WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 16, 2014) – Sustainment costs are eating away at Army aviation and new approaches are needed to rein the costs in, said Maj. Gen. Lynn A. Collyar.
Systems are nominally designed for 20-year life cycles, where the cost of sustainment is supposed to be 70 percent and procurement 30, said Collyar, who is the commander of Army Aviation and Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal, Ala.
But as systems age and procurement becomes a tougher sell, that ratio is evolving to 90/10, the 90 percent being sustainment, he said, comparing aging systems to an old family car that frequents the shop.
Collyar, who spoke at an AUSA Aviation Symposium panel, “Enterprise Approach to Sustainment,” in Arlington, Va., Jan. 14, charted a flight path to sustainment.
“About 21 percent of the (helicopter) engines we receive at Corpus Christi (Army Depot in Texas) had no failure problem and another 19 percent (sent there) should have been fixed at the unit level” where pre-shop analysis could have been performed, he said. “We can no longer afford that 40 percent.”
Responsibility for making that happen, he said, lies with the combat aviation brigade, or CAB, commanders, “who need to allow the units he has to do their jobs,” he said.
The commanders also need to enlist their “green suiter” mechanics to do that work, he said. While civilians and contractors will continue to be key in this role, Soldiers need to roll up their sleeves at training bases and depots around the U.S. and learn from them and get back up to speed, he said.
“This is critically important” not just from a cost-savings and training aspect, but also in terms of readiness, where Soldiers may someday need these skills on the battlefield, he added.
Another cost eating away at Army aviation is software, he said. Software support costs continue to go up in every aviation system, and for that matter, across every system in the Army, he said, describing the cost-curve rise as more logarithmic than linear. That cost “will overcome us if we don’t get a handle on it.”
‘DATA FEDERATOR’ NEEDED
Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby, program executive officer for aviation, another panelist, agreed that post-production software can be costly and that efficiencies need to be found for that and the entirety of lifecycle systems costs.
A solution, he said, is to automate and digitize sustainment using a task-based system. This approach would provide Soldiers a systematic, visible means of troubleshooting and getting to the root cause of system failures.
So instead of continually buying replacement parts for, say, a leaking transmission seal, this approach would identify the root cause for the failure, which might lead to a redesigned replacement seal, he said. It would cost more upfront but would save money over time, not to mention increasing safety.
Crosby said the Army can learn this approach from industry, which he said does it real well.
Col. Patrick H. Mason, commander, Army Redstone Test Center, Redstone Arsenal, another panelist, said that during the past few years of combat operations the Army fielded things so rapidly and did so many workarounds to problems that using such a systems approach that Crosby described was largely lost over time.
“We need to go back and baseline people and stuff and do a complete hard scrub” to get a handle on spiraling sustainment costs, he said, describing the process as starting from scratch with a “data federator” who can look at the analytics and separate the signals from the noise in the data.
Besides capturing cost across the entire enterprise, such a system of systems would provide operational risk feedback to units and their commanders and maintainers.
Harnessing big data with such a system would also ensure transparency and thereby promote more trust and shared knowledge.
Collyar added that such a system that Mason described would include sensors and software that can detect problems with specific parts, making systems more “self-aware” of things like projected mean time to failure and environmental impacts on parts.
Providing the industry perspective was panelist Peri A. Widener, vice president, Rotorcraft Support Programs, The Boeing Company.
She stressed bringing “clarity and transparency to the conversation” between government and industry.
All too often, government “talks in generalities,” she said. Specific needs, problems, costs and metrics need to be articulated so industry becomes more responsive and innovative in providing cost-effective solutions to sustainment.
Widener also suggested establishing a better balance of capability. “Industry does some things well and government does some things better. We need to optimize that.”
Doing more multi-year contracts also results in more efficiencies, she said, and adds stability for second- and third-tier suppliers that have skilled talent the Army will need to rely on for the long-term.
She added that flexibility can be built into the way multi-year contracts are written to provide assurances for the Army.
Buying in quantity instead of piecemeal can also add to cost savings, she said, using the analogy of consumers who shop at Costco, BJs or Sam’s Club where buying in bulk saves on the grocery bill.
Lastly, Widener said that forecasting models need to be flexible enough to factor in the unexpected.
“It isn’t always possible to predict where the Army will be,” she said, using the example of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where things like heat and dust had a bigger impact on helicopters than salt-water corrosion which might occur in the Pacific region.
Planning for the unexpected is always a good idea, as is investing in the tools and business processes that enable the Army to do that, she concluded.