The art of Electronic Warfare
After celebrating its 250th delivery, Electronic Systems’ F-35 Electronic Warfare program is facing a steady production ramp that will require every employee working together to deliver critical EW capability to the warfighter.
More than 6,000 miles away from home, BAE Systems Electronic Systems sector test technician Ben Robinson is deployed in Kuwait, taking a leave of absence from his F-35 program team to join the Forward Support Company maintenance platoon in the 368th Engineer Battalion. Back in New Hampshire, the Radio Frequency Systems Common Build (RFSCB) Factory that supports the F-35 and F-15 has been busy putting together care packages to deliver to Robinson’s platoon.
“There was a lot of talk this week within my platoon about how awesome my coworkers are,” said Robinson in September. “I walk into the mailroom, and see four massive boxes. That seriously made everyone’s week. I miss everyone, and I hope everything is going well back home.”
Robinson’s story is just one of many that demonstrates the team mentality of Electronic Systems’ (ES) F-35 program. Tasked with delivering one of the world’s most-advanced Electronic Warfare (EW) systems, teamwork is a necessity, and the warfighter is always top-of-mind.
The program recently celebrated the production and delivery of its 250th EW system, which protects the stealth fighter from threats in the field. The event drew the likes of U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Lockheed Martin vice president Fred Ross.
“For me, the celebration of the 250th milestone is just the beginning,” said Kathy Boissonneault, a mechanical engineering assistant in the RFSCB factory. “We have some exciting times ahead. We are investing in our factories with soldering robots and process improvements. We have come a long way, but the team has some miles to go.”
Factory investments will be critical as the program increases its production rates. Currently delivering four systems per month, Electronic Systems will need to nearly triple its output by 2019 – with Lockheed Martin manufacturing 11 aircraft per month.
Dave Babonis, an electrical engineering assistant in ES’ microwave factory stressed how important team operations will continue to be as the program ramps to rate.
“The whole team has to perform from start to finish to reach the end goal,” said Babonis. “In microwave, we get the parts that go into the higher-level assemblies. If what we provide to the next level doesn’t work, the team isn’t going to be successful. For me, I like to think big picture. I am building a product that helps the pilot do his job. It’s about protecting him, but, overall, his mission might keep hundreds or thousands of other people safe.”
For those working the program, creating EW systems to protect U.S. troops in the field weighs heavily. Angela Moschen, a mechanical technician and team lead for ES’ Advanced Composite Manufacturing Factory, refers to her team’s work as technical arts and crafts.
“I am a crafty person, so working on a difficult, detailed product is a good fit for me,” said Moschen. “These are complicated products, and we have to be very hands on. I realize that a person’s life is in my hands, and it can be stressful – it’s a big responsibility. Although it’s hard work, we find time to come together, strengthen that team bond, and, in the end, build a product that works every time.”
As a team lead on the F-35 program, Moschen’s No. 1 goal is to remind people that they are human.
“I like to promote activities that remind us that we are human,” said Moschen. “It’s good to take a step back from our work and have a little fun. We will do everything from chili cook-offs to making F-35 cakes to boost morale. When you are on a program that’s as demanding and important as the F-35, you can’t forget about the relationships that are going to get you to the end. Doing these things allows us to laugh, recharge and refocus on our work.”
It is that focus and teamwork that creates a successful environment, according to Operations program manager Sharon Metras. The program is going to require every supplier working together to deliver the aircraft’s capability to the warfighter on time.
“Last year, I was able to visit Lockheed Martin’s production floor in Fort Worth, and it was very impressive,” said Metras. “When you are there, you can tell how seriously the operators take their work, and the customers stressed to us the need for our systems to work at first test. We got to go right up to the cockpit, and you felt like you were being watched. It shows the pride they take in what they do.”
Metras took what she learned after the visit and brought it back to her staff.
“I do my best to instill the mission at all levels of our program,” said Metras. “On the floor, we have employees building cables, but they aren’t just cables – the cables they are building are part of a system that saves lives. Our mission and instilling it in the folks in our organization is why I come to work every day.”
By Nicole Gable, Communications, Nashua, New Hampshire