Playing the supporting role: military in-service support moves forward with next-generation equipment

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Introducing a new asset into a military force used to be simple. Manufacturers made the equipment, the military bought and maintained it and, when it became obsolete, they invested in a new asset.

But today, many military organizations don’t maintain their own equipment. Instead, they are choosing to outsource equipment maintenance to OEMs or third-party contractors via contractual in-service support agreements. Maintenance providers see the benefits of increased profits from these long-term revenue streams but are being increasingly pressured to bear the risk of faulty equipment after procurement and to fix these faults before they even happen.

In-service support: What works for one doesn’t work for all

The support of these assets has evolved not only to meet the needs of new technology but to also make old practices more efficient. Tiny holes in hybrid airships used to be patched by a team of five to ten individuals inspecting every inch of the surface with a large bright light. Lockheed Martin’s SPIDER technology is able to do the exact same job with an 80 percent reduction in labor hours.

In-service support requirements come in many different forms depending on the asset and its requirements – there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Here I take a look at three new military assets and their effect on in-service support delivery.

1. Top of the range

Equipment is also growing in complexity and scale. Just look at some of today’s military jet fighters – the F-35, the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Saab Gripen E. The logistics support systems for these modern military jets must span a global network of players involved in the whole lifecycle of the aircraft – from OEMs and suppliers to maintenance activities and customer support.

The ALIS system used by the F-35 brings together training, planning, maintenance and support. During a flight, data is collected from a wide range of systems which on landing is downloaded to determine what actions need to occur to keep the aircraft mission ready. Providing this instant and clear view of what needs to be done not only reduces downtime for aircraft but also removes the risk of human error in data entry.

2. The other end of the market

As the trend towards amalgamated and advanced equipment continues, a void is being created at the lower end of the market, and suppliers are jumping at the chance to fill it. The highly capable Textron Scorpion – designed for basic surveillance and reconnaissance missions – costs just $20m and has an advertised cost per flight hour of under $3,000 compared to the $67,550 of the F-35A.

However, to create a high capability, low-cost aircraft means there isn’t the scope for sophisticated maintenance and support systems such as ALIS. Gone is the real-time data and in its place you’ll find a standard preventative maintenance system with data entry from ground crew, often requiring multiple inputs and cross-system referencing. This less technical equipment generally involves a simple ‘acquire, buy spares and maintain’ support model which gets the job done, albeit less efficiently than some of the more technologically advanced assets.

3. Maintaining the unmanned

Drones and unmanned aerial vehicles are starting to revolutionize the logistics footprint of military forces. Drones come in many varieties — from hand-launched flyers and remote-controlled rovers to complex multirole fighter jets. As with manned fighter jets, the acquisition and in-service-support models for drones are likely to vary.

On one hand, some drones are valuable and remain in service long enough to require a maintenance and support strategy similar to traditional assets. On the other hand, certain drones are low-priced and require little maintenance, so supporting them becomes a much simpler ‘logistics and spares’ issue.

Supporting all lines of equipment

This complex market landscape cannot be supported by a single solution and in-service support providers need to gear up for all approaches or face losing out on missed opportunities and lucrative contracts.

The global maintenance support market will reach $27 billion by 2026 as military aviation fleets grow to over 40,000 aircraft in the next ten years. With fleets growing, it is essential to have the correct maintenance support system in place to keep processes running smoothly and ensure maximum asset availability.

In my next blog, find out how in-service support strategy and business models are shifting alongside this wave of new technology.

If you can’t wait that long, learn more about the transformational changes facing in-service support by reading the Defense forecast: the transformation of in-service support over the next decade white paper.


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