Leveraging Process to Avoid Obsolescence

From Armor & Mobility, July/August 2019 Issue

The U.S. Air Force continues to grapple with the reality that airframe sustainment is multi-layered and equipment aging waits for no mission.

By Jerry Zamora and Mike Graham, DMSMS Policy & Training Program

Like all Department of Defense services, the United States Air Force (USAF) has been facing Diminishing Manufacturing Sources and Material Shortages (DMSMS) issues for some time now. From a Sustainment point of view, aging aircraft have exposed numerous problems with first time failures, loss of suppliers, no-bid solicitations, cold-start issues increasing cost and extended lead-times. In addition, multiple system configurations further complicate DMSMS monitoring. The C-130s for example, has 17 different versions, with slight variations in avionics systems, parts, and configurations. This leads to problems when trying to plan for Form, Fit, Function & Interface (F3&I) replacements as well as for new modification programs. Other drivers affecting DMSMS management are the lack of adequate technical documentation, reverse engineering/emulation projects that induce long lead-times into the maintenance processes, obsolete manufacturing techniques and rapidly changing technology in the electronics and microcircuit industry. Non-stocklisted items are the most recent issue from a supportability and funding stand point. These type of items were never meant to be replaced, but due to the extended service of many weapons systems the USAF is seeing a growing number of new failures. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) within the aerospace industry no longer support, stock, repair or produce these items. Recently the USAF DMSMS team was made aware of a woman that was set to retire after forty years of service with a DLA supplier. This individual was the only known person possessing the skills and knowledge to produce ICBM reed relays. With a requirement for new reed relays this became a significant issue potentially affecting supportability of the entire program. This is an ever-present problem that in many cases is caused by the USAF not buying sufficient quantities or in strategic intervals to keep suppliers willing and able to dedicate space and keep qualified manufacturing facilities, or like in this case make it worthwhile to train new employees to make outdated parts.

New USAF DMSMS Instruction

To combat the aforementioned DMSMS issues and other supply chain challenges, the USAF is fostering senior leader engagement through various forums; expanding collaborative forecasting efforts through enhanced Deep Look or Deep Dive efforts, expanding market research and source development capabilities, continually engaging with Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and Air Force Contracting to streamline the purchase instrument process, and participating in DMSMS working groups charged with identifying critical obsolescence issues. Greater focus is now placed on current and proposed future technology trends and continuous monitoring for obsolescence/end of life alerts and strategically placed obsolescence mitigation opportunities during production and initial fielding. These are the areas that have the capability to extend system service life prior to the inevitable increase in obsolescence in the later sustainment stages of the system life cycle. Furthermore, the USAF is proactively/strategically working to regain control of DMSMS issues through the successful implementation of AFMCI20-105, Diminishing Manufacturing Sources and Material Shortages. This HQ AFMC driven instruction provides detailed expectations on USAF organizations to develop a robust DMSMS program within every program office. While acquisition documents have always stressed the need for obsolescence management, AFMCI 20-105 clearly reinforces it with specific roles and responsibilities. In fact, the initial focus of the DMSMS Management Team (DMT) is the creation or enhancement of a robust DMSMS Management Plan (DMP) that oversees obsolescence management throughout the life of the weapon system or program.

Strategic Alternate Sourcing Program Office (SASPO)

AFMCI20-105 assigned SASPO to serve as the DMSMS Center of Excellence for the USAF. This combined government and contract support team provides DMSMS training for all USAF programs, integrates USAF program offices’ best practices, reviews contract documents containing DMSMS language, i.e. Charter, Statement Of Work, Performance Work Statement, and serves as a working member for all program office DMSMS Management Teams (DMT).

Along with program membership, SASPO also provides a DMSMS Predictive Tool (AVCOM) and in-depth Analysis and Resolution (A&R) support to all USAF programs. AVCOM users can generate forecasting reports such as Component Health Status, create current System/Assembly Health Analysis or project the Health Analysis 20 years out to evaluate future obsolescence. AVCOM also provides F3&I equivalent parts for electronics. The Impact Analysis and Part Commonality Analysis allows users to view common parts not only across their own platform but also across the entire Air Force. Automated Product Change Notice / Product Discontinuation Notice alert and counterfeit notifications received directly from the manufacturers and Government Industry Data Exchange Program (GIDEP) are processed nightly to keep users informed of upcoming obsolescence issues. The SASPO A&R team researches Defense Logistics Agency and other USAF technical and logistics data and provides detailed analysis to include reliability, availability and maintainability (RAM) data, impact assessments and an evaluation of alternatives as required. The team takes a proactive approach to DMSMS management and maintains a reactive process when unforeseen issues arise. If there is no logistical solution available the issue is turned over to the Alternate Sourcing team that specializes in working with the commercial market and other government agencies for possible alternate sourcing methods to include reverse engineering, repair development and additive manufacturing.

SASPO has had great success in providing timely feedback for organizations thus far; for example, a health assessment was completed, in less than 30 days, on over 6,600 TF33 engine parts. The final report was instrumental is supporting the B-52 Program decision to re-engine the aircraft.

The identification of the assigned DMSMS Subject Matter Experts (SME) is an important step in improving USAF DMSMS management. There is often a misconception within the logistician community that do not understand that managing DMSMS begins at the piece part level not at the LRU or SRU level. Once the root cause is identified, the issue can be resolved. As part of an OSD task on commonality, an analysis of all parts loaded in AVCOM revealed that there is a 33-35% commonality rate. By identifying the common parts and DMSMS SME’s of every program office, the USAF will be able to avoid expending time and resources to solve the same issues that are common to multiple programs.

Balancing Legacy Processes with Newer Systems

More emphasis needs to be given during the acquisition phase on the need to obtain technical data that will enable sustainment efficiencies throughout the life of the program. The USAF must strongly consider buying tech data at the time it is available and resolve to catalog and maintain configuration changes so that it will be available for future procurements and re-development efforts. Generally the Program Offices have used tech data as trade space – both for speed and more commonly for cost. If the plan is to sustain by F3&I for decades, we absolutely need data rights. If the logistics plan for sustainment is to do COTS and/or new modification efforts every decade or so…then data rights are less pressing to have but it would be critical to adequately fund the proposed upgrades.

In closing, an effective DMSMS program works to both proactively identify potential DMSMS risks and effectively resolve identified and unanticipated challenges. A Robust DMSMS program will mitigate DMSMS impacts throughout the system or equipment life cycle. All USAF DMSMS regulations, initiatives and program management efforts are ultimately aimed at reducing sustainment costs and increasing readiness of our legacy weapons systems and proactively influencing the future sustaining requirements of our new weapon systems with the goal of reduced obsolescence and data constraints.