Tinker repairs aircraft on time despite aging facilities, equipment, new report states
A federal review of military repair depots found aging facilities and poor equipment at Tinker Air Force Base, though the shortcomings have not prevented the Oklahoma City-area base from fixing aircraft on schedule.
The Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, the massive maintenance center at Tinker, was one of 21 military depots examined in a new report by the Government Accountability Office, the auditing arm of Congress.
“Inefficient depots contribute to longer maintenance times, increased costs, and reduced readiness,” the GAO report released last week states.
“Currently, a majority of the depots have facilities that are in poor condition and are relying on old equipment that is past its useful service life.”
The report was addressed to U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Jack Reed, of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the panel.
In a statement to The Oklahoman, Inhofe said the facilities were neglected for years under the Obama administration but would receive funding for upgrades.
“As Tinker’s leadership, the Air Force and the Armed Services Committee work to address the aging equipment and facilities at the Oklahoma City depot, I am proud to note that Tinker’s schedule performance has been steady at nearly 100 percent, despite infrastructure challenges,” Inhofe said.
“That speaks to the resilience and skill of the Oklahoma City workforce.”
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, whose district includes Tinker, said personnel and weapons systems were the top priorities during several years of cutbacks.
"Obviously, we need to invest more in the basic infrastructure," Cole said. "The bottom line is we need to spend more money."
Inhofe, as an influential member of the Armed Services Committee, and Cole, who sits on the subcommittee that appropriates money to the Defense Department, have steered missions and money to Tinker for many years.
Tinker is one of three Air Force logistics centers. According to the GAO, half of the $2.1 billion spent by the Air Force on depot investment between fiscal years 2012 and 2017 went to Tinker’s depot.
The logistics complex at Tinker repairs bombers and tankers and specializes in engines and software. It has been tapped to do maintenance on the KC-46A, the next generation refueling tanker, and the B-21 bomber still under development.
Tinker has received tens of millions of dollars in construction money in recent years, mostly for KC-46A facilities. But the GAO report says the Oklahoma City depot “has identified about $104 million in backlogged restoration and modernization projects.”
The GAO collected only one year of data — fiscal year 2018 — about the condition of the Tinker facility and said that didn’t “allow us to determine a trend but shows Oklahoma City’s current average in the poor category.
“In addition, the quantity of facility repair tickets has increased since fiscal year 2007.”
“The state of equipment at Oklahoma City is poor,” the report states. “On average, the age of equipment exceeds its useful life by nine years. In addition, equipment repair requests have increased steadily since fiscal year 2007.”
Tinker performance stable
Despite the findings, the on-time performance at Tinker “has generally remained stable over the last 11 years,” according to the report. The performance has been close to 100 percent on-time in that period.
That is not true of the other two Air Force depots. On-time performance at the depot in Utah has dropped about 20 percent between fiscal years 2007 and 2017, while on-time performance at the depot in Georgia dropped about 30 percent, according to the GAO.
"That's a testament to the work force at Tinker," Cole said. "We really are very fortunate in the quality of the personnel we have there."
The Air Force did not concur with some of the conclusions made by the GAO but agreed to start tracking maintenance delays caused by facility and equipment conditions.
Inhofe said the GAO’s report generally covered the time in which former President Barack Obama was in office and the Defense Department was “underfunded.”
“The resulting impact on our depots is predictable, yet disappointing,” he said.
“Since the election of President Trump, we’ve been focused on rebuilding our military and the organic industrial base as the backbone of readiness.”
Inhofe said Congress has previously mandated investments in the depots to keep them up to date.
“It’s clear additional funding and potential policy changes will be needed to improve our depots, and we will address these needs in this year’s defense authorization bill,” he said.
Inhofe's committee and the House Armed Services Committee are working on the annual defense bill but any directives made about depot upgrades must be backed up with money. If Congress can't reach a budget agreement, spending and policy will remain mostly fixed for the next fiscal year.
Cole said the GAO report "highlights how critical it is to reach a budget agreement. It really raises the stakes for us and these facilities — all of them, all 21 of them."