The use of software to manage IT infrastructures and mission critical weapons systems has made huge advancements within military organisations and their in-service support partners, but the same can’t be said for data collection, execution, and analysis. According to Matt Medley, industry director, defence manufacturing at IFS, data integration is seriously falling behind.
In this article, he outlines the essential data thread running throughout his top three defence logistics predictions for the industry in the near-term future — including the rise of outcomes-based equipment support, the digital shipyard of the future, and the growth of unmanned systems in military operations.
The pandemic quickly changed the landscape of many business operations, and the military was also faced with some tough challenges. The rapid modernisation of supply chain and logistics meant the military accelerated into more connected assets aided by the implementation of enabling technologies such as 3D printing, artificial intelligence, digital twins and augmented/virtual reality.
But with all this progress, there’s still a significant digital disconnect when it comes to supporting IT infrastructure. The US Government Accountability Office cited in a report that the US DOD’s data collection and IT developments, were falling behind the rapid technological advances in mission critical weapon systems.
The spotlight is now firmly on IT infrastructure — which has set the theme for my three key military logistics and support developments to watch out for in 2022 and beyond.
- Enterprise asset management takes up a vital role to support military equipment outcomes
For equipment procurement and support, in recent years, the military has ascended the so-called ‘transformational staircase’ out of the scenario of simply buying and maintaining their own assets and equipment. The risk and availability linked with supporting 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 mobilisation and visibility.
This move towards a service-based approach for military asset support is underlined by recent research from Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which examined the cross-industry shifts towards delivering outcomes and, pinpointed servitisation as “the focus of creating and capturing value shifts from one-time sales to long-term partnerships”. It’s therefore no surprise that BCG report sees the defence sector prioritising the adoption of enterprise asset management (EAM) solutions in the next three years.
Total Asset Readiness – critical asset information available in real-time
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, all-encompassing 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 modernised 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.
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- Shipbuilders and maintenance providers find the value in digitising operations
My next prediction involves the digitisation of shipyards across the globe in the maritime and naval sectors. Much like the US Navy, shipbuilders, maintenance providers and other military operators are beginning to realise the value of digitising operations. ResearchAndMarkets data sees the digital shipbuilding sector poised for explosive growth—from US$591.63 million in 2019 to US$2.7 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 21.1 per cent. This will be fuelled 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 life cycle — in the design process and at the manufacturing plant. This means shipbuilders themselves will have to prioritise digital advancements in the coming years. Take IFS customer, Australia’s largest defence prime contractor, submarine and warship builder ASC, that 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 optimised decision-making across the organisation. The ASC digital transformation program will strengthen its enterprise resource planning system and introduce advanced technologies to enable its workforce and optimise its capabilities to support the sovereign sustainment of the Royal Australian Navy’s Collins Class submarine fleet, now and into the future.
A digital shipyard transformation requires a helping hand from software support
Any successful naval or maritime digital transformation program means putting in place a full Integrated Data Environment (IDE) to ensure these barriers to executing a digital transformation project are removed, requiring close collaboration from military organisations, industry players and software providers.
But in order to build a naval or maritime digital transformation program, most organisations need a digital overhaul. They need an enterprise-breadth system that can do more than simply manage essential MRO or supply chain processes and optimise 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.
- Unmanned system usage expected to expand, with drones being used to their full potential
We’re looking further forward in my final prediction, into the world of unmanned systems and drones — which are increasing in use across land, air, and sea. 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 organisations 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 US$11.1 billion in 2020 to US$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.
Sustaining drones in the field requires a solution
The key near-term area of focus I see with the inevitable growth of unmanned systems space is the sustainment of these military assets. As this is something military organisations 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 I’ve outlined in my first two predictions, with 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.
Get the data up to speed to close the military logistics gap
Military equipment and supporting technologies are advancing at speed to help defence forces and their in-service support providers stay abreast of the latest operational challenges. But this rapid advancement has only meant the data disconnect has gotten stronger and stronger, making it a key focus to address moving forward. Having a data backbone across the defence ecosystem of military operators, OEMs and in-service support providers will be the key to accelerate logistics and supply chain success in the future.
Matt Medley is the industry director, defence manufacturing at IFS.