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Matt Medley, Industry Director, Defense Manufacturing at IFS, explains how a coherent digital data backbone will underpin some key focus areas for defense logistics and support in the coming year—from military equipment servicing through to the digital shipyards of the future and support for unmanned systems.

The defense sector has been a transformative journey over the last two years, with IT modernization accelerating considerably during the onset of the global pandemic. Technologies such as virtual and augmented reality, digital twins, 3D printing, and more are starting to see battlefield action for the first time.

But the fundamental technology that underpins all of this is data which must be accurate, clean, trustworthy, timely, and secure. And here, there is still more work that needs to be done to collect this data and use it to inform military equipment logistics and support throughout the coming year and beyond.

In a study from September 2021, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that due to the DOD’s increasing usage of software for mission-critical weapon systems and vital IT infrastructures, the department’s data collection and agile development efforts are not advancing at a pace that is on par with modern technological developments.

This is a good example of why the IT infrastructure will come under the spotlight in 2022, and amplify the need for a digital data backbone across all three defense logistics and support focus areas over the next 12 months.

#1 The servitization of equipment in-service support continues as outcomes-based software grows 11% YoY

For equipment procurement and support, the military has more recently ascended the so-called ‘transformational staircase’ which includes four steps: traditional, spares inclusive, contracting for availability, and contracting for capability and evolved out of the scenario of simply buying and maintaining their own assets and equipment. The risk and availability associated with an asset through its military lifecycle has increasingly involved industry assistance from OEMs or military in-service support providers. Now, performance-based logistics (PBL) is the widely accepted model for the procurement and support of military equipment. PBL strategies work effectively when applied to a specific asset or components, but these service-based agreements can even be taken a step further—what is deemed at IFS as “Total Asset Readiness®” in relation to force-wide asset mobilization and visibility.

This move towards a service-based approach for military asset support is underlined by recent research from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) who examined the cross-industry shifts towards delivering outcomes and pinpointed servitization as “the focus of creating and capturing value shifts from one-time sales to long-term partnerships.” It’s therefore no surprise that BCG sees the defense sector prioritizing the adoption of enterprise asset management (EAM) solutions in the next three years.

Outcomes-based service gives rise to Total Asset Readiness

My prediction is for the ‘next evolution’ of asset support to be focused on installing a constant and transparent framework across the entirety of a military force, connecting the military operator, OEM and in-service support providers. All separate reporting mechanisms and software systems can be consolidated within a single solution, giving commanders planning operations a real-time image of each asset at their immediate disposal—tracking asset readiness within the context of the mission they need to complete.

You can see this already in progress with the U.S. Navy’s Naval Operational Business Logistics Enterprise (NOBLE) project. The program will eliminate over 700 database/application servers and consolidate over 23 currently isolated application systems—ultimately aiming to improve asset readiness both on a shore and material basis. As part of a support agreement for the NOBLE project, Lockheed Martin and IFS will deliver an intelligent maintenance solution that will help power digital transformation of multiple legacy systems into a single, fully modernized and responsive logistics information system. The solution will support planning and executing maintenance, repair, and overhaul of more than 3,000 Navy assets including aircraft, ships, and land-based equipment.

#2 The digital shipyard of the future will accelerate fivefold over the next five years – as maritime manufacturers, support providers and naval operators embrace digitization

Much like the U.S. Navy, shipbuilders, maintenance providers and other military operators are beginning to realize the value of digitizing operations. ResearchAndMarkets data sees the digital shipbuilding sector poised for explosive growth—from $591.63 million in 2019 to $2.7 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 21.1%. This will be fueled by rising adoption of digital twins in the shipbuilding industry and increasing use of new manufacturing technologies.

Digital oversight of maritime and naval assets begins not at sea, but right at the beginning of a ship’s lifecycle—in the design process and at the manufacturing plant. This means shipbuilders themselves will have to prioritize digital advancements in the coming years. Take IFS customer, Australia’s largest defense prime contractor, submarine and warship builder ASC, who recently announced a company-wide digital transformation program. The comprehensive program will set the ground for the ASC digital shipyard transition—facilitating more streamlined processes, enhanced integration between systems, and the expanded use of real-time data to drive optimized decision-making across the organization. The ASC digital transformation program will strengthen its enterprise resource planning system and introduce advanced technologies to enable its workforce and optimize its capabilities to support the sovereign sustainment of the Royal Australian Navy’s Collins Class submarine fleet, now and into the future.

Enterprise-breadth software underpins digital shipyard success

Any successful naval or maritime digital transformation program means putting in place a full Integrated Data Environment (IDE) to ensure barriers to executing a digital transformation project are removed, requiring close collaboration from military organizations, industry players and software providers.

But in order to build a naval or maritime digital transformation program, most organizations need a digital overhaul. They need an enterprise-breadth system that can do more than simply manage essential MRO or supply chain processes and optimize scarce resources and assets in isolation. They require a software system that’s agile enough to act on the increasing data volume and complexity to deliver quantifiable operational benefits.

#3 Military unmanned systems will grow by 30% and bring effective maintenance support under the spotlight

There is a high degree of R&D investment planned in the unmanned systems sector going forward, drones in particular are increasingly being used in military operations. In fact, according to the Drone Databook, an in-depth survey of the military drone capabilities around the globe, over 100 military organizations now have some form of drone capability—and a rising number now have combat experience using unmanned systems. The proliferation of military drones will only grow with an expected rise in spending of $11.1 billion in 2020 to $14.3 billion by 2029.

In addition to removing human soldiers from harm, unmanned systems also bring about certain operational advantages. For instance, being unencumbered by life support systems (breathing apparatus, ejection seats) means ‘uncrewed’ aircraft can carry larger payloads with sensors for improved intelligence and reconnaissance or carry more fuel which allows for longer trips.

The inevitable march of unmanned systems brings sustainment questions front and center

The growth of unmanned systems will also lead to questions about the sustainment of these military assets in the near-term. As this is something military organizations are still scoping out, consider these thoughts from Australian Defence Force Captain, Stephen Wardrop: “One of the key questions that must be answered is how the Army should structure maintenance support for UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) into the future. UAS maintenance is much more widely scoped than just the Air Vehicle (AV)—it encompasses the Ground Control Station, launch and recovery equipment including automatic take-off/landing systems, and all communications equipment involved in controlling the receiving data from the AV and its payload(s) during flight.”

The key to drone sustainment and support is very similar to the all-encompassing ecosystem addressed with the aforementioned predictions—critical importance being placed on having an end-to-end system to link all data sources and stakeholders. This means unmanned system design, manufacturing, supply chain and aftermarket services need a digital backbone capable to support sustainment now and into the future.

Data competency underpins logistics and support success

OEMs, in-service support providers and military operators cannot unlock some of the biggest technology force-multipliers in the defense sector without underlying infrastructure providing them with a robust digital backbone. Only by connecting every stakeholder in the military asset lifecycle will they put themselves on the strongest possible logistics and support footing going forward.

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