LONDON — Rolls-Royce is looking to offer a more localized engine maintenance service to its military customers.

The company believes that a network of service centers located at the main operating air bases could help to streamline engine maintenance by putting expertise on the customer’s doorstep. So the aero-engine manufacturer is testing the idea with the opening of such a service facility at RAF Marham in the U.K., where the company is responsible for providing support for the RB199 engine fitted to the Royal Air Force’s Panavia Tornado GR4 fleet.

The center opened in Marham last September. Now a team of 15 engine experts are on hand at the base to conduct work and support maintenance on the engines.

“The service delivery center provides front-line capability to the customer and [offers a] number of advantages, including more rapid and better technical assistance to improve mission capability,” says Paul Craig, president of defense services at Rolls-Royce. “For us, it gives us the opportunity to send personnel through to get a better understanding of the customer’s requirements.”

The center uses video technology and is linked to the Rolls-Royce Operations Center in Bristol. That enables faster decision making on engine issues, helping to further increase aircraft availability for missions.

Craig says these capabilities have already been successfully used. In recent weeks, engineers working on the Tornado found carbon deposits while borescoping one of the engines. By feeding the borescope footage back to Marham engineers and Bristol experts, they were able to clear the engine for further use.

“Normally the engine would have been rejected. But with that real-time footage, our engineers were able to tell the engineers in Afghanistan that the carbon would dissipate during the next sortie,” Craig says.

The company is considering establishing similar service centers with its other military engine customers. “The RAF already has long experience of working with contractors like Rolls-Royce, so the teams are already highly integrated,” Craig says. “Feedback has been positive, and our approach gives us increased integration for the customer.”

Rolls-Royce supports the Tornado’s RB199 engines under the ROCET (RB199 Operational Contract for Engine Transformation) contract. The company says it has helped to halve the cost of RAF engine support. The contract was renewed and expanded in April 2010 to include the transfer of the RB199 repair and overhaul to Bristol from Marham. The base is also home to a BAE Systems facility that supports and maintains the Tornado fleet.

The RAF currently has a fleet of around 120 Tornado GR4s. The type is due to exit service in 2019, with the Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed F-35B Lightning II forming the backbone of the fast jet fleet after that.