Escaping Today’s Supply Chain Challenges

From Armor & Mobility/August 2017 Issue

The Air Force Sustainment Center’s Enterprise Supply Chain Analysis, Planning, and Execution (ESCAPE) program will help the Air Force integrate supply chain planning processes with modern information technology.

By Sandy Windsor, ESCAPE Functional Manager

The Air Force Sustainment Center’s 448th Supply Chain Management Wing (SCMW) is spearheading an initiative to modernize supply chain planning capabilities that will directly impact supportability to warfighter support around the globe.

The AFSC is comprised of nearly 43,000 Total Force Airmen who deliver combat effects for the immediate and long-term requirements of component and combatant commanders in every area of responsibility. Serving as the Logistics Numbered Air Force, AFSC is the supporting command for the readiness of Logistics and Sustainment activities around the world. The Center encompasses three Air Logistics Complexes, three Air Base Wings, two Supply Chain Wings, and 21 CONUS and OCONUS geographically separated operating locations.

As a critical part of the AFSC mission set, the 448th SCMW is leading a transformational initiative called the Enterprise Supply Chain Analysis, Planning, and Execution (ESCAPE) program that is now on contract and on schedule to vastly improve how the Air Force supply chain leverages data to forecast spare part buy and repair requirements, set more accurate spares requirements plans, redistribute inventory to the point of need, and integrate planning throughout the supply chain enterprise.

Mr. Frank Washburn, Director, 448th SCMW, has experienced supply chain transformation first-hand.

“Over the last 41 years, I have been fortunate enough to work in the Air Force supply chain and participate in many transformational changes in our business processes in order to provide better support to our warfighters,” he stated. “With that said,” he continued, “none of these past transformational and modernization efforts are more significant than the fielding of ESCAPE advanced planning and scheduling capabilities in the 448th Supply Chain Management Wing.”

With working capital fund revenues of more than $6 billion annually, the Air Force supply chain is big business, rivaling many Fortune 500 companies. The Air Force supply chain is also complex, managing Air Force depot-level repairable and consumable spares across the globe and supporting a wide range of weapon systems that include 1960s vintage refueling and bomber aircraft, ICBMs, Space and C3I systems, missiles, fighter aircraft with cutting-edge technology, and a wide range of engines. Even more impressively, Mr. Washburn and his nearly 3,000 employees manage this diverse supply chain using spares requirement planning technology from the 1980s – equivalent to using rotary phones in today’s age of smartphone technology. The benefits of transforming to a modernized advanced planning and scheduling system under the ESCAPE initiative include daily visibility of global supply chain transactions, reduced operating costs, and immediate responses to program changes such as increased flying hours or engine overhauls.

The Compelling Need for Change

Over the past 40 years, the Air Force and its industry partners have developed a multitude of capable systems that offer highly customized supply chain advanced planning and scheduling capabilities. However, many of these specialized Air Force systems are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain and integrate with larger “enterprise” processes due to nuances within the systems themselves, a complex data environment, and a rapidly evolving IT and cybersecurity environment. They also require specific skill sets that are exceedingly difficult to grow or replace as a more experienced workforce approaches and enters retirement.

Recognizing the need for change, the Air Force sponsored a demonstration of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software for supply chain advanced planning and scheduling in 2010. A successful test of software using five years of Air Force and Defense Logistics Agency-managed historical demands gave credence to the idea that a configured COTS solution could address the Air Force’s complex supply chain spares planning needs while maintaining the “look and feel” of Air Force spare parts planning processes. In other words, it was time for the Air Force to consider upgrading its rotary phone to a smartphone.

In the Fall of 2016, the Air Force took a major step toward modernizing its supply chain planning system and business processes when it awarded a competitive contract to DSD Laboratories and partners PTC and IBM for delivery of an integrated supply chain advanced planning and scheduling service to enhance weapon systems support. Team DSD is working closely with the Air Force supply chain team to consolidate legacy processes, enable more efficient supply chain planning, and improve inventory performance for maintenance operations around the world.

Software as a Service

The Air Force elected to pursue a “Software as a Service (SaaS)” solution and leverage a DoD cloud computing strategy rather than a traditional IT acquisition. The SaaS approach was successfully deployed by the U.S. Coast Guard and mitigates risk through the avoidance of large upfront costs to procure hardware, software, and a system integrator. Incremental roll-outs with a rapid transition into sustainment will streamline configuration activities and incentivize timely delivery of the capability.

Enabling Technology

Currently, government personnel are working with Team DSD to identify appropriate sources of data to enable PTC’s Service Parts Management product – widely considered to be a “best of breed” commercial supply chain planning toolset. Supporting data will be owned and managed by the Air Force and made available to Team DSD, as well as analysts to support business operations.

Moving Forward

Implementation of the supply chain advanced planning and scheduling capabilities is co-led by Headquarters AFMC, Directorate of Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection and the 448th SCMW ESCAPE Core Team, which includes subject matter experts from across the Air Force supply chain and stakeholders from the AFSC Logistics Directorate and the 635th Supply Chain Operations Wing.

Mr. Washburn spoke confidently that an advanced planning and scheduling solution will drive improvements throughout the enterprise. “The most visible change will be having a modernized, integrated solution resulting in more accurate and timely spares requirement for our Air Force… our enterprise will experience performance improvements from the business process transformation.”

With a change of this magnitude, he also recognized organizational change management as a key component going forward. “I believe the first factor in meaningful and positive change is embracing, rather than resisting, the opportunity to be part of transformational change and modernizing our Air Force spares planning capabilities,” he commented. “This is a big deal and we will need the passion and dedication of each employee to bring about positive change. They are the experts. We will need input from each and every supply chain professional during the implementation phases of the advanced planning and scheduling capability.”

The Enterprise Supply Chain Analysis, Planning, and Execution program is projected to field initial operating capability in late 2018.