract labour. In the case of our prime contractor who is conducting the installation work, this has included a higher cost overseas labour component. Aging Aircraft The Black Hawk helicopter has been operational for around 20 years. In that time the fleet has amassed several thousand flight hours. These hours, when placed within the context of the types of operations the aircraft are engaged in (ship-borne, tactical approaches and landings) means that the airframes have been subjected to considerable stresses and harsh environments. Accordingly there have been numerous repairs undertaken, some standard and some non-standard, on airframes within the fleet. The result has been some large variances in the configuration of each airframe. In addition to this, when we commence the induction and modification of an aircraft, it is not uncommon that damage will be found which will require additional repairs to be undertaken. At times these repairs have cost several months of schedule. Build Variance Our Black Hawk aircraft, like many aircraft in production today, were all hand assembled. This means there is a high degree of tolerance and variability in each aircraft, which in turn adds a further degree of difficulty in the design of fleet wide modifications. To manage this The Black Hawk Modification Program MAJ Mike Hansen, TLMU – AASPO