I am making progress on a short pamphlet to explain the complex system sustainment management model to a wide audience. I intend it to be available via self-publishing on Amazon. Here is the first page:
The Sustainment Manifesto
How to keep a highly-complicated system doing its job for decades
Charles Vono (charlesvono.com)
Congratulations on your purchase of this pamphlet. In these few short pages, you will find plenty to think about and more than a few things you’ll want to try. You will find these ideas to be useful whether you are the big boss, the new hire, or somewhere in-between. The following will be covered:
- Why: highly-complicated systems are proliferating and few know how to keep them working at top performance.
- The Basics: Definitions and the concept of emerging failure modes.
- The Management Model: How to look at your situation in a way so that you know what to do next.
- Details of Risk Identification: How to identify risks to your system’s mission in time to do something about them.
- Details of System Observation: How to see into your system deep enough to write good risks without breaking the bank.
- Details of Risk Mitigations: How to mitigate your identified risks from tweaks to major projects.
- Enablers: How people, process, and data can supercharge your approach to sustainment.
- Conclusion: Where do we go from here?
Section 1 Why This Pamphlet is Needed
In my 40-year career operating and maintaining complex weapon and space systems, I have encountered few people who identify themselves as “sustainers”.
Those who do see themselves as sustainers often struggle with the priority of their work day. While those who do not are merely content to keep themselves busy performing their assigned tasks. Up to now, most systems could limp along with less-than-efficient sustainers.
When Oliver Evans created his flour mill in the late 1700’s, a system could be created by one very smart person trying out various machines and hiring crews to keep them working. The Evans Flour Mill is often given as the example of the start of the First Industrial Revolution and the first “modern factory” with recognizable modern features: central power plant, product moving from machine to machine, raw materials to finished product. Other First Industrial Revolution systems involved transportation, such as the steam-driven railroad engine along with the myriad of tracks, trestles, stations, water stops, etc. Sustainment of these systems would prove successful by simply assigning roles such as track-layers and operator/engineers.
Even in these early days the trend to more prolific, complicated, and long-lived systems is apparent as factories and transportation technology advanced. Examples are automobile assembly lines and large ocean liners. In the time-period just before and after WWII, the best thinkers at Bell Labs struggled with the complexity of the machines and systems they were building for the American War Department to use as weapons or parts of weapons. They invented a new discipline to deal with this, systems engineering.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, both the USAF and USN, along with their contractors, strove to perfect this new engineering discipline out of sheer necessity. The highly-complicated systems that they were creating had to work perfectly, since they were ground and sea launched rockets meant to precisely deliver nuclear bombs half a world away in a safe and secure manner. From 1950 to 1980, these systems were designed and deployed at a high rate as technological breakthroughs made new systems far superior to the old. For instance, the Minuteman ICBM employed solid rocket fuel making obsolete the very dangerous and high maintenance Titan rockets. However, in the USAF, in the 1980’s, faced with no new replacements and thus faced with keeping the early 1970’s Minuteman ICBM operating at peak performance for decades, the USAF and their contractors invented the sustainment techniques detailed in this pamphlet.
Two major elements combined to create this approach: expertise and necessity.
Many of these experts were systems engineers and many had advanced degrees in a new field invented by the University of Southern California: Systems Management. This version of Systems Management is not to be confused with the skills of the same name applied to computer systems. This was a discipline that recognized the need for USAF officers to manage the increasingly complex weapon systems programs, the need to create and operator good development program offices. The same skills, it turns out can be applied to a weapon system sustainment organization.
These skill, along with a real-life “laboratory” created an environment for this management model to be born and get perfected. And there was no harsher challenge than Minuteman ICBMs. The solid fuel mentioned earlier, along with other innovations, allowed these missiles to be placed in underground silos in remote locations, untouched for years. Emerging failure modes had to be anticipated to ensure the entire force was not brought down by otherwise invisible forces such as gold corrosion in integrated circuits or cracking solid fuel. The gold corrosion may only be noticed under the vibration of lift-off causing circuits to fail. The cracking solid fuel could cause too much of the fuel surface to ignite at lift-off, destroying the missile.
As the world moves through the 21st century, long-lived complex systems continue to become more numerous, with few knowing how to keep them going.