21st Century Air Capabilities

By Dr. Robbin Laird

06/18/2011 – 21st century air capabilities are built around the three “M”s.  The aircraft need to be multi-mission and manufactured to be significantly more maintainable than 20th century aircraft.

The Three "M"s (Credit: SLD)The Three “M”s (Credit: SLD)

In today’s world, the acquisition of aircraft in financially stringent environments favors multi-mission platforms.  The U.S. and allied air forces are buying less aircraft and a smaller variety of aircraft.  The expectation is that the aircraft purchased will do more than their core specialty.

There is an expectation that if I buy an airlifter it will do more than airlift.  It will be able to refuel, it will be able to deliver in the air lethal and non-lethal weapons out of the back of the aircraft, it will be able to become a C2 aircraft if needed, etc.

An example of the multi-mission dynamic can be seen with regard to the A400M and the insertion of Special Forces.  As Peter Scoffhman noted in an earlier interview:

But the advantage of the A400M is that its ramp can carry a six metric ton payload and for airdropping as a part of a package a payload of four and a half metric tons can be dropped.

So in terms of a special forces insertion with a concurrent drop of equipment, you now have a situation where paratroops   can jump at the same time out the side doors and a metric four and half ton load can be dropped from the ramp.  This, of course, gives them tremendous flexibility.  And just while we’re talking Special Forces, there was a requirement for the high-altitude delivery of Special Forces.  As an example of this civil airliners cruise at about 34-35,000 feet.  But, the A400M is designed to fly one mile higher, at 40,000 feet, then open the ramp, and enable Special Forces to jump with all of their specialist kit.  At the moment, there is no other aircraft capable of doing that.

The second M is maintainability.  We have had a special focus in our publications on what we call manufacturing for maintainability.  New platforms are built with a significant amount of attention to how to enhance their ability to be maintained over time.  When platforms were built thirty years ago, logistics support was an afterthought.  No it is a core element of determining successful outcomes to the manufacturing process.

The website includes several pieces on this important issue.

One example is provided by the Eurcopter manufacturing approach.

In an interview with Alain Rolland of Eurocopter, and in response to the question of the Eurocopter approach to shaping the manufacturing for sustainability challenge, he responded as follows:

Let me approach the question from the standpoint of the Super Puma. The Puma class helicopters were very useful to the oil and gas business for a certain number of years.  Intense helicopter activity in term of oil and gas, really started at the end of the 70s, beginning of the 80s.And at the time, basically we were the only helo provider, especially with the Super Puma to really do this kind of business.  There was no real competitor. As a matter of fact, Super Puma was there at the right time, with the right specification. We could have simply sought to exploit our advantage; but we focused on continuous improvement, in large part because of the evolving business model.The oil and gas people are very demanding: they want high reliability and safety. They drove us to optimize maintenance.

And that became translated into power by the hour contracts, a business model which naturally leverages reliability increases and maintenance cost reduction. We have to deliver a certain rate of availability at fixed price.So we gained from enhanced reliability; when we designed Super Puma Mark 2 we made sure we designed and built a more maintainable and reliable product.The shift from the earlier Puma to the Super Puma allowed us to have many parts simplifications.  In the earlier Puma, you have three ball bearings and two pinions bolted together.  With the Super Puma we only make one part, which either eliminates or integrates the older parts. Simplification which leads directly to enhanced reliability and safety all generated by an improved manufacturing process.

Another example is the A400M.  As Richard Thompson underscored:

With every new generation of aircraft, one of the key drivers is to reduce the maintenance burden.  The cost associated with maintenance and the downtime that the platform will suffer throughout its life in terms of periods dedicated to scheduled or for that matter unscheduled maintenance are important considerations when developing a new aircraft.

The concept of integrating logistic support essentially means that when you start to design the aircraft to meet an operational requirement, you have sitting alongside the designer’s maintainability engineers who are also contributing to that design.  They are contributing with a view to ensure that you can have easy access to that particular part of the plane that you can remove the component or check the component easily, replace it with another one easily, and that you can have access to certain parts of the plane that need to have access to.

A product like A400M not only benefits from that approach, but also benefits from the fact that it’s based on an architecture of an advanced commercial aircraft.

Sustainability is a core requirement for 21st century air forces and air operations. Sustainability is a combination of logistics and maintainability considerations combined.  Designing a more sustainable product, which can operate fleet wide, should be one of the very core procurement principles.

But it does not even exist on the playing field.  The questionable notion of life-cycle costs is used but has little or nor real meaning as key drivers of life cycle costs are often outside of the domain of a platform considered by itself or fleet wide.

At the heart of the sustainability argument is that you do not keep buying Pumas when Super Pumas are built 30 years later and are significantly more affordable to fly.  They are more affordable to fly because they are built in a manner, which could not be done thirty years ago.  Building new is central to any sustainable strategy.

The point was driven home in an interview with Pierre Maret of Eurcopter:

So we reduce the interfaces, which significantly reduces reliability problems.  To do that, it was necessary to integrate bearing suppliers technology and to develop a special heat treatment such as deep nitriding technology.You do this in order to increase the hardness and practical strengths of the parts, both for raceway and tooth for the gears. And the technology of the bearing supplier is now integrated into our business process. Moreover, in order to increase the reliability and safety specs, this heat treatment allows being able to run after total loss of lubrication in the gearbox.  So thanks to this heat treatment, it’s possible to run with a long time without oil.

Additionally, one needs to buy Fleetwide.  Savings will come from pooling resources, something that cannot happen if you buy a gaggle of aircraft, rather than operating a common fleet.  Just ask Fed Ex what commonality for their fleet delivers in terms of performance and savings.

The final M is manufacturability.  Briefing slides and simulations are not the same thing as a finished good of high quality and of high reliability.  Here you need a trained workforce, good engineering practices and an ability to deliver a product of high quality and standards.  It is challenging to build new systems and not every manufacturer is created equal.

A core element of today’s manufacturing systems is the challenge of managing extended supply chains.  And these supply chains are subject to disruptions and the need to manage those disruptions.

As Alain Rolland of Eurocopter put it:

We have disruptions each year.  We develop market intelligence with regard to market alternatives in light of the most probable supply chain disruptions.  The Strategic Procurement Directorate has the responsibility to assess the probability and location of supply disruptions.

Either we are going to help the supplier get through difficult times or seek a new supplier.  It is complex and costly.

And another senior Eurocopter manager underscored that managing the supply chain is challenging indeed.

It is very complex to manage a broad portfolio of suppliers and products and to manage the connections among the various IT systems.  We have to manage the manufacturing bill of parts within the supply chain; this can be a small or large production runs; we have to manage the manufacturing bill of materials to provide for the parts on time and in proper quantity.

Another challenge is to streamline the quantity of parts managed in the supply chain.

Given Eurocopter’s significant role in global production of helicopters, the approach of the company to managing a robust and diverse supply chain is clearly important in understanding the approach of a core manufacturing company.  The approach is also significant in understanding how having one core company managing the supply chain for manufacturing and sustainment is central to efficiencies.

In short, the Three M’s – Multi-Mission, Maintainability and Manufacturability – are key elements of shaping 21st century air capabilities.  Flexibility, agility, reliability and performance are highly interactive elements for building viable platforms and systems for the years ahead.

(Please see 21st Century Air Capabilities http://www.sldinfo.com/?p=20246)

"If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking."

—General George Patton Jr.

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