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Patriot and Avenger Reset

Applying Lean Manufacturing techniques during the restoration of the Patriot and Avenger air defense systems reaped significant savings for the Government.

At the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, coalition forces repeatedly relied on the Patriot air defense missile system to knock out Scud missiles launched toward coalition command posts, base camps, and advancing troops. On 20 March 2003, Patriot batteries successfully intercepted and destroyed two Iraqi tactical ballistic missiles fired at Kuwait. In the days that followed, other missiles were successfully destroyed. Air defense artillery units performed brilliantly in Operation Iraqi Freedom, intercepting every Iraqi missile fired toward Kuwait or coalition forces except those whose trajectories indicated that they would fall harmlessly into the empty desert or the ocean.

Patriot Missile System

The Patriot is the Army’s most advanced air defense system. Since it was fielded in 1982, it has proven itself to be a combat multiplier for combatant commanders. Capable of defeating both high-performance aircraft and tactical ballistic missiles, it is the only operational air defense system that can shoot down attacking missiles. A Patriot battery (the basic firing unit) consists of a phased-array radar set, an engagement-control station, computers, power-generating equipment, and up to eight launchers, each holding four ready-to-fire missiles. Approximately 90 soldiers are assigned to a battery, but only 3 are needed to operate the battery in combat.

During the early stages of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the Patriot batteries were exposed to extremely harsh environments. Sand significantly degraded their condition during both transport and operation. The exposure to the environment, coupled with exposure to hostile fire, resulted in severely damaged batteries. The impact of the damaged Patriots on the deployed air defense artillery fleet was severe and had to be addressed to maintain acceptable long-term levels of readiness.

Patriot experts from the Lower Tier Project Office of the Army Aviation and Missile Command’s Integrated Materiel Management Center (AMCOM IMMC), at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, along with personnel from Letterkenny Army Depot, Pennsylvania, developed a detailed plan to restore the Patriot systems to their predeployment condition. The plan was called Patriot Reset, and its stated objective was to increase readiness by making the equipment fully mission capable. Letterkenny’s mission was to reset three Patriot battalions in a year.

The Patriot Reset program showcased Letterkenny’s capabilities and commitment. The depot is the Army’s center of technical excellence for air defense and tactical missile ground support equipment. Letterkenny had saved the Patriot Lower Tier Project Office $1.2 million in fiscal year 2003 using the Lean Manufacturing process. Lean Manufacturing is a set of principles and practices directed toward revamping the production process in a way that includes eliminating waste, removing inventory buffers, and focusing on quality. Using the earlier success as a model, Letterkenny’s Lean Manufacturing Core Team designed the reset program using Lean Manufacturing techniques, a system of cross-training, and flexible management that focused on customer needs.

From the initial planning stages, Letterkenny representatives used “out-of-the-box” thinking to create an efficient plan. This plan eventually allowed the depot to complete the project 2H months ahead of schedule and $1.5 million under budget. The plan called for the Patriot systems to be overhauled in two locations by three organizations. Using the ongoing Patriot recapitalization program as a model, equipment was divided between the assets that could be reset at Fort Bliss, Texas, and those that had to be returned to Letterkenny for repair.

Letterkenny technicians developed a reset schedule and synchronized it with the three air defense battalions at Fort Bliss to ensure that reset operations would not interfere with the units’ deployments, redeployments, or training missions. Then, more than 100 technicians at the depot worked two shifts 7 days a week to ensure the success of the reset mission. They disassembled and cleaned all major items, repaired or replaced their components, and reassembled them. The technicians successfully reset 16 Patriot radar sets, 15 engagement-control stations, 3 information and coordination centrals (command and control elements), 15 electric power plants, and 30 generator sets. During the system integration and checkout conducted at the Tobin Wells Training Area at Fort Bliss, the Patriot equipment was determined to be fully mission capable and was accepted by the fire units. The final product was a revitalized Patriot air defense system that soldiers could trust to accomplish their missions.

Letterkenny’s Logistics Center of Excellence (LCOE) at Fort Bliss was the second location used for the reset program. One of the first employees to arrive at the LCOE was a member of Letterkenny’s Lean Manufacturing Core Team. The Patriot Lean Value Stream Analysis (a process that helps identify a system’s values and pinpoints areas needing improvement) identified opportunities to save money and time by reducing travel distances and turnaround time. For example, a major bottleneck in the cleaning, plating, and painting operations was identified and mitigated. The Lean Manufacturing process reduced a 3- to 4-week backlog of material to a less than 1 day backlog and sped up component parts processing by 87 percent.

Avenger Air Defense System

Patriot was not the only weapon system used to cover the coalition forces advancing from the Kuwait border to Baghdad International Airport. Avenger air defense systems also were deployed and used by some Army units, usually in extremely adverse conditions. The Avenger is the Army’s premier line-of-sight, mobile, shoot-on-the-move air defense system. It is a key element of the air defense architecture. The Avenger system carries eight Stinger missiles in two four-missile launch pods ready for rapid firing from a gyro-stabilized turret mounted on a high-mobility, multipurpose wheeled vehicle.


The Avengers used by the coalition forces were sandblasted by windstorms, and many suffered battle or transportation damage. Letterkenny crews examined the Avengers front to back, top to tires, and discovered that nearly everything needed to be “redone.”

“We’ve had to adapt to significant changes in maintenance requirements as a result of how Avengers are being used in the AOR [area of responsibility],” said Michael McGee, director of IMMC’s Short-Range Missile Directorate. “Although designed as an air defense system, Avengers have assumed an expanded battlefield role of extensive force protection. [This has] . . . changed our thinking on how to reset Avengers. For example, the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment drove their individual Avengers over 70,000 miles in a single year. . . . You can imagine the degree of stress that places on the . . . system since it wasn’t specifically designed for that type of combat role.”

“During the reset of our first Avenger battalion—from the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia—we decided that we would ask the unit to relinquish control of the vehicles and ship the fire units to Letterkenny [for] more detailed maintenance,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Tom LaFontaine of the Short-Range Air Defense Project Office. “To maintain unit confidence in our ability to reset and return fire units consistent with their internal training schedules, we invited the units to send their maintenance technicians to Letterkenny to assist in hands-on repair of the Avengers. . . . Soldier involvement is especially critical considering the maintenance challenges facing Avengers returning from the area of responsibility.”

All Avenger vehicles were returned to Letterkenny for reset. Together, Letterkenny personnel and Team Redstone developed a reset plan for the Avengers that would meet redeployment schedules and, at the same time, save IMMC $1 million. In the assembly and disassembly areas, technicians made many recommendations that eliminated unnecessary steps in the refurbishment process. Some improvements to the process included the use of portable light fixtures to aid in disassembly and reassembly and the creation of a “parts supermarket” close to the work cells. At times, as many as 40 Letterkenny maintenance personnel and 4 to 6 soldiers were involved in reset activities.

In an August 2004 ceremony, the commander of Letterkenny Army Depot presented IMMC with a ceremonial check representing the combined $2.5 million in savings realized through the center’s application of Lean Manufacturing techniques to the Patriot and Avenger missile systems reset programs. The check was “endorsed” and returned to the depot’s coffers by John Chapman, IMMC Executive Director. “Every dollar we can save by improving our processing . . . [is] a good thing for the taxpayer and a good thing for the budget,” Chapman said.

In addition to having Patriot and Avenger missile systems back in the field faster than expected, soldiers also benefit from the refurbishment because the money saved can be used to support other unfunded projects.

As the Army transforms, the Avenger and Patriot air defense systems must remain lethal, survivable, and sustainable with reduced operating costs. Maintaining the highest level of unit and system readiness is the Army’s dominant objective, and the Letterkenny Army Depot Avenger and Patriot reset programs are the Army’s proven solution. ALOG

Kim C. Russell is a public affairs specialist at Letterkenny Army Depot, Pennsylvania, where she has been employed for 27 years. She has a bachelor’s degree in business and economics from Wilson College in Pennsylvania.

Mark L. Sheffield is the Chief of the Transformation Office at Letterkenny Army Depot. He has a bachelor’s degree in business and economics from Wilson College in Pennsylvania.