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JSTARS uses AF innovative funding to save maintenance costs, increase mission readiness

From left, U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Robert Cliché, flight chief of the 116th Aerospace Ground Equipment (AGE) Flight, Georgia Air National Guard, shows a new ground power unit (GPU) operation manual to Tech. Sgt. Anthony Walker, AGE familiarization instructor, and Tech. Sgt. Juan Felix, AGE production superintendent, both with the active duty 461st AGE Flight, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, Jan. 21, 2021. Squadron Innovative Funding used to obtain the new specialized aircraft generators was the first step in Team JSTARS replacing the aging GPUs. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Nancy Goldberger)

From left, U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Robert Cliché, flight chief of the 116th Aerospace Ground Equipment (AGE) Flight, Georgia Air National Guard, shows a new ground power unit (GPU) operation manual to Tech. Sgt. Anthony Walker, AGE familiarization instructor, and Tech. Sgt. Juan Felix, AGE production superintendent, both with the active duty 461st AGE Flight, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, Jan. 21, 2021. Squadron Innovative Funding used to obtain the new specialized aircraft generators was the first step in Team JSTARS replacing the aging GPUs. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Nancy Goldberger)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Juan Felix, Aerospace Ground Equipment (AGE) production superintendent with the active duty 461st AGE Flight, observes a new ground power unit (GPU) at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, Jan. 21, 2021. Squadron Innovative Funding used to obtain the new specialized aircraft generators was the first step in Team JSTARS replacing the aging GPUs. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Nancy Goldberger)

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Juan Felix, Aerospace Ground Equipment (AGE) production superintendent with the active duty 461st AGE Flight, observes a new ground power unit (GPU) at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, Jan. 21, 2021. Squadron Innovative Funding used to obtain the new specialized aircraft generators was the first step in Team JSTARS replacing the aging GPUs. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Nancy Goldberger)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Calvin Wills, right, quality assurance specialist with the 116th Aerospace Ground Equipment (AGE) Flight, Georgia Air National Guard, and Tech. Sgt. Juan Felix, AGE production superintendent with the active duty 461st AGE Flight, ask questions about new ground power units (GPUs) at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, Jan. 21, 2021. Squadron Innovative Funding used to obtain the new specialized aircraft generators was the first step in Team JSTARS replacing the aging GPUs. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Nancy Goldberger)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Calvin Wills, right, quality assurance specialist with the 116th Aerospace Ground Equipment (AGE) Flight, Georgia Air National Guard, and Tech. Sgt. Juan Felix, AGE production superintendent with the active duty 461st AGE Flight, ask questions about new ground power units (GPUs) at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, Jan. 21, 2021. Squadron Innovative Funding used to obtain the new specialized aircraft generators was the first step in Team JSTARS replacing the aging GPUs. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Nancy Goldberger)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. - U.S. Airmen maintaining aerospace ground equipment for the E-8C Joint STARS mission, used innovative funding to acquire new specialized aircraft ground generators aimed to save maintenance costs while providing increased mission readiness for global missions.

These $60k specialized aircraft ground generators are the first step in replacing the aging fleet of ground power units, which currently cost the unit approximately $750k and 15.3k man-hours to maintain annually.

“When a GPU fails to keep running during start up, it causes other maintenance problems,” said 2nd Lt. Kandace Brown, 461st Aerospace Ground Equipment Flight commander. “Then, the unit has to be taken into the shop and swapped out to get the jet off the ground as soon as possible. Without our equipment, you can’t fly.”

Airmen from the Georgia Air National Guard’s 116th AGE Flight and active duty 461st AGE Flight; commonly referred to as Team JSTARS AGE Flight, work as a joint force maintaining more than 300 pieces of ground equipment used for the E-8C Joint STARS mission. Roughly 75 percent of their budget currently goes towards keeping the older ground power units operable, according to Senior Master Sgt. Robert Cliché, flight chief of the 116th AGE Flight.

“Through an amazingly talented group of men and women, they have managed to keep these running,” Cliché said. “I have people exhausting themselves trying to keep these units in play.”

The older ground power units average 25 years, and it normally takes around five years using the standard method to replace them, according to Cliché.

In 2018, the Team JSTARS AGE Flight leadership set out to fix things to improve conditions for their people and increase mission readiness. The Squadron Innovative Fund program instituted by former Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. David L. Goldfein, provided the means to fund the project.

Squadron Innovative Funding is used for Airmen-led innovations that increase readiness, reduce cost, return back time to Airmen, or enhance lethality of the force.

Now there are enough operable generators to launch flights, and still bring ground power units into the shop that require deep repair, according to Master Sgt. Scott Wetsel, flight chief of the 461st AGE Flight. They can be proactive with maintenance now, instead of reactive.

It was not a fast road, according to Cliché, but due to the teamwork and leadership throughout maintenance and mission support, it was as fast as it could be.

The maintainers themselves expressed similar opinions about the change as their leadership.

“It’s going to be huge,” said Tech. Sgt. Anthony Walker, AGE familiarization instructor with the 461st AGE Flight. “It’s more efficient, less room for error, a lot easier, and way more reliable.”

Looking forward, Team JSTARS AGE Flight leadership considers how to keep up the momentum.

“This is definitely something we’ll want to duplicate as we look at other pieces of older equipment that are critical to the mission,” said Cliché.

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