Crafting the F-35 Sustainment Approach: A Central Element of the Con-Ops of the New Aircraft System

SLD sat down with Kimberly Gavaletz, Vice President from Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, and head of the F-35 Autonomic Logistics Global Sustainment Program, to discuss the F-35 sustainment approach.  The F-35 is a new generation “flying combat system” which is built around a man-machine interface, which builds on developments in the F-22 program.  The man-machine capabilities of the aircraft built around the integrated sensors of the aircraft will shape the operational concepts of the aircraft and lead to “re-norming” of air operations.

Although the sustainment of the aircraft is not as exciting a subject as air combat, it is fundamental to the con-ops of the aircraft, and will facilitate significant improvements in projected sorties rates.  In other words, sustainment is shaped as well by the man-machine interface as recently discussed by Gunnery Sgt. Thomas, the head maintainer of the F-35B at Pax River.  In this interview, Kimberly Gavaletz explains various aspects of the sustainment effort.

SLD: Traditional military aircraft programs historically have thought of maintenance as a bolt on capability or requirement, whereas this program was shaped with maintenance at the heart of the program.  How does the maintenance approach affect the capability of the aircraft?

Kimberly Gavaletz:  For the F-35, the maintenance approach has been a consideration since the inception of the aircraft.  F-35 is an Air System.  The Air System contains both the aircraft and the sustainment solution. The aircraft was designed to be highly reliable and easy to maintain, requiring significantly less maintenance than legacy systems.  For example, sustainment drove aircraft panel placement to  allow accessibility to parts that need to be maintained.  Another example is the design of the prognostics health management system, PHM, into the aircraft allowing the jet to monitor its own health.  PHM detects and isolates faults, while predicting failures, and stores that information for later analysis or immediate transmission.

F-35 support systems were designed and used in the factory and flight test so that by the time the aircraft are deployed to the fleet, the sustainment system with its information infrastructure, support equipment, and supply chain have been fully tested and matured to work in the operational environment.

Sustainment was implemented to aligned to provide the sortie generation rate that the war fighters will need for the aircraft. The design and build of the aircraft has been central to shaping an approach to generating effective sortie generation rates. The maintenance approach is truly a part of building the aircraft, testing the aircraft and using the aircraft.

SLD: The F-35 is really the first aircraft built for the knowledge age and is built on a man/machine interface, whether it be the Distributed Aperture System (DAS) or sensor fusing, this is also true for the maintenance system. Could you describe how this man/machine interface for maintenance changes the maintenance game?

Kimberly Gavaletz:  The man/machine interface for the maintenance portion of the F-35  starts with the aircraft itself which was designed using Computer Aided Three-dimensional Interactive Application (CATIA) drawings. The CATIA engineering drawings initiate a digital thread that  sustainment  pulls all the way through  into the Autonomic Information System (ALIS) which contains the joint technical data used to maintain the aircraft.  So the digital thread, the man/machine interface, extends from the person engineering the aircraft all the way through to the portable maintenance aid (PMA) used by the person maintaining the aircraft.

The PMA contains the configuration of the aircraft and the joint technical data that matches the particular aircraft on which the maintainer is working. Before the maintainer begins maintenance on the aircraft, he can refresh himself on training he received back at the Integrated Training Center on the Air System Maintenance Trainer.

The PMA transmits the work order to the maintainer, properly positions the needed supply and support equipment and ultimately facilitates maintainer sign-off at work order completion.

F-35 Sustainment brings everything together — the knowledge about the health of the aircraft, a trained maintainer with needed information, supplies and support to return the aircraft to service, the necessary back room support to properly position the supply chain and the reach back into sustaining engineering for tough problems through anomaly reporting.

So in all aspects of the maintainer’s job, there is  a man/machine interface through ALIS and the PMA enabling him to plug into technical information and reach back necessary to complete his actions effectively and efficiently.

SLD: In the cost debate about the F-35, one thing that seems to be missing is the question of supply chain impacts on costs.  When buying a legacy aircraft in 2010 you are relying on a supply chain that may not be there through the life of the aircraft making it very costly. With the F-35 being a new aircraft with a forward leaning supply chain. Could you talk a little bit about that supply chain that you built?

Kimberly Gavaletz:  As never done before, F-35 requirements were levied on the sustainment system. Over one fourth of the requirements for the air system were in the area of supportability and sustainability of the aircraft. F-35 levied reliability requirements out to our supply base.  So, from the beginning the suppliers have been a part of meeting those reliability requirements and in meeting the health of the air system in its ability to generate effective sortie rates.

F-35 did not stop at the design and manufacture of the aircraft.  We have created a Global Delivery System (GDS), in which we have merged the demand signals from the production line and the needed supply base for sustainment to keep the aircraft flying.  GDS defines and deploys the supply chain between production and sustainment using a Consumption Based Material Replenishment (CBMR) model that improves speed, synchronization and operating efficiency across the value chain.

Knowing the joint capacity and the repair capacity needed for each asset and holding the supply base accountable through time, is going to allow F-35 to have a more predictable sorting generation rate, more predictable reliability.  Over 80% of F-35’s suppliers will be on a performance based contracts and held accountable for their reliabilities and their impact on overall aircraft availability.

The capability to link all of the production suppliers into the world of sustainment by aggregating the demands and ensuring that the capacity of the industrial base is fundamental to the program.  For example, if a supplier will not have sufficient capacity, F-35 will setup up capacity and redundancy through second and third sources to support the predicted activity to support the global fleet. We know the capacity needs and the available capacity ahead of time, we’re able to plan for it, and we’re able to provide the appropriate support level for the need.

A crucial component of the overall supply system is bringing those demands together: we need to do that capacity planning and right size for the future to keep the industrial base healthy but also right sized, so that we can have the proper affordability.

SLD: Another key aspect for containing cost and enhancing reliability is the commonality across the services and the coalition partners in supporting a family of aircraft.  Could you speak to that issue?

Kimberly Gavaletz: One of the key drivers of operational costs is supporting multiple aircraft types in operations. If you think about the 13 services that are now part of the F-35 program across the original 9 F-35 partner nations, you amortize cost across the services and nations. So instead of building configured solutions for a variety of services and aircraft, you are shaping common manufacturing AND sustainment and supply solutions for a family of aircraft, and spreading around the costs.

SLD: A final question focusing upon performance-based logistics.  For some critics, PBL is a bad concept, but the F-35 sustainment approach really has been built around a global supply chain focus, which has used PBL as a shaping function to shape cost containment.  Could you comment on the role of PBL within the global sustainment approach?

Kimberly Gavaletz: Because the aircraft has a common configuration across the three F-35 variants and because F-35 has developed a manufacturing approach with multiple sources built from the ground up, F-35 has built in a common global sustainment approach.  This common sustainment approach allows competition within the supply base and ensures security of supply.  We can supply multiple national aircraft in deployed operations from diverse suppliers.  But these suppliers are all being measured by performance-based measures.  This allows us to monitor the overall supply chain to ensure its health as well as its ability to supply the diverse customer base with best value capabilities and ensure that warfighter outcomes of aircraft availability and sortie generation are achieved.  Take away PBL, and you are left with supply chain competition without effective measurement techniques to ensure best value and ultimate success of providing outcomes aligned with ongoing warfighter requirements.

Another key consideration is that because of the way the aircraft is manufactured and maintained, and how suppliers are plugged into the overall system,  each F-35 customer is not just learning about their fleet of aircraft.  Each customer and supplier learns from the whole global fleet of F-35 aircraft; F-35 users and suppliers  are able to look across all the data with us and better position themselves and learn to better support the aircraft.

Because the supplier is on a performance-based contract, they are watching their supply around the world and how it’s working. And also we, at that same point, are able to look at the problem fleet wide to determine if a pull is starting to happen from a different perspective or from an environment where something is happening that’s causing things to degrade. And it doesn’t have to be all just buying more parts, at times it can be a maintainer issue, it can be a training issue, it can be a configuration issue.

With the digital environment, as soon as a problem report is in the system, it goes all the way back to our sustaining engineering organization. Digital technology has enabled that maintainer in the field to have technical reach back, all the way back to the OEM’s, both  F-35 sustainment and the suppliers that designed the aircraft. All of this information better focuses the need for future modifications of the aircraft, the supply chain and the PBL approach.


*** Posted on June 29th, 2010

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