Monday 15 July, 2024

The three digital data thread developments in 2022 that will transform defence logistics across land, air and sea

Military organisations and their in-service support partners have made big 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. It’s this data backbone which permeates three key predictions for defence logistics and support in 2022, according to Matt Medley, Industry Director, Defence Manufacturing, IFS. He explains the essential data thread beneath more servitised equipment support, the rise of the digital shipyard and the growing use of unmanned systems in military operations.

It has been well-documented that military operators and defence in-service support providers have modernised their logistics and supply chain processes, accelerated by the pandemic, more connected assets entering operations and the maturity of enabling technologies including augmented/virtual reality, digital twins, 3D printing, AI, among others.

But there is still a digital disconnect at play despite this progress. While tech-enabled workflows, assets and processes have grown rapidly, supporting IT infrastructure has not. The U.S. Government Accountability Office highlighted this in a recent report that cited that the DOD’s data collection and IT development were not matching the speed of technological change with mission-critical weapon systems.

As the role of IT infrastructure is put under the microscope, it’s exactly this data backbone that runs throughout my three key military logistics and support developments to watch out for in 2022 and beyond

  1.  Ensuring military asset outcomes takes precedence over traditional procurement models – resulting in outcomes-based software growth of over 10%

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 their own assets and equipment. The risk and availability linked with supporting an asset through its military lifecycle has increasingly involved industry assistance from OEMs or military in-service support providers. Now, 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 deemed at IFS as “Total Asset Readiness®” in relation to force-wide asset mobilisation and visibility.

This move towards a service-based approach for military asset support is underlined by recent research from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) who examined the cross-industry shifts towards delivering outcomes and, pinpointed servitisation as “the focus of creating and capturing value shifts from one-time sales to long-term partnerships.” It’s therefore no surprise that BCG report sees the defence sector prioritising the adoption of enterprise asset management (EAM) solutions in the next three years.

One step closer to ensuring 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—tracking asset readiness within the context of the mission they need to complete.

You can see this already in progress with the U.S. Navy’s Naval Operational Business Logistics Enterprise (NOBLE) project. The programme will eliminate over 700 database/application servers and consolidate over 23 currently isolated application systems—ultimately aiming to improve asset readiness both on a shore and material basis. As part of a support agreement for the NOBLE project, Lockheed Martin and IFS will deliver an intelligent maintenance solution that will help power digital transformation of multiple legacy systems into a single, fully modernised 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.

  • Maritime digitisation to manufacture and support naval systems is on the near-term horizon – digital shipyard investment will quintuple

My next prediction involves the digitisation 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 realise the value of digitising operations. ResearchAndMarkets data sees the digital shipbuilding sector poised for explosive growth—from $591.63 million in 2019 $2.7 billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 21.1%. This will be fuelled 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 lifecycle—in the design process and at the manufacturing plant. This means shipbuilders themselves will have to prioritise digital advancements in the coming years. Take IFS customer, Australia’s largest defence prime contractor, submarine and warship builder ASC, that recently announced a company-wide digital transformation programme. The comprehensive programme 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 optimised decision-making across the organisation. The ASC digital transformation programme will strengthen its enterprise resource planning system and introduce advanced technologies to enable its workforce and optimise 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 programme 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 organisations, industry players and software providers.

But in order to build a naval or maritime digital transformation programme, most organisations need a digital overhaul. They need an enterprise-breadth system that can do more than simply manage essential MRO or supply chain processes and optimise scarce resources and assets in isolation. They require a software system that’s agile enough to act on the increasing data volume and complexity to deliver quantifiable operational benefits.

  • Unmanned system usage will expand by one-third over the next decade – dedicated maintenance strategies must emerge

We’re looking further forward in my final prediction, into the world of unmanned systems and drones—which are increasing in use across land, air, and sea. There is a high degree of R&D investment planned in the unmanned systems sector going forward, drones in particular are 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, over 100 military organisations now have some form of drone capability—and a rising number now have 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.

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 ‘uncrewed’ aircraft can carry larger payloads with sensors for improved intelligence and reconnaissance or carry more fuel which allows for longer trips.

Drone maintenance and support questions to be answered

The key near-term area of focus I see with the inevitable growth of unmanned systems space is the sustainment of these military assets. As this is something military organisations 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 I’ve outlined in my first two predictions, with critical importance being placed on 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 to support sustainment now and into the future.

Closing the data gap

As military equipment and supporting technology development continues apace, this growing data disconnect will need to be a key focus point for all players in the defence ecosystem, including military operators, in-service support providers and OEMs themselves. Putting in place a powerful data backbone now, will be the key to military logistics success going forward.

Matt Medley
Matt Medley
In his current position as Industry Director, A&D Manufacturing, Matthew Medley ensures IFS solutions meet the demanding needs of defence service and support organisations, defence manufacturers and defence operators and helps bring these solutions to market.

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