This post is a brief case study that takes a complex sustainment problem and views it through the lens of the complex system sustainment model to achieve some clarity in the path ahead.
Most of my sustainment discussions wind up being about ICBMs, and sometimes Commercial Space, with the occasional aircraft or civil systems example. This is because I tend to gravitate to the extreme examples of very difficult sustainment. These are the very complex systems that have large amounts of non-operational, non-usage times in their lifetimes. Those instances require additional considerations all the time, such as age surveillance or depot closed loop failure analysis.
However, a big reason for system sustainers to know the complex system sustainment management model is to learn when to apply some of these more extreme techniques when needed.
On 1 March, Air Force Magazine ran an article entitled, “Program Office Warns F-35 Sustainment Unaffordable Without Cost Reductions”. Here are a couple of excerpts.
“The bad sustainment actors in the F-35 fleets are in the early production lot aircraft… Lot 2 through 4 aircraft are available about 40-50 percent of the time … while later jets from Lots 9 and 10 are turning in availability rates of 70-75 percent. The overall fleet average is about 51 percent.”
“Two things are being done now to get availability rates up. First, … the services are organically “increasing repair capacity” for spare parts because they have stood up their own depots…. Second… a push is on to get better performance from test equipment to reduce false positives…”
Attempting to be an easy-chair quarterback for a complex system just entering its sustainment phase based on a single magazine article is the very definition of hubris. Nevertheless, I will push on and give my thoughts on how this article’s discussion fits the sustainment model. I do this in the hopes that this over-simplified case study will illuminate aspects of the sustainment management model. And I hope I am forgiven by the folks engaged every day in the real world who are immersed in their practical, multi-dimensional battles sustaining the F-35. Let me just say to them that simple models have their advantages in helping those engaged in complex problems to think about their dilemma and perhaps see a path ahead.
Starting with first principles, and as I have mentioned in previous posts, it is hard to imagine a complex system that doesn’t have as one of its readiness factors the need for availability. A complex system is not likely to be designed and produced without a mission to be met. And to meet the mission, the system must be available. Is a fleet availability rate of 50% OK? If it is, the systems are probably very low production, high need, and very high tech. I am thinking B-2 here, but other examples exist. If this were not the case, this low availability number would not be tolerated. In fact, the article makes the point that this availability number is far too low since it will make the F-35 impossibly expensive to sustain in its projected numbers for the expected missions.
Increasing repair capability across services and other customers should help. But too often repair depots are focused on throughput above all else. This creates a sink where data important to sustainment goes to disappear and die. A strong sustainment organization must push for a contractual arrangement wherein the necessary data is not lost, but captured. What broke? Why did it break? How well did we detect the fault? Is this a new emerging failure that we need to study? And, dovetailing with the second piece of their two solutions, should we upgrade our test equipment or data system to react to it? (Learn more about how to do this by entering “CLFA” as a key word search at my blog.)
I believe their second piece, “getting better performance from test equipment” refers not only to depot test equipment, but all test equipment. However, at this point in the life cycle, the focus should be starting to shift to account for emerging, unforeseen failure modes. Is that what is happening? Or are they playing catch-up, dealing with test equipment that was not well-designed to begin with? Clarity on this point is important to know how deep their hole is and therefore how aggressive their solutions must be.
The complex system sustainment management model is meant to help sustainment organizations ask the right questions at the right times and to focus the sustainment team on the most important tasks of the day, week, month, and year. This focus is needed even more when the system is transitioning from production phase to the sustainment phase with the associate hand-off to the sustainment organization.