Military Embedded Systems

The critical data thread tying together the military supply chain, logistics, and equipment support


July 26, 2022

An all-important data thread underpins several forward-looking predictions for the future of defense logistics and support: The development of servitized equipment support, the rise of the digital shipyard, and the growing use of unmanned systems in military operations.

Military organizations and their in-service support partners have made big recent strides towards using software to manage mission-critical weapon systems and IT infrastructures, but data collection, analysis, and execution are not advancing at the same pace. This was underlined in a recent study into the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) by the Government Accountability Office. The report stated that: “Many programs have yet to implement certain recommended practices associated with modern software development approaches.”

This data backbone is essential for three much-needed developments for defense logistics and support as it goes into the second half of the year and beyond.

  1. Outcomes will overtake outdated military equipment procurement strategies – software growth by 10% year over year.

    For equipment procurement and support, in recent years, the military has ascended the so-called transformational staircase out of the scenario of simply buying and maintaining its own assets and equipment. The risk and availability linked with supporting an asset through its military life cycle has increasingly involved industry assistance from OEMs or military in-service support providers. Now, however, performance-­based logistics (PBL) is the widely accepted model for the procurement and support of military equipment. PBL strategies work effectively when applied to a specific asset or components, but these service-based agreements can even be taken a step further – what is termed as “Total Asset Readiness” – in relation to forcewide asset mobilization and visibility.

    This move towards a service-based approach for military asset support is underlined by recent research from Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which examined the cross-industry shifts towards delivering outcomes and pinpointed servitization as “the focus of creating and capturing value shifts from one-time sales to long-term partnerships.” [Servitization refers to industries using their products to sell “outcome as a service” rather than a one-off sale.] It’s therefore no surprise that the BCG report sees the defense sector prioritizing the adoption of enterprise asset management (EAM) solutions in the next three years.

    Ascending the transformational staircase towards total asset readiness

    My prediction is for the ‘next evolution’ of asset support to be focused on installing a constant and transparent framework across the entirety of a military force, connecting the military operator, OEM, and in-service support providers. All separate reporting mechanisms and software systems can be consolidated within a single, all-encompassing solution, giving commanders planning operations a real-time image of each asset at their immediate disposal and tracking asset readiness within the context of the mission they need to complete.

    This can already be seen in progress with the U.S. Navy’s Naval Operational Business Logistics Enterprise (NOBLE) project. The program will eliminate more than 700 database/application servers and consolidate more than 23 currently isolated application systems – ultimately aiming to improve asset readiness. As part of a support agreement for the NOBLE project, Lockheed Martin and IFS are tasked with delivery of an intelligent maintenance solution that will help power digital transformation of multiple legacy systems into a single, fully modernized, and responsive logistics information system. The solution will support planning and executing maintenance, repair, and overhaul of more than 3,000 Navy assets including aircraft, ships, and land-based equipment.

  2. Fivefold increase in digital shipyard investment over the next five years – naval forces and manufacturers must keep up.

    The next prediction involves the digitization of shipyards across the globe in the maritime and naval sectors. Much like the U.S. Navy, shipbuilders, maintenance providers and other military operators are beginning to realize the value of digitizing operations. Research and Markets data sees the digital shipbuilding sector poised for explosive growth – from $591.63 million in 2019 to $2.7 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR [combined annual growth rate] of 21.1%. This huge rise will be fueled by rising adoption of digital twins in the shipbuilding industry and increasing use of new manufacturing technologies.

    Digital oversight of maritime and naval assets begins not at sea, but right at the beginning of a ship’s life cycle, in the design process and at the manufacturing plant. This means shipbuilders themselves will have to prioritize digital advancements in the coming years. IFS customer ASC – Australia’s largest defense prime contractor, submarine, and warship builder – recently announced a companywide digital transformation program. The comprehensive program will set the ground for the ASC digital shipyard transition, facilitating more streamlined processes, enhanced integration between systems, and the expanded use of real-time data to drive optimized decision-making across the organization. The ASC digital transformation program will strengthen its enterprise resource planning system and introduce advanced technologies to enable its workforce and optimize its capabilities to support the sovereign sustainment of the Royal Australian Navy’s Collins Class submarine fleet, now and into the future.

    Digital shipyard progress will be rooted in enterprise-wide software

    Any successful naval or maritime digital transformation program means putting in place a full integrated data environment (IDE) to ensure these barriers to executing a digital transformation project are removed, requiring close collaboration from military organizations, industry players, and software providers.

    But in order to build a naval or maritime digital transformation program, most organizations need a digital overhaul. They need an enterprise-breadth system that can do more than simply manage essential MRO [maintenance/repair/operations] or supply-chain processes and optimize scarce resources and assets in isolation. Organizations looking to transform the way their data is handled require a software system that’s agile enough to act on the increasing data volume and complexity to deliver quantifiable operational benefits.

  3. Military unmanned systems grow in use across land, air, and sea – giving rise to maintenance and sustainment questions

The final prediction looks a bit further forward, into the world of unmanned systems and drones, which are being used increasingly in operations across land, air, and sea. There is a high degree of R&D investment planned in the unmanned systems sector going forward, with drones in particular increasingly being used in military operations. In fact, according to the Drone Databook, an in-depth survey of the military drone capabilities around the globe, more than 100 military organizations now have some form of drone capability, with a rising number now with combat experience using unmanned systems. The proliferation of military drones will only grow, with an expected rise in spending of $11.1 billion in 2020 to $14.3 billion by 2029. (Figure 1.)

[Figure 1 | Air Force personnel launching a Raven B Digital Data Link drone during an unmanned aerial system (UAS) demonstration. After takeoff, the Raven B uses battery power to patrol the air for up to 90 minutes. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Kleinholz.]

In addition to removing human soldiers from harm, unmanned systems also bring about certain operational advantages. For instance, being unencumbered by life-­support systems (breathing apparatus, ejection seats) means that these aircraft can carry larger payloads with sensors for improved intelligence and reconnaissance or carry more fuel, which enables longer trips.

Unmanned systems require a maintenance and support rethink

The key near-term area of focus that comes about with the inevitable growth of unmanned systems space is the sustainment of these military assets. As this factor is something military organizations are still scoping out, consider these thoughts from Australian Defence Force Captain, Stephen Wardrop: “One of the key questions that must be answered is how the Army should structure maintenance support for UAS [Unmanned Aerial Systems] into the future. UAS maintenance is much more widely scoped than just the air vehicle (AV) – it encompasses the ground control station, launch, and recovery equipment including automatic take-off/landing systems, and all communications equipment involved in controlling the receiving data from the AV and its payload(s) during flight.”

The key to drone sustainment and support is very similar to the all-encompassing ecosystem outlined in the previous two predictions, with critical importance placedon having an end-to-end system to link all data sources and stakeholders. This means unmanned system design, manufacturing, supply chain, and aftermarket services need a digital backbone capable of handling huge amounts of data and supporting sustainment now and into the future.

Shrinking the digital gap

The outlook for military equipment continues to be one of technological innovation and development, but logistics and support must keep pace if these two factors are to shrink a growing IT disconnect. Getting a digital data thread in place will significantly enhance data collection, analysis, and execution across the entire military ecosystem. From operators to OEMs and in-service support providers, it will be crucial for defense organizations looking to progress at the rate they should through the rest of this year and into the future.

Matt Medley is senior product manager at IFS, ensuring that solutions meet the demanding needs of defense service and support organizations, defense manufacturers, and defense operators and helping to bring these solutions to market. He has served as a consultant, program manager, and project manager in aerospace and defense organizations. Matt – a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and a certified flight instructor – served for 12 years in the U.S. Air Force, achieving the rank of major and compiling 2,500 flight hours in the C-130 aircraft. He holds an MBA from Kennesaw State University and a master’s degree from Webster University and is a certified project management professional.