On Target

Frontiers November 2015 Issue

ON TARGET With JDAM production soaring, St. Charles assembly line doesn’t miss a beat BY ASHLEY JOHNSON | PHOTOS BY RICH RAU Ask Sean Richardson about his old job, and he stops just short of using the word boring. He spent six years at an automobile assembly plant, or as he puts it, six years doing the same thing, hundreds of times a day, every day. Then he came to Boeing, where he’s part of the small team in St. Charles, Mo., that builds the Joint Direct Attack Munition and Small Diameter Bomb. Like car manufacturing, this is high-rate production. But something’s different in St. Charles. Each of the fewer than 32 BOEING FRONTIERS 30 munitions mechanics is trained to perform all of the operations, and they rotate to a new station every morning, which Richardson said breaks up the monotony of repetitive work. What appeals to him most, though, isn’t the work but the people. When issues arise, he said, team members come together to develop a solution. Management listens—and really values—their point of view, he added. “It’s not ‘management’s over there and we’re over here’—it’s not like that here,” Richardson said with his hands far apart. “This is the best place I’ve ever worked. They will have to drag me out of here.” That culture and the unique production setup help explain how the team can crank out JDAMs at such a high rate while maintaining the program’s track record of each unit being delivered on time and on budget since production began in 1998. More than 270,000 have been delivered to date. JDAM is a low-cost guidance kit that converts free-fall bombs into precision-guided weapons using an inertial navigation system and signals from GPS satellites. In the past, an aircraft would need to drop several “dumb” bombs to eliminate a target. Now, an F-15 or F/A-18 can drop a single JDAM to take out that very same target, explained John Caré, director of operations, Weapons and Missile Systems. The daily production rate of the kits increased by 80 percent in July to meet ongoing demand from the U.S. military and more than 25 international customers. That means a new tail kit rolls off the


Frontiers November 2015 Issue
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