In 20 years’ time, mobility, wearable technology and the Internet of Things will be commonplace and new technologies will change the way war is waged, military equipment is developed and how assets are supported.
AI, autonomy and robotics are already becoming embedded in military weapon systems and inevitably will have major implications in the world of A&D logistics support. Enter 6th generation logistics. Twenty years is not that long a time in bringing new developments to theater; lets first look at how I think A&D technology will look in 20 years’ time.
1. The Unmanned Submarine
It is likely that the platforms and weapon systems technology will become more self-aware and self-sufficient. An example is that of unmanned submarines, as the submarine maintenance process is likely to become more refined, compact and efficient through incorporating processes such as 3D printing. This approach is not as futuristic as it might initially appear, as it is already being tested aboard the USS Essex where they have been using 3D printing technology to produce everything from plastic syringes to the silhouettes of planes that are used on the mock-up of the flight deck to keep the flight deck organized.
By allowing a new level of self-sufficiency and remote control, submarines could be able to be submerged for longer, and with more processes automated, remove the need for crew – further reducing the demands on the support chain.
2. The Game of Drones
Most western forces already use large Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and new examples are being developed all the time, some small enough to fit in one hand and weigh very little. This technology will increasingly become ‘almost’ disposable, even consumable!
3. But there will always be troops on the ground
It is difficult to envisage a battlefield or support chain that does not involve troops on the ground. Support will always be required, particularly in providing resources such as fuel where it has been estimated that it costs $400 per gallon to get fuel out to forward operating bases in Afghanistan from the US.
Military Operations – Key developments
Logistics will have to adapt to support these developments. From an operational perspective, there are some key areas which I predict will have a significant impact on the effectiveness of maintenance.
Equipment will report on its own current configuration, faults can be reported, usage and misuse information analyzed, feeding this information back into the overall enterprise solution. Technology, including the increasing adoption of wearables, will allow critical information to be accessed by the troops on the ground – at any time and in any place – with a feedback loop providing the A&D industry with a real a more agile response in changing tactical situations.
Solutions will automatically tailor their presentation and operation through recognition of the maintenance environment they are in. Sophisticated augmented reality technology will also assist both in training and in an operational environment, making life easier for the maintainer.
The Enterprise Solution – Moving on from reactive to 6th generation logistics
I predict over the next 20 years, we will see the much tighter coupling, and probably full integration, of operational logistics supporting the warfighter on operations, with those systems supporting headquarters, rear echelons and partner industries. Crucially we will see the tight integration of engineering and supply chain systems into an optimized Information System (IS) – the 6th generation – all designed to produce greater logistics responsiveness and much needed budgetary optimization:
1. Optimization and Forecasting – The future 6th generation logistics solution will consider support optimization using probabilistic methodology as the way forward.
2. Dynamic Asset Management and Scheduling – Embedded within it will be workforce scheduling and planning capabilities built to respond immediately.
3. Impact of an increasingly integrated industry/military – It will provide a common IS platform to deliver appropriate views to both industry and the military industry-based concepts, such as Performance-Based Logistics (PBL).
4. Proliferation of counterfeit parts and ITAR – The 6th generation solution should have embedded capabilities that can deal with both International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR) as well as the proliferation of counterfeit parts.
The future = The 6th generation of logistical support
We are already rapidly moving through the 5th generation of logistical support with systems such as the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), offering the first step to a true integration of logistics into an enterprise solution, but what is next?
I expect to see us move to new 6th generation support, combining even greater integration, optimization and forecasting across the whole enterprise and creating an environment which will maximize operator value, maximize workforce utilization, maximize automation and minimize cost while changing the face of war.
To find out more about our view on the future role of the support chain in A&D, download our new whitepaper, where my colleague, Brendan Viggers explores these future technologies in more detail.