Manufacturing in the time of COVID

BAE Systems continued to ramp up system production during the pandemic to match F-35 production and ensure that each jet rolls off the line with a state-of-the-art EW system installed.

When COVID-19 hit, it threatened to disrupt global operations. Despite difficulties presented by the pandemic, the Electronic Combat Solutions team at BAE Systems remained committed to its mission of protecting those who protect us. The business area designs, manufactures, and sustains electronic warfare systems – a critical component of the United States’ defense strategy.

No holes on jets

BAE Systems’ EW system for the F-35 Lightning II enables the 5th generation fighter jet to detect, counter, and evade advanced threats in the battlespace. The team continued to ramp up system production during the pandemic to match jet production and ensure that each F-35 rolls off the line with a state-of-the-art EW system installed, instead of an empty space where an EW system should be.

“Our team rallies behind a motivational slogan that underscores our dedication to the warfighter: no holes on jets,” said F-35 Solutions Vice President Deb Norton. “To meet our production commitments, we had to get out in front of the pandemic’s challenges.”

A key element to maintaining system production was an immediate outreach to the supply chain, validating delivery dates, and confirming that operations would not be disrupted. The production team looked at what could be built immediately, alternate suppliers, and modified factory schedules when necessary.

The team manufactures 750 to 800 complex EW modules a month and has not missed a delivery since the pandemic’s onset. At the same time, the sustainment team improved the readiness and mission capability of the F-35 by completing repairs and delivering system spares.

The new normal

Because of the nature of BAE Systems’ work, not all employees can work remotely. Some work requires classified space and other work – like manufacturing – requires state-of-the-art production facilities.

“The health and safety of all of our employees continues to be paramount,” said Don Bernard, director of F-35 Strategic Operations. “When COVID-19 hit, we immediately implemented robust business continuity plans that we continue to review as the situation evolves.”

Where telework was not possible, the company took steps to limit exposure, including enhanced cleaning and sanitizer stations, employee temperature screenings, mandatory face coverings, restricted access, limited in-person meetings, and other forms of physical distancing.

Employees in BAE Systems' electronic warfare labs conduct their work while practicing social distancing.
Employees in BAE Systems' electronic warfare labs conduct their work while practicing social distancing.

The sustainment team maintained its high standard of performance while adapting to virtual support and the safety protocols implemented for on-site personnel. Employees continued to work at bases with our warfighters to ensure EW mission capability during this difficult time.

“The team’s rapid response to the crisis and strict adherence to safety protocols was a big factor in our ability to deliver systems for every jet coming off the production line,” said Norton.

Leading during uncertainty

During this challenging time, to ensure seamless operations, the leadership team was diligent about communication and creating an environment where people felt comfortable asking for help. The goal was to create an environment where team members could still work together, get creative, and develop solutions to stay on schedule. For instance, the team leveraged reconfigurable workflows over a weekend to adjust the factory and ensure 6-foot distancing requirements were met.

“Meeting our production goals during the pandemic wasn’t easy. We had several challenges to overcome. At the same time, we recognized employees were also struggling with the new normal outside of work,” said Norton. “It’s important that we recognize the obstacles the team overcame and celebrate their success.”

In a show of support and gratitude for its front-line workers, members of the F-35 team organized a thank-you parade in cars and lined the facility access road holding handmade signs.

Members of BAE Systems' F-35 team hold handmade thank-you signs in a show of support and gratitude for front-line workers.
Members of BAE Systems' F-35 team hold handmade thank-you signs in a show of support and gratitude for front-line workers.

Because of the team’s rapid response to the crisis and strict adherence to safety protocols, BAE Systems delivered on its commitment to leave no holes on F-35 jets coming off the production line.

We are committed to providing a critical advantage to our customers. The COVID-19 pandemic tested our mettle, but didn’t get in the way of our mission.