Born: United States of America
Primarily active in: United States of America

From Leadership Profile: Vertiflite Spring 2010

Rear Admiral Steven R. Eastburg, PEO(A), Program Executive Officer for Air ASW, Assault and Special Mission Programs, US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR)

As NAVAIR PEO(A), RADM Steven Eastburg oversees all US Navy and Marine Corps rotary wing aircraft development and acquisition programs, including the new MV-22 tilt-rotor, MH-60S and -60R multi-mission naval helicopters, UH-1Y, and AH-1Z utility and attack helicopters, and the CH-53K Heavy Lift Replacement helicopter. He observes, “In just a short ten-year time span, we’re recapitalizing every single platform, every single community that’s represented in this PEO.” Yet despite the operational importance of rotorcraft today, Navy investments still favor fixed-wing Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E). RADM Eastburg acknowledges, “When you look at the major fixed-wing programs that are entering production now, they’re going to dominate the financial landscape for a long time to come.” He concludes, “The best thing we can do is execute on what we do have with precision – meeting expectations and even exceeding expectations.”

Inability to meet cost and schedule expectations canceled the VH-71 Presidential helicopter and threatened other naval rotorcraft programs. RADM Eastburg says lessons learned by the NAVAIR forensic Program Performance Team will improve future acquisition programs. “It’s all about planning properly and executing properly,” he explains. “Now we’ve got good, solid tools and metrics in place where we track not only by looking rearward using tried-and-true measurements like EVM [Earned Value Management]. We’re also developing a new generation of forward-looking metrics that give us an understanding of what’s going to be happening ahead of us.”

RADM Eastburg notes rushed program start-ups lead to disappointments, “We’re becoming ruthless in enforcing that we’ve got to spend more time up front – starting slow to go fast on the back end. You need to spend a good couple of years making those trades around performance – how much you’re willing to pay for it, and how much risk you’re willing to take on your shoulders – and then getting industry to have a common understanding of requirements. If we do that in an environment of transparency and strict conformance to Systems Engineering principles to cost these things out, we will enter our EMD [Engineering and Manufacturing Development] programs on a very strong foundation.”

Naval Flight Officer
Growing up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Steve Eastburg was inspired by his father’s descriptions of the carrier war in the Pacific. “My interest in the Navy was kind of spawned by my dad’s service and stories of World War II . . . . Putting some of my childhood interests together with prospects for the future, and the opportunities Annapolis afforded for leadership and service, was a combination I found compelling.” The Naval Academy offered a variety of study majors and career directions. “I chose mechanical engineering because I knew I wanted to study a technical subject and I viewed mechanical engineering as a broad major that could take me in any direction, whether it be submarines or ships or aviation, or eventually into industry or public service.”

A summer rotation through a variety of Navy career venues led the technically-minded midshipman to aviation. RADM Eastburg recalls, “I spent a week in Pensacola, along with riding submarines and ships, and a week in Quantico. I really was impressed with naval aviation and with the aviators most importantly. They really spoke very seriously about their mission and had a real sense of purpose.” A commission from Annapolis in 1981 brought orders for training as a Naval Flight Officer.

The newly-winged NFO was assigned to the systems-heavy S-3 Viking, a carrier-based antisubmarine warfare (ASW) jet. RADM Eastburg recalls, “It was the early eighties and the Soviet naval threat was very real at that time, particularly from their submarine force.” Deployments with Sea Control Squadron VS-38 aboard the carriers Kitty Hawk and Ranger provided opportunities for intense real-world anti-submarine operations. “The S-3 was a very effective ASW platform. The airplane was dual-pilot when first designed, but shortly after fleet introduction, we started putting NFOs in the front seat. They could also fly in the back as the Tactical Coordinator or mission commander.”

In the middle-zone of layered ASW defense, the S-3 had more acoustic processing power than the inner-zone H-3 helicopter. RADM Eastburg recalls, “It only sometimes got all of the credit it was due, but it was a very powerful system and an effective platform that did well in ASW and other important roles. That was the era when we started to integrate well rotorcraft and fixed-wing ASW. We had very good coordination between the S-3s and the H-3s and even to some extent the [outer-zone] P-3s.”

Aerospace Engineering Duty Officer
A San Diego shore tour introduced the fleet aviator to Operational Testing. RADM Eastburg recalls, “I found myself working in the Southern California ocean on wooden minesweepers and performing mine countermeasures and C4I [Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence] systems testing. It gave me a different view of the world, but it also helped me understand a little bit about the acquisition community and the critical support they give to warfighters.” In his spare time, the Operational Tester earned a masters degree in systems management from the University of Southern California.

The Navy offered to follow further studies at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey with an assignment to Naval Test Pilot School (NTPS) at Patuxent River. NTPS turned the NFO into a Naval Flight Test Officer with engineering and test disciplines. “It was rigorous,” acknowledges RADM Eastburg. “They say the first half of the day you go to class; the second half of the day you go flying and do evaluations, and the third half of the day you write reports.”

More flying came at fixed-wing test squadron VX-20 with a formal entry into the community Aerospace Engineering Duty Officers. “It’s a fairly small cadre of about 300 officers whose primary responsibilities are to manage the RDT&E and acquisition of aircraft and weapons systems,” says RADM Eastburg. One eye-opening test flight aimed to collect data for the S-3 simulator. “The test plan took us way out of the envelope – an envelope that was not well understood at the time – and caused us to break off the vertical tail and right wing, and explode in a big fireball in three seconds. We were going up the rails in our ejection seats while the airplane was exploding around us.” RADM Eastburg observes, “That helped me realize that flight testing is a serious business, and you better know what you’re doing before you go out there – and you better know how to get out of an airplane pretty quick.”

Managing the Tomahawk missile program was followed by a return to VX-20 as Commanding Officer. A subsequent assignment in charge of the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance program office started just as a Service Life Assessment Program threatened to ground the P-3 patrol fleet. RADM Eastburg explains, “I spent the next three years nursing the P-3s along even as we were starting up the P-8 Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft program.”

A year as Deputy PEO(A) provided rotary wing insights. RADM Eastburg offers, “My first introduction to the rotorcraft community and the importance of it was as a Deputy PEO. I quickly gained an appreciation for the profound operational impact these assets were having on Navy and Marine Corps warfighting.” Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom underscored the importance of both the legacy fleet and new rotorcraft. The PEO(A) observes, “I think in most mission areas, the performance of our platforms is sufficient to meet warfighting needs. There may be a couple of areas where we’re really stretching things. Airborne Mine CounterMeasures is certainly a challenging area for a medium-lift helicopter, but we are finding ways to execute that mission in ongoing testing with the H-60 Sierras. For the most part, we have platforms that are well-suited to the mission areas and are delivering outstanding performance. The talented men and women operating and supporting these platforms have also been key to their operational successes.”

Other shortcomings nevertheless compromise the value of rotorcraft. “I think the one that has really captured our attention recently is Total Ownership Cost,” says RADM Eastburg. “That’s why we’re putting a lot of stock in initiatives like CBM [Condition Based Maintenance]. CBM offers promise for improving affordability and for enhancing readiness and safety.”

RADM Eastburg also notes an OSD study shows a rotorcraft loss rate 16 times that of fixed-wing aircraft and a fatality rate 52 times greater than suffered by fixed-wing communities. “I think as a community of interest, we really need to make greater investments in those two areas.”

Joint-service rotorcraft enhancements and the overall health of the US rotorcraft industrial base are focuses of NACRA – the Naval Aviation Center for Rotorcraft Advancement. RADM. Eastburg says, “It’s no surprise that some of our major rotorcraft contractors are not on parity with our major fixed-wing suppliers because the investments haven’t been made in them over time. NACRA’s helped us to understand that a little better.” NACRA will also fly the UH-1N Testbed for Rapid Warfighter Response and eXperimentation – T-REX. “We think that having that kind of capability helps us rapidly prove our designs and mature technology that might otherwise take a considerable amount of time. T-REX will also serve as a focal point and spur a lot of enthusiasm in organizations that want to get their technology on an airplane rapidly.

“T-REX will also draw a lot of talent into the workforce. If you think about the young folks coming out of school these days, they’re not going to want to sit in a cubicle developing process documentation. They will want to come and work on aircraft in flight test, or prototyping, or work in some hi-tech areas or laboratories, or on a platform like T-REX. I think this is going to be a big draw for recent college students.”

RADM Eastburg explains plans to recapitalize the Pax River workforce. “We recognize that the future of our organization is tied directly to the quality and experience of our people. We’re going to continue to draw from schools all over the country, but we’re also pursuing the track of growing our own local technical workforce, taking the very best students, many of them graduates of STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] academies, local high schools, and such, and offering them four-year college scholarships. The first opportunities would be at the University of Maryland, which has set up an undergraduate engineering program here in our county. Those students will be working side-by-side with professors who have access to on-base laboratory facilities for student and faculty research. Following graduation, the students will be assigned as key members of the NAVAIR workforce.

“Obviously, rotorcraft engineering will be a big part of workforce revitalization. The opportunities we’ll have not only with NACRA but with the new rapid prototyping facility being constructed here – we’ll be able to very quickly bring technology into aircraft, flight test, assess, prototype, and transfer designs out to industry for production.”

RADM Eastburg concludes, “This is an exciting time for rotary-wing aviation across the board. Whether you are developing, producing, operating or supporting – this technology is proving essential to our nation, and we can all feel good about the important mission with which we’ve been entrusted.”