At Naval Air Pacific Repair Activity, Akihiro Hosogane works on a spotting dolly for the USS Essex. NAPRA is the only depot level repair facility dedicated to forward-deployed Navy and Marine Corps air units.

At Naval Air Pacific Repair Activity, Akihiro Hosogane works on a spotting dolly for the USS Essex. NAPRA is the only depot level repair facility dedicated to forward-deployed Navy and Marine Corps air units. (Jim Schulz / S&S)

NAVAL AIR FACILITY ATSUGI, Japan — Its weapons are sheet metal and a tool kit.

Naval Air Pacific Repair Activity, a little-known command at this base near Tokyo, keeps 26 different models of Navy and Marine Corps aircraft in the air and off the tarmac.

The only forward-deployed Navy aviation depot, NAPRA coordinates maintenance and repair of all land- and sea-based aircraft operating in the Pacific theater, from Guam to the Persian Gulf.

“If something breaks, you call NAPRA,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ed Graves, NAPRA logistics officer, “and we’ll either get it done or get somebody out there to get it done.”

NAPRA’s primary customer is Carrier Air Wing 5, which is attached to the Kitty Hawk and based at Atsugi. NAPRA also does repairs for the Marines at Futenma Air Station, Okinawa, and Iwakuni, as well as for the Navy on Guam.

“The reason we are out here is to do the repairs on aircraft because it’s too far for Carrier Air Wing 5 or the Marines to send their aircraft back to the States,” said Cmdr. Richard Dorn, NAPRA’s commanding officer.

The Navy has three aviation depots in the United States.

Much of NAPRA’s work overseas is contracted out to Japan Aircraft Company, Korean Airlines and Singapore Aerospace Industries, along with a dozen contractors in Australia and New Zealand.

Aircraft slated for routine maintenance or repairs is either delivered to NAPRA’s detachments or contractors throughout the Pacific, or if a plane or helicopter can’t be flown from a ship, the outfit goes to it.

NAPRA’s Okinawa detachment of 16 artisans — sheet metal mechanics, aircraft mechanics, machinists — works in small teams aboard any ship with aircraft steaming in the Pacific theater and can deploy on short notice, NAPRA officials said.

Since NAPRA is charged with repairing any aircraft operating in its theater — regardless of home base — the war on terrorism, including Operation Iraqi Freedom, has stretched NAPRA personnel to their limit, officials said.

“When there were five aircraft carriers in the Gulf, we put three people on each ship, which took our detachment over in Okinawa down to almost nobody,” said Senior Chief Aviation Structural Mechanic Ron Harris, NAPRA’s production senior chief.

NAPRA’s contribution to the war on terrorism so far: support of aircraft on 27 ships and repairs to 340 aircraft, from the F/A-18 to the EP-3, Graves said.

To keep up with demand, NAPRA for the first time set up two field detachments during the Iraq war in Bahrain and Kuwait.

The plan: If an aircraft went down anywhere in the Persian Gulf, “we had people on site to repair the aircraft, whether it be on a ship, the local area or in that country,” said Marine Corps Capt. Shawn Hughes, officer-in-charge of NAPRA detachment Bahrain.

NAPRA was able to produce a team to assess and repair aircraft in Operation Iraqi Freedom within 3-4 hours, Hughes said.

The teams didn’t see any bullet holes in airframes, mainly just wear and tear from combat and a severe environment of heat and sandstorms, since they mostly worked with fixed-wing aircraft that flew at high altitudes.

“We saw airframe cracks, wing-support structural cracks and erosion, and a couple of helicopters had pylon-support damage,” Hughes said last week from Bahrain. “There were a large variety of things that we worked on.”

Reservists and Navy aviation workers from the United States assisted NAPRA during the war.

The Bahrain detachment is staying put a little longer, Hughes said. “There’s still a number of ships in the area, a number of aircraft in theater.”

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now