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Improving Materiel Readiness for the Joint Warfighter

Seven years into the Global War on Terrorism, U.S. Armed Forces are decisively engaged in their longest period of sustained conflict since the Vietnam War. Joint logisticians are focused on providing world-class operational availability of systems to the warfighter and are constantly in pursuit of modernizing our military services. However, logisticians face two concerns with providing modern equipment. First, the cost to deliver this high level of system readiness remains unknown. Second, we in the Department of Defense (DOD) need to take an introspective look at how we make decisions to upgrade combat systems.

For example, the high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle has a 1975-vintage engine that could have been replaced in 1985 with a new, smaller engine that would have performed better, been more reliable, used less gas, and lasted longer. Two compelling reasons explain why DOD did not institute a fleet-wide upgrade. First, the acquisition and sustainment communities could not compellingly demonstrate a return on the investment. Second, it could be argued that the agencies responsible for funding this purchase had little interest or involvement with spiraling life-cycle costs.

The purpose of this article is to articulate the need for embracing key tenets of total life-cycle systems management. Its goal is to communicate to all maintenance stakeholders (including our industry partners, suppliers, the acquisition community, and tactical end-users) the importance of linking acquisition and sustainment to support the joint warfighter. The intended outcome is for decisionmakers at all levels to base decisions for equipping the force on a total life-cycle scope, providing reliable and available weapon systems for the best value.

Achieving Systems Availability

The joint logistics and acquisition communities must focus collaboratively on delivering systems availability to the warfighter. This delivery, otherwise referred to and measured as readiness, should concentrate on three metrics: component or subsystem readiness, system readiness, and fleet readiness. Systems must be designed with three priorities in mind: considering sustainment upfront during the design process, emplacing predictive maintenance enablers in weapon platforms, and effectively determining the best investment for DOD’s next incremental dollar in sustainment capability.

We can model future DOD business processes using the many examples of such synergy and process improvement in the civilian sector. The 2007 DOD Maintenance Symposium provided various examples of commercial best practices from our industry partners that help us to embrace total life-cycle systems management. These include—

  • Integrated supply chain efforts modeled on successes in the retail industry.
  • Systems created with built-in predictive maintenance technologies similar to commercial automotive industry designs.
  • Improved asset visibility using emerging technologies and new procedures as represented by corporate information technology organizations and logistics providers.

Maintainers, regardless of service or particular subspecialty, perform three functions: repairing equipment when it breaks, improving processes so that equipment breaks less often, and working with the design community to make equipment that is easier to maintain and repair. To aid these efforts, DOD should refocus its management efforts to concentrate on two key measures of effectiveness. First, we must assess effectiveness based on system readiness to the warfighter; this measurement is manifested at the tip of the spear—in the hands of the warfighter. Second, we must assess effectiveness concerning value.

The discussion above focuses on a central objective: improved readiness at best value. This objective can be accomplished through two means: the enhancement of total life-cycle systems management processes and the availability of key performance parameters focused on materiel availability.

Linking Acquisition and Sustainment

To enhance our use of the life-cycle systems management approach to managing our weapon systems, the program management focus should be expanded to include fleet management, linking the acquisition and sustainment communities together under one entity to provide cradle-to-grave support for fielded combat systems. Our current structure focuses program managers primarily on acquisition costs and schedules since this is how their performance is generally measured. Sustainability, if not properly designed and addressed upfront in the acquisition process, can be traded away for short-term operational gains, often at the expense of long-term materiel readiness.

For example, a weapon system fleet manager sees the cost to operate in Korea is $230 an hour versus $180 an hour to operate in Germany. The fleet manager would reasonably ask why we have such different operating costs for the same system. Possible reasons might include vehicle age; operator training; equipment use tactics, techniques, and procedures; the operating environment; or the maintenance approach. Knowing the reasons behind the variance, the legacy fleet manager can pass information from the tactical and operational levels back to the acquisition community to support system improvement and redesign. The result of having fleet managers who have a stake in cradle-to-grave systems performance is the delivery of weapon systems that meet objective requirements.

A critical component of effective life-cycle systems management is knowing how much readiness each additional dollar buys. In an ideal situation, fleet managers have adequate information to analyze the overall costs of sustainment alternatives effectively and select an option that ensures the weapon system will provide the lowest total cost of ownership consistent with an acceptable level of availability. This analysis is continuous, starting early in system design and continuing through system improvements until final system retirement. However, the information required to perform this kind of analysis is not available in the current environment. Instead of analyzing numerous alternatives, program managers should choose one concept for maintenance support and discuss why they chose this course of action in support of system design. Armed with the knowledge behind their sustainment rationale, informed decisions can be made in an austere budget environment.

Developing Materiel Availability Metrics

The full effect of life-cycle costs should be considered because even as our equipment becomes less expensive to buy, it could be costly to maintain. One way that we can address this concern is by advocating continued use of the materiel availability key performance parameter (KPP) and its two supporting key system attributes, reliability and ownership cost.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Manual 3170.01C, Operation of the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS), defines KPPs as “those attributes or characteristics of a system that are considered critical or essential to the development of an effective military capability and those attributes that make a significant contribution to the characteristics of the future joint force.” JCIDS defines key system attributes as attributes or characteristics considered crucial in achieving a balanced solution to a KPP or other key performance attributes deemed necessary.

Changes to KPPs are approved by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, which consists of the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the vice chiefs of staff of the four military services. Changes to key system attributes are approved at the four-star or principal equivalent level from the program sponsor’s parent service. Both KPPs and key system attributes enable feedback from the test and evaluation efforts to the requirements process.

The materiel availability KPP was added to the JCIDS process in May 2007. The purpose of this addition was to mandate consideration for logistics support early in the acquisition process. The value of the KPP is derived from the operational requirements of the weapon system, assumptions about its operational use, and the planned logistics support needed to sustain it. In order for the program manager to develop a complete system that will provide warfighting capability, sustainment objectives must be established and the performance of the entire system must be measured against those metrics. Materiel availability measures the percentage of the total inventory of a system that is operationally capable (ready for tasking) of performing an assigned mission at a given time based on materiel condition. Materiel availability also indicates the percentage of time that a system is operationally capable of performing an assigned mission. This KPP focuses on maximizing availability and reliability of the weapon system at best cost value.

Using the Sustainment KPP

System reliability is obviously a critical component of combat readiness. On the Joint Staff, this is acknowledged in the JCIDS process by mandating reliability as one of two supporting key system attributes for the sustainment KPP. Reliability measures the probability that the system will perform without failure over a specified interval. Increased reliability can also decrease the logistics footprint, allowing predictions of downtime for scheduled maintenance operations. A fleet of weapon systems with easily replaceable components, preventive service indicators, and common repair parts could reduce the warfighter’s logistics requirements.

It is important to consider not only acquisition costs for weapon systems, but also the cost to maintain them throughout their life cycle. Sustainment cost is not the defining factor in systems acquisition, but it should be a significant variable in the decision process because the services must pay operations and maintenance (O&M) costs throughout the system’s life cycle, which is often measured in decades, not years. As O&M dollars made up 35 percent of the fiscal year 2009 DOD budget before supplemental appropriations, we cannot afford to take the taxpayer for granted as we provide support to the warfighter.

Life-cycle systems management requires that we become better attuned to total ownership cost, which is addressed in the JCIDS process as the second key system attribute for the sustainment KPP. This provides balance to the sustainment solution by ensuring that the operations and support (O&S) costs, such as maintenance, spares, fuel, and support, that are associated with materiel readiness are considered in making program decisions. The ownership cost key system attribute is ultimately based on the O&S cost estimating structure elements specified in the Operating and Support Cost-Estimating Guide published by the Office of the Secretary of Defense Cost Analysis Improvement Group.

A key to understanding the ownership cost key system attribute is to clarify the term “cost.” We should consider fleet costs, which should be defined as the cost to operate the system for a specific measurement of time or distance. We should also consider readiness cost, which should be defined as the cost to deliver a specified level of availability and the cost to deliver more. In some cases, additional improvements to reliability may be so expensive that additional platforms may be a better investment. Costs and effects of mission failure or catastrophic system malfunction also must be weighed against tradeoff decisions.

Members of the sustainment community must ask themselves, “To what end? What is the end state or purpose of our logistics efforts?” Too many great service members, DOD civilians, and contractors work too hard to do things that make little difference when all is said and done or a lot less difference than an alternative use of time and resources might. For anything we do, or spend, we should apply the effort within a process and show the results. The chosen methodology should apply to all aspects of sustainment.

Establishing Corporate Models

Policies must be continually developed and improved to ensure that DOD is partnered with industry in productive relationships that benefit the warfighter. The joint logistician can learn many lessons from corporate models. These models have to be effectively designed. Otherwise, companies go out of business. We have a similar charge in the DOD community: our models have to be effectively designed, or our warfighting capability is diminished. The key issue is to agree on what DOD and our business partners are collectively trying to do so that our efforts complement, rather than conflict with, each other. Sometimes our methodology will require tough judgment calls, such as determining how much the enhanced effectiveness of a system is worth. This requires communication between the acquisition and sustainment communities as DOD attempts to field systems that are reliable, maintainable, and cost-effective from cradle to grave.

Ultimately, the fact that we can always do better should not detract from the importance of the work we are doing. None of the Soldiers, civilians, or contractors engaged in the Global War on Terrorism are trying to do a bad job. If our purpose as logisticians is to provide the joint force commander freedom of action, we must understand how to make it happen. Weapon system availability is what we deliver to the joint force commander; to accomplish that, we must manage the weapon systems we have using a life-cycle management approach and we must procure reliable weapon systems at the best value.

Major Eric McCoy is assigned to the Army Inspector General Agency. He was an action officer for the Maintenance Division, J–4, Joint Staff, when he wrote this article. He holds a B.S. degree from Morgan State University, an M.S. degree in administration from Central Michigan University, and a Master of Policy Management degree from Georgetown University. He is a graduate of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course and the Combined Logistics Captains Career Course.

The author thanks Lieutenant General (USA, Ret.) C.V. Christianson, George Topic, Lieutenant Colonel Tom Miller, and Lieutenant Colonel Darnell Jones for their assistance in developing this article.