HomeAbout UsBrowse This IssueBack IssuesNews DispatchesSubscribing to Army LogisticianWriting for Army LogisticianContact UsLinks































Maintenance Reinvention

The author offers 10 suggestions for “jump starting” Army maintenance policy.

Army planners agree that a transformed materiel maintenance system must substantially improve equipment reliability, reduce the size of logistics support elements, and enhance maintenance responsiveness. However, despite various programs and initiatives committed specifically to developing new maintenance concepts, processes, and technologies, the best way to proceed with achieving these goals has not been defined clearly. Attempts to make equipment sustainment equal
in importance to other war-fighting considerations have not yet produced meaningful results. In fact, Army maintenance procedures have changed very little over the past decade or so, and our Soldiers are still encumbered with overly bureaucratic maintenance policies, archaic logistics information systems, and equipment that may have been designed and engineered more for “manufacturability” than maintainability. Simply stated, the Army cannot expect to transform itself successfully without a genuine, conspicuous, and quantifiable commitment to reinvent maintenance.

This article presents 10 imperatives, or focus areas, for addressing maintenance policy shortfalls in a way that will launch authentic maintenance transformation. I developed this list after extensive analysis of Current Force and Future Force maintenance procedures. Several of the initiatives on the list have been approved already and are underway in the Army. Regrettably, not all of them are showing signs of real progress. I hope these suggestions will serve to jump-start the maintenance transformation process and provide a fundamental strategy for rethinking and reengineering Army maintenance.

1. Accelerate introduction of embedded diagnostics and prognostics. Embedded diagnostic and embedded prognostic (ED/EP) systems truly are the technological “heart” of a transformed maintenance system. Much more than an on-board troubleshooting tool, the ED/EP system also must be the primary conduit for many other sustainment functions, such as joint logistics information control, digital preventive maintenance checks and services, automated status reporting, platform-based parts requisitioning, remote diagnostics, telemaintenance, vehicle configuration management, component life-history recording, and embedded just-in-time maintenance training. Several ex- periments have successfully demonstrated the value of this multifunctional approach to ED/EP, including the Army G–4’s visionary Common Logistics Operating Environment (CLOE) initiative, which is now the standard ED/EP operational architecture for connecting logisticians. [CLOE guides the Army’s vision for developing a technology-enabled force equipped with self-diagnosing platforms that interact with a networked sustainment infrastructure.]

Maintenance transformation does not depend solely on innovative technology. Instead, real transformation results from profound cultural change that is enabled by technology. Therefore, the greatest return on investment from accelerated fielding of multifunctional ED/EP systems (for both Current Force and Future Force platforms) will be the creation of an enormous window of opportunity for modernizing logistics policies and procedures.

2. Update maintenance processes using CBM+ as the central theme.
Because assured mobility is so crucial to the operational effectiveness of our Future Force, we must give leaders the option of replacing components before the actual point of failure. The Army must develop a transformed logistics system that blends conventional maintenance techniques with Department of Defense Condition-Based Maintenance Plus (CBM+) guidelines. Moving from a fault-based maintenance philosophy to one that is anticipatory, proactive, and reliability centered will decrease the battlefield maintenance workload, boost reliability during combat pulses, and reduce costs by avoiding catastrophic failures.

3. Adopt a NASA mentality for future ground platforms. Future ground platforms must be designed and engineered for improved maintainability, rapid repair, nominal tool requirements, redundancy, system bypass capability, and maximum use of plug-and-play modular components. This methodology, often called “pit stop engineering,” also can be compared to the design philosophies of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) manned space program. NASA designs spacecraft using strict reliability standards and incorporating multiple, redundant systems for continued operation, even during failures. If the Army wants to conduct sustained battlefield operations with minimal logistics support, it must invest in combat platforms that include at least some measure of engineering borrowed from the space program.

4. Increase maintenance performed by equipment operators and crews. The noncontiguous battlefield anticipated for future conflicts restricts the ability of logisticians to project maintenance support. With combat repair teams operating independently over extended distances, vehicle crews experiencing maintenance problems cannot always expect a timely response from field maintenance personnel. In some cases, a crew’s survival may depend on its ability to diagnose faults and make repairs quickly.

With this in mind, the Army’s combat maintainer model was introduced as a central feature of the Army Training and Doctrine Command-approved Stryker advanced maintenance concept. Patterned after the combat lifesaver model of field medical support, the combat maintainer program expands maintenance effectiveness and combat self-sufficiency by training vehicle crewmembers to perform selected mission-critical equipment repair tasks, basic troubleshooting, self- or like-vehicle recovery, and limited battlefield damage assessment and repair procedures.

5. Establish sense-and-respond processes for repair parts supply. The Office of Force Transformation’s sense-and-respond logistics project holds great potential as a principal enabler for rapid distribution of mission-critical repair parts. The two primary repair parts management challenges in today’s multidimensional combat environment are inaccurate anticipation of demands and sluggish battlefield distribution. Multifunctional ED/EP systems and sense-and-respond logistics can help mitigate these challenges through dynamic networking of dispersed logistics resources. Fundamentally, sense-and-respond logistics considers all repair parts, regardless of where they are stored or to which unit they belong, as a common pool that can be requested by any network user and delivered by any available asset. Under this concept, support roles are flexible and continuously adaptive, and logistics customers may be tasked periodically to function as logistics providers. Ultimately, sense-and-respond logistics processes will enhance the availability of repair parts across the battlespace without requiring a corresponding increase in logistics support structure.

6. Eliminate the notion of “levels of maintenance.” In the purest terms, maintenance can be viewed strictly as another sustainment function that the Army must perform, regardless of “who, what, when, why, where, or how.” All maintenance tasks could be consolidated into a single category, and it would no longer be necessary to describe the Army maintenance system using obsolete terms from the linear battlefield, such as “levels.” While the Army’s transition from four to two levels of maintenance has produced some benefits, the traditional practice of pigeonholing tasks into rigid columns on a maintenance allocation chart eventually can be replaced with a unified and highly adaptable maintenance philosophy that eliminates levels altogether.

7. Allocate maintenance tasks using decision logic. Once echeloning of the Army’s maintenance system is abolished, responsibility for performing maintenance tasks can be determined by using a decision chart, with training and resources as the main considerations for task accomplishment. All Soldiers can be trained to apply task decision logic and quickly evaluate maintenance factors on the decision chart before proceeding with equipment repairs. Thus, if all of the decision chart requirements are met, the task is performed; if any of the requirements are not fulfilled, the task must be deferred or reassigned to another maintenance element.

8. Develop a single, all-encompassing interactive electronic technical manual for each future platform.
Eventually, on-board, interactive electronic technical manuals can be consolidated into a single reference tool (one manual for each platform or equipment item), and separate manuals for different levels of maintenance will be unnecessary. Future interactive electronic technical manuals also must include a master task list, similar to that found in commercial automotive service manuals, with detailed information that corresponds to the seven task-evaluation factors on the maintenance task decision chart. (See the example above.)

9. Purge the term “mechanic” from the Army’s vocabulary. Perhaps the introductory paragraph from the Web page of the automotive technology program at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia, Washington, best describes the changing nature of automotive service and repair: “A mechanic goes after your car with a hammer. An automotive technician talks to your car with a computer.” Since digitally controlled systems are so commonplace in modern automotive designs, the knowledge, skills, and abilities of today’s automotive service technician are distinctly different from those of yesterday’s “grease monkey.” Similarly, modern Army equipment has increased in sophistication to the point that the term “mechanic” does not accurately reflect the depth of technical expertise required to maintain our newest ground platforms. Because our professional maintenance Soldiers’ roles on the future battlefield will be even more critical than they are now, calling them “technicians” is an important first step in changing the way we recruit, train, deploy, and retain them.

10. Revamp and certify maintenance training programs. When maintenance levels are eliminated, task allocation is linked to resources, and mechanics are replaced with technicians, automotive maintenance training can be transformed into three exportable modules: an entry course for equipment operators and crews, a basic course for new Ordnance Corps mechanical maintenance enlistees, and an advanced course for senior technicians. Eventually, all Soldiers will take the entry course, regardless of their primary military occupational specialties, to support distributive maintenance concepts by increasing operator and crew maintenance responsibilities.

Army maintenance training programs should be comparable to the best automotive technology programs in community colleges and trade schools across the country. The maintenance curriculum must be evaluated and certified by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation, the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, and local, state, or national college accreditation agencies.

Maintenance policies and procedures must change, and they must change now. Our logistics processes are fundamentally the same as they were decades ago. They are not keeping pace with the many changes occurring throughout our expeditionary Army. If any of the 10 recommendations presented in this article are adopted as a course of action, appropriately resourced, and aggressively cultivated with a true sense of urgency, significant improvements to equipment mission readiness, emerging force designs, and battlefield maintenance support are sure to result.

Keith B. Wenstrand is employed by Camber Corporation at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he works as a senior analyst in the Army Armor Center Directorate of Training, Doctrine, and Combat Developments. He has an associate’s degree in automotive technology from South Puget Sound Community College in Washington and a bachelor’s degree in occupational training and development from the University of Louisville. He retired from the Army as a chief warrant officer (W–4).