In Depth

Where the Rubber Meets the Tarmac: F-35 Site Activation

March 17, 2016

It’s a big deal when an F-35 arrives at a new installation for the first time, and a lot more goes into preparing the site for this milestone than meets the eye.

By 2020, an estimated 25 Air Force Bases (AFB), Naval Air Stations (NAS), Marine Corps Air Stations (MCAS) and other partner installations around the world will operate and maintain F-35s. Before each location receives an F-35, however, the site must be “activated” and declared ready to operate and maintain the jets.

Enter F-35 site activation teams. These teams start working about four to seven years in advance to ensure facilities around the world are ready to accept, operate and maintain the F-35s purchased by the customer. 

Ken Keener leads one of three Lockheed Martin F-35 site activation teams, and his team prepared sites like MCAS Beaufort, MCAS Yuma and NAS Lemoore. They are currently working to stand up sites like Amendola Air Base for the Italian Air Force, Royal Air Force Marham for the United Kingdom, and even Italian aircraft carrier Cavour.

“Right now we’re at the apex of site activation,” Ken said. “Between now and 2018, there are a lot of Initial Operational Capability declarations and a lot of first aircraft arrivals.” 

Ken serves as a facility integrator, coordinating requirements from the U.S. government, customer, Joint Program Office, teammates (like Pratt & Whitney), and suppliers. A site activation team typically consists of 12 members, including Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), training, logistics and support equipment personnel, and physical and information security experts.

In order to activate a base and achieve Air System Capabilities, this team must prepare the site to meet requirements for hangar space, personnel, ALIS connectivity, maintenance capabilities, support equipment and many other functions.

“It’s where the rubber meets the tarmac,” Ken said of the site activation process and getting every little detail in line for the first F-35 arrivals at a new location.

As you’d imagine, the process is far from simple, and each site has its own challenges. Ken said some of the installations haven’t been updated since the 1950s and require lots of upgrades. Sites outside the United States require additional coordination, including different environmental and customs regulations.

Connected to the Customer

After working through all these steps, Ken says it’s very satisfying to see the team’s hard work come to fruition when the jets arrive for the first time. His team also takes great pride in their work because they understand the importance of their mission to meet customer needs.

“The working relationship we have is very rewarding,” he said. “Within the military, the people are the same wherever you go. They all move forward in trying to accomplish the mission and do it in an efficient, timely and cost-effective manner. Whether it’s the Japanese Air Force or the Italian Navy or the U.S. Marine Corps, they all have the same perspective and same mission.”

After serving in Army Aviation for 22 years, Ken is highly motivated to go the extra mile to fulfill the mission and stand up sites to receive F-35s.

“Being former military, one thing we often miss is the camaraderie,” he said. “This is like an extension of our military camaraderie that we’re able to assist other governments and other services, whether they’re within our government or not. You have the same perspectives, same goals and same missions. It’s wonderful to be a part of that work again.”

Ken has led a site activation team for five years and says that one day he’ll enjoy looking back and being part of history, knowing his team was behind the scenes paving the way for F-35s to operate all around the world.