When manufacturers/suppliers for key military system components cease providing needed items or raw materials, the weapon systems our country depends on for national security are put at risk. Thus, diminishing manufacturing sources and material shortages (DMSMS)—the loss or impending loss of manufacturers/suppliers of items or raw materials—is becoming an increasingly relevant issue for the U.S. military as weapon systems age.
Challenge—Keeping Aging Weapon Systems in the Fight
Since the mid-1980s, the military has faced growing challenges with DMSMS for several reasons. First, after the Cold War, the Department of Defense began to relax requirements for custom-made mil-spec weapon system parts, which were held to more stringent performance standards than commercial products, and turned instead to commercially available components.
Over the years, these commercial-grade components have begun to fail, but because they are no longer manufactured, the military must find ways to replace them. In addition, rapid advances in technology and the development of more sophisticated systems have compounded the military’s DMSMS challenges because systems are becoming obsolete much more quickly. On top of that, the explosive growth of the commercial computer and communications industries has left DoD in a position of far less influence in the electronic components marketplace. As a result, DoD weapon system sustainment is increasingly dependent on commercial components and is thus threatened by obsolescence.
To keep DoD’s weapon systems functioning, the military needs to take a proactive DMSMS management approach by identifying issues early while there is still time to budget, plan and implement resolutions—in essence, solving obsolescence problems before they have an impact. An efficient proactive DMSMS-mitigation process is critical to providing effective, affordable and operationally ready systems by increasing availability and supportability. In order to accomplish this obsolescence management, efforts need to consider each of the following areas:
- Supply support—available inventory and demand data COTS product availability—component-level availability of commercial-grade parts
- Obsolescence impact—the effect of component-driven obsolescence issues on weapon systems
- Readiness drivers—failure rates, repair time metrics, etc.
- End of support date—the date when the weapon system will be unsustainable due to obsolescence issues.
This proactive approach uses current, complete and accurate technical data to continuously monitor weapon systems’ obsolescence status over time and to predict the end of support date based on these parameters.
An essential aspect of this proactive DMSMS management approach is conducting integrated multi-platform assessments of obsolescence issues across all DoD weapon system platforms so that obsolescence can be identified, evaluated and resolved based on an understanding of the portfolio of weapon systems. Since defense weapon systems fielded in the same time frame frequently rely on many of the same components, an obsolescence issue in one system can often be tied to a component used in other systems. As such, the military can realize economies of scale by identifying and solving issues across related platforms, thus reducing duplication of effort and cost.
Implementing this multi-platform approach to DMSMS management requires an integrated system to analyze and predict component issues across the bill of materials for all related weapon system platforms as well as a system to prioritize work based on military exigency. The process also requires a synergistic effort between representatives from the program office, engineering, logistics, the Defense Logistics Agency, the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or third-party supplier, and any other organizational representatives who will help manage the process. With these DMSMS management systems in place and strong collaboration between relevant stakeholders, the resulting critical parts support will increase weapon system availability, lower sustainment costs, and increase the military’s war fighting capability.
Analysis from multiple third-party sources provides a wider scope and a more objective review of weapon system obsolescence issues. There are a number of cases demonstrating that when the platform/system OEM conducts the analysis, the resolution recommendations tend to be heavily weighted to redesign, resulting in a much larger cost.
As noted in the DMSMS Guidebook of Best Practices published by the Defense Standardization Program Office in August 2012, significant cost avoidance can be achieved through independent DMSMS monitoring and surveillance. In one case, for example, an aircraft OEM recommended a radar system upgrade to overcome obsolescence issues; however, an independent third-party analysis revealed an alternative resolution that avoided more than $300 million in costs over a 10-year period.
As this example shows, the most cost-effective approach to weapon system sustainment often comes in the form of impartial third-party recommendations provided to the government as non-proprietary data.
Further, since systematic independent DMSMS analysis produces a comprehensive description of weapon system sustainment issues, the government needs to have complete and unrestricted data rights to the results of these independent assessment efforts.
Preparing for Tomorrow
Over the past 30 years, a lack of appropriate planning for parts obsolescence has caused DoD to spend more of its budget trying to find solutions for aging systems, leaving less money for modernizing the force with new weapon system procurements.
The time has come to stop stove-piping processes by addressing DMSMS issues using a proactive multi-platform approach and by prioritizing DMSMS challenges based on their impact to national security. Each challenge needs to be addressed and resolved exactly once, leveraging the military’s investment, maximizing precious defense dollars and freeing up money for new weapon systems. ♦
Scott D. Royse is vice president-national security and defense programs, NCI Inc.
- Issue: 10
- Volume: 7