oversight

F-15 Fuel Cells: Air Force Needs Better Data for Informed Decisions

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-08-16.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

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               __._.                             1 Jrlittvi States
                    I_ -.-.--.._--- .--_._-.- ______                 Gr~ueral Accounting   Office
                                               12eport,t,o the Chairman, Subcommittee
GAO                                            on RxIeral Services, Post Office, and
                                               Civil Service, Committee on
                                               Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate

ArI~llst    l!)!)O
                                               F-15 FUEL CELLS
                                               Air Force Needs Better
                                               Data for Informed
                                               Decisions




GAO/NSIAI)-!W214
      United States
GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20648

      National Security and
      International Affairs Division

      B-23949 1

      August 16,199O

      The Honorable David H. Pryor
      Chairman, Subcommittee on Federal Services,
        Post Office, and Civil Service
      Committee on Governmental Affairs
      United States Senate

      Dear Mr. Chairman:

      This report, prepared at your request, addresses F-16 aircraft fuel cell management issues on
      premature failures, life cycle costs of different materials, the advantage of an extended
      warranty, and repair and replacement policies. The report concludes that the Air Force does
      not have the necessary data on F-16 fuel cells to make informed decisions on any of these
      management issues.

      We are sending copies of this report to interested congressional committees; the Secretaries
      of Defense and the Air Force; and the Director, Office of Management and Budget.

      Please contact me at (202) 276-4268 if you or your staff have any questions concerning this
      report. Other major contributors to this report are listed in appendix I.

      Sincerely yours,




      Director
      Air Force Issues
Executive Summary


             In 1987 the Air Force changed from polyurethane fuel cells to nitrile
Purpose      fuel cells for its KC-136 aircraft. Before October 1989, when the Air
             Force awarded a competitive contract for nitrile cells, the fuel cells for
             the Air Force’s F-16 aircraft were made exclusively of polyurethane.
             The Air Force expects to spend more than $24 million on fuel cells for its
             F-16 aircraft in the next 4 years.

             The Chairman, Subcommittee on Federal Services, Post Office, and Civil
             Service, Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, asked GAOto
             review the Air Force’s experience with F-16 and KC-136 fuel cells. Spe-
             cifically, the Chairman asked that GAOdetermine (1) whether F-16 poly-
             urethane fuel cells are failing prematurely, (2) whether one fuel cell
             material offers a substantial life cycle cost advantage over the other, (3)
             whether the Air Force should mandate a 12-year warranty for new F-16
             fuel cells, (4) why nitrile was chosen as the fuel cell material for the
             KC-136, and (6) whether longevity requirements of fuel cells differ
             between the F-16 and the KC-136.


             A fuel cell is a flexible bag designed to hold fuel that can be contoured to
Background   the shape of an aircraft’s fuselage or wing cavity. Two materials are
             used in fuel cell construction, nitrile (a rubber material) and poly-
             urethane (a polyester material). The F-16 fighter aircraft has four to six
             fuel cells, depending on the aircraft model. The KC-136 tanker aircraft
             has 16 fuel cells.

             The cells for the F-lSE, the latest version of the aircraft, range in
             capacity from 40 to 666 gallons and cost from about $2,360 to about
             $9,760. The KC-136 cells range in capacity from 661 to 2,346 gallons
             and cost from about $4,380 to about $10,046. The cells for both aircraft
             carry a l-year manufacturer’s warranty that covers only materials and
             workmanship.

             The Warner Robins and the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Centers are
             responsible for maintaining the F-16 and KC-136 aircraft, respectively.
             They perform major maintenance and upgrades to the aircraft. Air
             bases are responsible for minor repair and maintenance of assigned
             aircraft.

             Warner Robins requires that each F-16 undergo programmed mainte-
             nance, including removal, examination, and replacement of fuel cells,
             every 6 years. Warner Robins has determined that F-15 fuel cells have a
             useful life of 9 years and has based its repair and replacement policies


             Page 2                                    GAO/NSIAD90-214   Fuel Cdl Management
                          Executive Summary




                          on that time. F-16 bases are authorized to repair and replace fuel cells as
                          needed.


                          The Air Force does not have the necessary data on F-16 fuel cells to
Results in Brief          determine whether (1) the cells are failing prematurely, (2) one fuel cell
                          material offers life cycle cost advantages over the other, and (3) an
                          extended warranty would be advantageous to the government. More-
                          over, the Air Force does not have the historical data needed to establish
                          repair and replacement policies based on the actual life of the F-16 fuel
                          cells.

                          The Air Force is automating maintenance records at Warner Robins and
                          F-16 air bases. Although the records are designed to detail more data
                          about fuel cells, the Air Force needs to ensure that data are fully and
                          accurately reported.

                          The Air Force has more extensive data on KC-136 fuel cells, which has
                          enabled it to identify problems with polyurethane cells, make repair and
                          replacement decisions, and choose nitrile as the fuel cell material. How-
                          ever, the experience gained with KC-136 fuel cells may not be directly
                          applicable to F-16 fuel cells because the aircraft have different opera-
                          tional environments and missions.


Principal Findings

ReplacementData on F-15   Before October 1988 the Air Force did not record specific replacement
Fuel Cells                data on F-16 fuel cells. In October 1988 Warner Robins required that
                          records be maintained on when each fuel cell was installed so techni-
                          cians could determine during programmed maintenance whether the
                          cells met the criteria for removal and replacement. However, Warner
                          Robins did not require that the records specify the reasons for replacing
                          the cells.


Repair and Replacement    A g-year useful life for F-16 fuel cells was derived from a single experi-
Policies                  ence in 1987 with problem cells at one base. This time frame is the basis
            Y             for the fuel cell repair and replacement policies at Warner Robins.




                          Page 3                                   GAO/NSWW214     Fuel Cell Management
                            Executive   Summary




                            When the Air Force established its 6-year programmed maintenance
                            cycle for F-l& it also established a 3-year replacement policy for fuel
                            cells to achieve the useful life of 9 years. This ensures that fuel cells
                            would be no older than 9 years when the F-16 aircraft would undergo its
                            next programmed maintenance 6 years later. The repair policy directs
                            that only fuel cells 2 years old or less are eligible for repair because it
                            takes about 1 year to repair and return the cells to service. Therefore, if
                            cells are to be 3 years old or less when reinstalled, they must be no more
                            than 2 years old at time of removal for repair. According to the policies,
                            all cells that have been in F-16 aircraft for more than 3 years,and all
                            damaged cells removed from aircraft that are over 2 years old are to be
                            discarded, regardless of their condition.

                            Cells were removed at F-16 bases, and those that needed repairs beyond
                            the bases’limited capabilities were discarded. Warner Robins now has a
                            repair contractor that can perform major repairs on cells and return
                            them to serviceable condition.


Life Cycle Costs            In 1986 an Air Force fact finding team concluded life cycle cost is one of
                            the more important factors in selecting one fuel cell material over
                            another but found existing data on fuel cells would not support life cycle
                            cost studies. Although Warner Robins is accumulating some fuel cell
                            data, it does not have data for life cycle cost analyses. The Air Force is
                            automating maintenance records at Warner Robins and F-l 6 air bases,
                            and officials believe such records can detail the data needed to perform
                            life cycle cost analyses.


Fuel Cell Warranties        Even though a warranty is not required for replacement items such as
                            fuel cells, it may be desirable if cost-effective for the government. F-16
                            fuel cell contracts have a l-year warranty for materials and workman-
                            ship. One contractor had offered a 1Zyear extended warranty for its
                            fuel cells at no cost to the government. Warner Robins officials said they
                            had not evaluated the merits of the offer and that a warranty will be
                            difficult to enforce because cells are often damaged and replaced during
                            F-16 maintenance.


Historical Data on KC-135   In 1981 the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center switched from nitrile to
Fuel Cells y                polyurethane fuel cells for the KC-136. However, the Center returned to
                            nitrile in 1987 because of failures with the polyurethane cells. A mate-
                            rial management official from the Center kept data on the types and


                            Page 4                                    GAO/NSIAD-90-214 Fuel Cell Management
                  Fixecutlve Summary




                  frequencies of failures, which facilitated the decision to revert to nitrile.
                  The official also accumulated data on fuel cell age and the number of
                  patches on each cell of each aircraft. These data allowed the Center to
                  set repair and replacement policies based on the age and condition of the
                  fuel cell.


                  GAOrecommends that the Secretary of the Air Force ensure that data on
Recommendation    F-16 fuel cells, such as useful life, failure rate distribution, and mainte-
                  nance costs, are collected at Warner Robins and all F-16 bases as part of
                  the automated maintenance records and that these data are (1) fully and
                  accurately reported through the system, (2) used to assessthe life cycle
                  cost of the fuel cell materials and the merits of an extended warranty in
                  future fuel cell procurement, and (3) used to validate and, if necessary,
                  revise the conditions under which fuel cells should be repaired or
                  discarded.


Agency Comments   this report. However, the views of Department of Defense and Air Force
                  officials were obtained during the course of GAO'Swork and have been
                  incorporated where appropriate.




                  Page 5                                     GAO/NSIADSO-214 Fuel Cell Management
Contents


Executive Summary                                                                                2
Chapter 1                                                                                        8
Introduction           F-16 and KC-136 Fuel Cells
                       Objectives, Scope, and Methodology
                                                                                                 8
                                                                                                13

Chapter 2                                                                                       16
Data Needed for F-15   Repair and Replacement Policies for F-16 Fuel Cells
                       Air Force May Be Prematurely Discarding Fuel Cells
                                                                                                15
                                                                                                16
Fuel Cell Management   Air Force Had Not Collected Data on F-15 Fuel Cell                       17
Decisions                   Failures
                       Data Needed for Life Cycle Cost Analysis                                 18
                       Data Were Not Available to Assess Cost-Effectiveness of                  19
                            Extended Warranty
                       Historical Data on KC-135 Have Helped in                                 20
                            Decision-Making
                       Conclusions                                                              21
                       Recommendation                                                           21

Appendix               Appendix I: Major Contributors to This Report                            22

Figures                Figure 1.1: An F-16 Fuel Cell                                             9
                       Figure 1.2: Location of F-16E Fuel Cells                                 10
                       Figure 1.3: Location of KC-135 Fuel Cells                                12




                       Page 6                                  GAO/NSIAD-W-214 Fuel Cell Management
Page 7   GAO/NSIAD-90-214 Fuel Cell Management
Chapter 1

ldmduction


                       The Air Force Logistics Command procures, supplies, transports,
                       repairs, and maintains items to keep weapon systems ready for combat.
                       Specific responsibilities for these functions are allocated to its five Air
                       Logistics Centers: Warner Robins, Oklahoma City, Ogden, San Antonio,
                       and Sacramento. The Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, Robins Air
                       Force Base, Georgia, is responsible for the F-16 aircraft. The Oklahoma
                       City Air Logistics Center, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, is respon-
                       sible for the KC-136 aircraft.

                       The Air Logistics Centers develop replacement and repair policies and
                       perform depot maintenance on their respective aircraft. They also pro-
                       cure necessary spare parts, such as fuel cells. All bases at which aircraft
                       are stationed are also responsible for repair and maintenance of
                       assigned aircraft and perform tasks similar to the Centers.

                   A
                       A fuel cell is a flexible bag that is designed to contain fuel and can be
F-15 and KC-135 Fuel   contoured to the shape of an aircraft’s fuselage or wing cavity. Fuel
Cells                  cells on F-l& are made of polyurethane, and fuel cells on KC-135s are
                       constructed of either nitrile or polyurethane. Nitrile, a rubber material,
                       has been used to manufacture fuel cells since World War II, whereas the
                       use of polyurethane, a polyester material, began in 1961. Figure 1.1
                       shows an F-16 fuel cell.




                       Page S                                    GAO/NSIAD!bO-214 Fuel Cell Management




                                                          I
                                Chapter 1
                                Introduction




Figure 1.1: An F-15 Fuel Ceil




F-15 Fuel Cells                 The F-16, an Air Force fighter aircraft that has been in service since the
                                mid-1970s, has four to six fuel cells, depending on the model. Figure 1.2
                                shows the location of the five fuel cells on the F-16E, the latest version
                                of the aircraft.




                                Page 9                                   GAO/NSIAD-99-214 Fuel Cell Management
                                        chapter 1
                                        lntsoduction




Flgun 1.2: Locatlon of F-MC Fud Cell8




    I       FuelCells



                                        The cells range in capacity from 40 to 666 gallons and cost from about
                                        $2,360 to about $9,760. The largest and most expensive cell is immedi-
                                        ately behind the cockpit. Warner Robins officials told us that this cell is
                                        constructed of a combination of self-sealing and non-self-sealing mate-
                                        rial, whereas the other cells are totally self-sealing. The self-sealing
                                        quality reduces fire hazard and preserves the aircraft’s fuel supply
                                        when an object penetrates the cell walls.

                                        Although military specifications prescribe that the service life of fuel
                                        cells is to be equivalent to that of the aircraft, McDonnell Aircraft Com-
                                        pany, the prime contractor for the F-16, and the Air Force have stated in



                                        Page 10                                   GAO/NSIAlMO-214   Fuel Cell Management
                    Chapter 1
                    Intraduction




                    procurement specifications for the aircraft that the service life of fuel
                    cells is to be no less than 10 years.’ However, the warranty provided by
                    the manufacturer is limited to 1 year and covers only materials and
                    workmanship.

                    An F-16 Systems Program Management Division official at Warner
                    Robins told us that Engineered Fabrics Corporation (formerly Loral) of
                    Rockmart, Georgia, manufactured the original polyurethane fuel cells
                    for the F-16s and, until recently, was the only supplier of replacement
                    fuel cells for the aircraft. In October 1989 American Fuel Cells and
                    Coated Fabrics Company (Amfuel) of Magnolia, Arkansas, was competi-
                    tively awarded a contract to supply nitrile cells. No nitrile cells had been
                    delivered at the time of our review. Replacement cells carry the same
                    l-year warranty as the original equipment. The Air Force plans to spend
                    more than $24 million on F-15 fuel cells in the next 4 years.


KC-135 Fuel Cells   The KC-136 is an Air Force tanker aircraft used to refuel other aircraft
                    in flight and has been in use since 1966. A contracting official at the
                    Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center told us a KC-136 has 16 fuel cells, all
                    of non-self-sealing construction. The cells range in capacity from 661 to
                    2,346 gallons and cost from about $4,380 to about $10,046. Figure 1.3
                    shows the location of the 16 cells in the KC-135.




                    ‘Not all aircraft have procurement specifications. For example, the Air Force’s F-6, A-7, and A-10 and
                    the Navy’s A-6, F-14, and F/A-18 are covered by military specifications that do not specify a useful
                    life in terms of years. However, the F-16 aircraft, in addition to military specification, has a procure-
                    ment specification that defines the fuel cell minimum useful life as 11 years.



                    Page 11                                                   GAO/NSIAIHO-214 Fuel Cell Management
                                                                                                                                                              r




                                                 chapter 1
                                                 lntcoduetlon




Figure 1.3: Locatlon of K C - 1 3 6 Fuel Cells
                                                                                                                                                                  1




                  F u e lCells



                                                  Unlike th e F-16, th e K C - 1 3 6 h a s n o c o n tractor p r o c u r e m e n t specifica-
                                                  tio n s for th e service life o f fu e l cells. A n O k l a h o m a City A ir Logistics
                                                  C e n ter c o n tracting o fficial to l d u s th e l-year warranty for m a terials a n d
                                                  w o r k m a n s h i p for th e F - 1 6 fu e l cells also applies to K C - 1 3 6 fu e l cells.



                                                  Page 12                                            G A O / N 8 I A D 9 0 - 2 1 4 F o e 1Cell M a n a g e m e n t
                           Chapter 1
                           Introduction




                           Amfuel and Engineered Fabrics both supply nitrile cells for the KC-136.
                           Engineered Fabrics also supplied the polyurethane cells.


                           On June ?,1989, the Chairman, Subcommittee on Federal Services, Post
Objectives,Scope,and       Office, and Civil Service, Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs,
Methodology                requested that we review the Air Force’s experience with F-16 and
                           KC-136 fuel cells. Specifically, the Chairman asked that we determine

                       l whether F-16 polyurethane fuel cells are failing prematurely,
                       l whether one fuel cell material offers a substantial life cycle cost2 advan-
                         tage over the other,
                       l whether the Air Force should mandate a 1Zyear warranty for new F-16
                         fuel cells,
                       l why nitrile was chosen as the fuel cell material for the KC-136, and
                       9 whether longevity requirements of fuel cells differ between the F-16 and
                         the KC-136.

                           To identify specific fuel cell management policies and practices, we
                           interviewed officials at Air Force Headquarters, Washington, DC., and
                           the Air Force Logistics Command and Aeronautical Systems Division,
                           Air Force Systems Command, W right-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton,
                           Ohio. We also observed maintenance procedures, interviewed officials,
                           and reviewed available records at Warner Robins and the Oklahoma
                           City Air Logistics Centers to determine the Air Force’s experience with
                           fuel cell life and materials. We reviewed regulations and interviewed
                           Warner Robins officials to determine if the Air Force should mandate a
                           12-year warranty.

                           To determine replacement and repair policies and procedures at the base
                           level, we interviewed officials and fuel system technicians, observed
                           fuel cell maintenance procedures, and reviewed repair and maintenance
                           records at Eglin Air Force Base, Fort Walton Beach, Florida; Tyndall Air
                           Force Base, Panama City, Florida; Holloman Air Force Base,
                           Alamagordo, New Mexico; and Luke Air Force Base, Phoenix, Arizona.
                           We selected these bases because they reported the highest incidence of
                           fuel cell failures for the 12-month period ending March 1989. We also
                           interviewed company officials and observed the fuel cell manufacturing
                           process at Amfuel and Engineered Fabrics.


                           “Life cycle cost is the total cost to the government for a system over its full life, including develop
                           ment, procurement, operation, support, and disposal.



                           Page 13                                                    GAO/NSLAD-90-214 Fuel Cell Management
Chapter 1
Introduction




We conducted our work between July 1989 and April 1990 in accor-
dance with generally accepted government auditing standards. As
requested, we did not obtain official agency comments on this report.
However, we obtained the views of Department of Defense and Air
Force officials during our review and incorporated their views where
appropriate.




Page 14                                 GAO/NSIAWW214 Fuel Cell Management
Data Neededfor F-15 Fuel Cell
ManagementDecisions

                       The Air Force does not have the necessary data on F-16 fuel cells to
                       determine whether (1) the cells are failing prematurely, (2) one fuel cell
                       material offers life cycle cost advantages over the other, and (3) an
                       extended warranty would be advantageous to the government. More-
                       over, the Air Force does not have the data needed to establish repair
                       and replacement policies based on the actual life of the F-16 fuel cells.
                       Although it is not required to collect and utilize these data, the Air Force
                       would be more assured that it is making appropriate management deci-
                       sions if the data were available. A 1986 Air Force study recommended
                       including life cycle analyses in the fuel cell management process. Data
                       collection on KC-136 fuel cells has aided in repair and replacement
                       decisions.


                       F-16 fuel cells are inspected, and defective cells are repaired or replaced
Repair and             either at F-16 air bases during routine maintenance or at Warner Robins
Replacement Policies   during the aircraft’s programmed maintenance cycle. In October 1988
for F-15 Fuel Cells    the Air Force Logistics Command initiated a programmed depot mainte-
                       nance cycle for the F-16, requiring extensive maintenance at Warner
                       Robins every 6 years. During this maintenance, workers remove fuel
                       cells to check the aircraft fuel cavity for corrosion damage. This process
                       often results in damage to cells because they have to be extracted
                       through small openings in the aircraft fuselage, according to F-16
                       System Program Management Division officials. Also, fuel lines, pumps,
                       and other fuel system components must be removed from within the
                       cells, thus increasing the possibility of damage.

                       An F-16 System Program Management Division official told us that
                       Warner Robins has set a g-year useful life for F-16 fuel cells as the basis
                       for repair and replacement policies. According to this official, the g-year
                       useful life was derived from a single experience in 1987 with problem
                       cells (3B cells in the rear of the aircraft) at Holloman Air Force Base.
                       The official told us that as part of the inspection process, the problem
                       cells were removed, inspected, and found to average 9 years of age.
                       Therefore, F-16 System Program Management Division officials at
                       Warner Robins decided that the useful life of all F-16 fuel cells was 9
                       years.

                       When the Air Force established its 6-year programmed maintenance
                       cycle in 1988, it also established a 3-year replacement policy for fuel
                       cells to achieve the useful life of 9 years. This would ensure that fuel
                       cells would be no older than 9 years when the F-16 aircraft would
                       undergo its next programmed maintenance cycle 6 years later. An F-16


                       Page 15                                   GAO/NSLAD-90-214 Fuel Cell Management
                        chapter 2
                        Data Needed for F-15 Fuel Cell
                        Management Decisions




                        System Program Management Division official at Warner Robins told us
                        that the policy requires that fuel cells that have been replaced within
                        the prior 3 years be carefully removed, inspected, and reinstalled and
                        cells that have been in the aircraft for more than 3 years be discarded.

                        In August 1989 Warner Robins established a repair policy, also based on
                        a g-year useful life, that only fuel cells 2 years old or less are eligible for
                        repair. Warner Robins officials told us it would take about 1 year to
                        repair and return the cells to service. Therefore, if cells are to be 3 years
                        old or less when reinstalled (to achieve the useful life of 9 years), they
                        must be no more than 2 years old at the time of removal for repair.

                        F-16 air bases also are authorized to repair and replace fuel cells during
                        routine maintenance, although this practice differs from policies at
                        Warner Robins. At the four bases we visited, we were told that mainte-
                        nance personnel inspect the F-169 and remove and replace fuel cells only
                        as necessary. No time limit criteria were used.


                        Warner Robins may be discarding usable fuel cells that fall outside its
Air Force May Be        repair and replacement policies. For example, all fuel cells that have
Prematurely             been in F-16 aircraft for more than 3 years and all damaged cells that
Discarding Fuel Cells   are removed from the aircraft and are over 2 years old are to be dis-
                        carded regardless of their condition. Moreover, the F-16 bases that we
                        visited may be discarding cells that are beyond their repair capabilities
                        but are reparable.

                        In November 1989 Warner Robins awarded a fixed-price, indefinite
                        quantity repair contract under which the contractor will be paid only
                        for those cells actually repaired. Before the contract was awarded,
                        Warner Robins considered repairing the fuel cells in-house, but the
                        number of stored cells needing repair was beyond its repair capability.

                        In January 1990 Warner Robins supply officials surveyed those cells in
                        the warehouses labeled as reparable to determine how many actually
                        were candidates for repair, that is, 2 years old or less. Of 162 cells, only
                        20 were found to meet the criteria for repair. At the time we visited the
                        warehouses, the cells were not easily accessible for us to observe their
                        condition and dates of manufacture. However, we observed two cells
                        slated for destruction that were slightly over 2 years old, thus exceeding
                        the criteria for repair.




                        Page 16                                     GAO/NSIAD-90-214 Fuel Cell Management
 .
                         Chapter 2
                         Data Needed for F-16 Fuel Cell
                         Management Decieia~~




                         Cells were removed at F-16 bases, and those that needed repairs beyond
                         the bases’limited repair capability were discarded. For example, self-
                         sealing cells that had been torn were discarded because they were
                         beyond the bases’repair capabilities. Also, base-level fuel system per-
                         sonnel and Warner Robins officials told us that every 3 years the foam3
                         inside the fuel cell is removed and replaced. If the fuel cell is defective
                         or damaged during foam removal, the cell is scrapped at the base unless
                         the repairs are minor and can be performed at the base.

                         Warner Robins officials told us that the fuel cell repair contractor will
                         be able to fix self-sealing cells and perform other major repairs on cells.
                         Because Warner Robins now has this repair capability available, the
                         bases may be discarding fuel cells that could be repaired and returned to
                         serviceable condition.


                         The Air Force had not routinely collected data on when and why indi-
Air Force Had Not        vidual F-16 fuel cells failed. Some bases collected data on individual fuel
Collected Data on F-15   cells; however, that information was not recorded or maintained consist-
Fuel Cell Failures       ently. The Air Force’s new automated maintenance records being
                         installed at Warner Robins and F-16 bases could improve data collection
                         efforts.

                         F-16 Program Management Division officials informed us that before
                         October 1988 Warner Robins and the air bases were not required to
                         record specific replacement data on fuel cells. However, in 1988, as part
                         of the depot maintenance program, Warner Robins required that techni-
                         cians record when each fuel cell was installed so they could determine
                         whether the cells met the 3-year criteria for removal and replacement.

                         Methods of accumulating fuel cell data were inconsistent among the
                         bases we visited. For example, at Holloman Air Force Base, technicians
                         recorded the date a fuel cell was installed, but when that cell was subse-
                         quently removed, technicians replaced the old information with data on
                         the new cell, eliminating any historical record. At Tyndall Air Force
                         Base, technicians retained the dates all cells were installed and removed.
                         However, none of the technicians at air bases we visited was recording
                         specific reasons the cells were replaced.


                         “The foam inside the fuel cell ads as an explosion suppressant. Air Force officials informed us that
                         the foam removal policy was changed in June 1990 to require that the foam be replaced every 6
                         years, unless it deteriorates earlier.



                         Page 17                                                  GAO/NSLUWO-214 Fuel Cell Madgement
                       Chapter 2
                       Data Needed for F-15 Fuel Cell
                       Management Decisions




                       During our visits to F-15 air bases, fuel system technicians told us that
                       fuel cells were not experiencing excessive failures. The individuals said
                       that some cells experienced problems with internal cell activation, a
                       problem that results in the self-sealing material swelling and destroying
                       the cell wall. Technicians observed this problem often while performing
                       routine fuel system maintenance. The records, however, only reflected
                       that cells were removed and replaced.

                       An Air Force Logistics Command official told us that the Air Force is
                       automating maintenance records at Warner Robins and F-15 air bases
                       and that the records can detail considerably more data on fuel cells,
                       such as when cells were installed and why specifically they were
                       replaced. According to an Air Force Headquarters official, the system is
                       being installed in phases at F-15 bases and Warner Robins. According to
                       this official, in October 1985 Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, was the
                       first F-15 base to be automated, and in January 1991 Kadena Air Base,
                       Japan, will be the last to be automated. Three of the four bases that we
                       visited were automating their records.


                       Although Warner Robins is accumulating some fuel cell data, it does not
Data Needed for Life   have the comprehensive data necessary for life cycle cost analysis.
Cycle Cost Analysis    Warner Robins officials responsible for life cycle cost analysis indicated
                       that analyses for F-15 fuel cells would be beneficial, but the officials had
                       no plan to perform the analyses unless directed to do so by the Air
                       Force. The officials explained that Warner Robins’policy is to consider
                       life cycle cost analysis for major acquisitions that occur in a competitive
                       environment, but this does not preclude them from considering these
                       analyses in other acquisitions.

                       In 1985 the Aeronautical Systems Division, Air Force Systems Com-
                       mand, organized a fact finding team to study fuel cell performance. The
                       study concluded that life cycle cost was one of the more important fac-
                       tors in selecting one fuel cell material (i.e., nitrile or polyurethane) over
                       another. However, the team found that existing data were not sufficient
                       to perform life cycle cost studies because information on a cell’s useful
                       life was not available. The team recommended including life cycle cost
                       studies in the fuel cell management process and basing the fuel cell
                       replacement decision on life cycle cost studies and the cell’s useful life.
                       The team’s conclusions and recommendations were based on a compar-
                       ison of nitrile and polyurethane fuel cells in several aircraft including
                       the F-4, F-5, F-15, F-16, A-10, C-130, and KC-135. According to the Aero-
                       nautical Systems Division official that prepared the final report, the


                       Page 18                                   GAO/NSLAD90-214 Fuel Cell Management
                       Chapter 2
                       Data Needed for F-16 Fuel Cell
                       Management Decision




                       report was intended to be informational only and required no action on
                       the recommendations. Officials with the F-15 System Program Manage-
                       ment Division at Warner Robins told us they were unaware of the study
                       and its recommendations.

                       Until recently, the Air Force was only purchasing polyurethane fuel
                       cells for the F-15. However, in October 1989 the Air Force awarded a
                       $418,350 contract to Amfuel for 150 nitrile cells. Warner Robins offi-
                       cials responsible for life cycle cost analyses told u# that because there
                       are two sources for F-15 cells, life cycle cost analysis would be an impor-
                       tant concern in selecting one fuel cell material over the other. However,
                       the officials still had no plans to conduct a life cycle cost analysis unless
                       the Air Force directed them to do so.

                       According to these officials, life cycle cost analyses require historical
                       data, such as useful life of the cells, a failure rate distribution, mainte-
                       nance costs for each of the cells, repair costs, and frequency of repair
                       information. According to an Air Force Logistics Command official, the
                       automated maintenance records being installed at the depot and air
                       bases will detail these and other data needed to perform life cycle cost
                       analyses.


                       Because the Air Force had not accumulated specific data on F-16 fuel
Data Were Not          cells, such as the age of fuel cells and reasons for fuel cell failures, it
Available to Assess    could not determine whether an extended warranty offered by one con-
Cost-Effectivenessof   tractor would be cost-effective for the government. Even though the
                       Federal Acquisition Regulation does not require a warranty for replace-
Extended Warranty      ment items such as fuel cells, a warranty may be desirable if it is advan-
                       tageous to the government.

                       Military and procurement specifications establish the requirements for
                       performance, design, development, test, and compatibility of fuel cells.
                       A warranty provides contractor guarantees about the nature, useful-
                       ness, or condition of furnished materials. The principal purposes of a
                       warranty are to describe the rights and obligations of the contractor and
                       the government in those instances when defective items are delivered
                       and to foster quality performance. Generally, warranties remain in
                       effect for a stated period of time after the contract items are accepted or
                       until a specified event occurs.

                       Original and replacement F-15 fuel cells have a l-year warranty for
                       materials and workmanship. However, Amfuel, in an unsolicited offer,


                       Page 19                                    GAO/NSIAD-99-214 Fuel Cell Management
                     Chapter 2
                     Data Needed for F-16 Fuel Cell
                     Management Decisions




                     had requested that the Air Force require a 12-year warranty to improve
                     the longevity of the fuel cells and had offered to provide such a war-
                     ranty on its nitrile cells at no cost to the government. Warner Robins
                     officials had not evaluated the merits of this offer. They told us a war-
                     ranty would be difficult to enforce because fuel cells are often damaged
                     by Air Force personnel while being removed or reinstalled during rou-
                     tine maintenance. The Federal Acquisition Regulation stipulates that the
                     contractor’s warranties extend to all defects discovered during the war-
                     ranty period but do not include damage caused by the government.
                     Because the Air Force does not maintain data on reasons for cell fail-
                     ures, it would be difficult to document whether failures were caused by
                     mishandling, poor workmanship, or inferior materials.


                     The Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center has KC-135 fuel cell data that
Historical Data on   have helped officials make repair and replacement decisions. According
KC-135 Have Helped   to officials at the Center, these data assisted them in identifying
in Decision-Making   problems with polyurethane fuel cells.

                     Before 1981 KC-135 fuel cells were made of nitrile. We were told by con-
                     tracting and material management officials at the Center that in 1981
                     the Center began using polyurethane fuel cells to save money and
                     reduce aircraft weight. However, the Center returned to nitrile cells in
                     1987 because of failures with the polyurethane cells. For example, bases
                     reported that cells were experiencing interior cracking and problems
                     with fittings separating from the body of the fuel cell. Records main-
                     tained since 1986 by a KC-135 fuel cell equipment specialist showed the
                     types and frequencies of the failures, which facilitated the decision to
                     choose nitrile as the fuel cell material.

                     The fuel cell equipment specialist also kept data on the age of fuel cells
                     and the number of patches on each fuel cell for each aircraft. According
                     to officials at the Center, the data provided them with the necessary
                     information to set repair and replacement policies based on the age and
                     condition of the fuel cell. For example, if a fuel cell is between 0 and 19
                     years old, the number of patches allowed before replacing the fuel cell is
                     31 to 45. Up to 45 patches would be allowed on newer cells, but as a cell
                     ages, the number of patches allowed would decrease.

                     An F-16 System Program Management Division official at Warner
                     Robins told us that the experience gamed with KC-136 fuel cells may not
                     be directly applicable to F-15 fuel cells because the aircraft have dif-
                     ferent operational environments and missions. For example, the KC-135


                     Page 20                                  GAO/NSIALMO-214 Fuel Cell Management
                 Chapter 2
                 Data Neaded for F-16 Fuel Cell
                 Management Deciaion~




                 tanker experiences less vibration and stress than the F-16 fighter. A
                 contracting official at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center told us
                 that the KC-136 fuel cells are non-self-sealing and easier to repair,
                 whereas F-16 fuel cells are self-sealing and require more specialized
                 repair. Even though the F-16 and the KC-136 operational environments
                 and missions differ, the KC-136 experience shows how the accumulation
                 of historical data on fuel cells can facilitate informed decision-making on
                 material choice and repair.


                 The Air Force needs better data on its experience with current F-16 fuel
Conclusions      cells to determine whether it is buying the most cost-effective fuel cell
                 material and whether an extended warranty would be advantageous to
                 the government. Although the automated maintenance data system
                 being installed at Warner Robins and all F-16 bases is designed to detail
                 the needed data, the Air Force needs to ensure that data are fully and
                 accurately reported.

                 Better data are also needed to establish repair and replacement policies
                 that are based on the actual life of the F-16 cells. The lack of adequate
                 data on which to base repair and replacement policies can lead to F-16
                 fuel cells being removed at Warner Robins and F-16 bases and discarded,
                 even though the cells have considerable useful life remaining. The lack
                 of data precluded us from identifying specific cases in which this was
                 happening. However, we believe that when the Air Force begins
                 receiving and analyzing data from its automated data system, it will be
                 in a much better position to validate or, if necessary, revise its repair
                 and replacement policies for F-16 fuel cells.


                 We recommend that the Secretary of the Air Force ensure that data on
Recommendation   F-16 fuel cells, such as the useful life, failure rate distribution, and
                 maintenance costs, are collected at Warner Robins and all F-16 bases as
                 part of the automated maintenance records and that these data are (1)
                 fully and accurately reported through the system, (2) used to assessthe
                 life cycle cost of the fuel cell materials and the merits of an extended
                 warranty in future fuel cell procurement, and (3) used to validate and, if
                 necessary, revise the conditions under which fuel cells should be
                 repaired or discarded.




                 Page 21                                  GAO/NSIAD-90-214 Fuel Cell Management
Appendix I

Major Contributors to This Report


                        Norman J. Rabkin, Associate Director
National Security and   Robert L. Pelletier, Assistant Director
International Affairs   Emil C. Cracker, Assignment Manager
Division, Washington,
DC.
                        Jimmy R. Rose, Regional Management Representative
Atlanta Regional        William M. Ball, Evaluator-in-Charge
Office                  Barry J. DeWeese, Evaluator
                        Pamela A. Scott, Writer-Editor




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1.