Sustain internally, outsource the whole job—or recognize that, as complex as artillery systems are these days, few organizations have all of the expertise needed to sustain them. So two Army commands, two Marine Corps commands and a major defense contractor collaborate to sustain the U.S. howitzer fleet.
by Mr. Christopher Hatch
Sustaining towed artillery platforms for the Army, U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) and allied customers is one of the challenges the Program Executive Office (PEO) for Ammunition’s Program Management Office for Towed Artillery Systems (PM TAS) faces on a daily basis. As the life-cycle manager for the M777A2 and M119A3 howitzer systems, as well as survey equipment, PM TAS continuously evaluates sustainment strategies to find the right balance to achieve the ultimate goal: operational availability.
Modern weapon systems rely on advanced technology, materials, electronics and software to meet warfighter requirements. Gone are the days when one organization could sustain such systems alone. DOD recognized this in 2009, requiring program managers (PMs) for acquisition category I (ACAT I) and PMs with multiple products to have product support managers who are specially trained to orchestrate sustainment. PM TAS takes an enterprise approach to managing sustainment, leveraging the strengths of organic and contractor organizations.
While the M119A3 primarily uses a traditional organic sustainment strategy, the M777A2 uses a hybrid, relying on both organic organizations and contractors, with a performance-based life-cycle sustainment (PBLCS) strategy approved by the USMC and the Army acquisition executive (AAE).
PM TAS prides itself on its hands-on approach to engineering and sustainment, working directly with the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) and the original equipment manufacturers to develop and support the systems we manage. While ARDEC’s Benét Laboratories at Watervliet Arsenal, New York, is well known for its expertise on cannon systems, not as many people are familiar with the organic expertise found at ARDEC for the digital fire control systems (DFCS) on the M777A2 and M119A3.
While the original M777A2 DFCS was developed by industry, the software required to operate the system was developed in-house by ARDEC’s software lab, level 5 certified under the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) process improvement program. The knowledge gained in developing the system-level software, and having full intellectual property rights, has allowed the PM to use a different approach while addressing obsolescence and refresh of the systems’ aging electronic line replaceable units (LRUs). LRUs include items like computers, displays and power supplies. PM TAS is using a “breakout strategy,” breaking out each individual LRU and developing specifications and competitively procuring each of them using the Army Contracting Command – New Jersey’s (ACC-NJ) expertise to ensure best value, which is critical in an environment of declining budgets.
These strategies not only lower costs through competition, but further reduce them by eliminating the additional layer of costs from a prime system contractor. There is no free lunch, as this approach does increase the need for internal staff. However, developing organic, in-house expertise that can be used on multiple platforms pays long-term benefits as electronics obsolescence and refresh of aging components are two of the largest cost drivers in sustainment. With systems expected to last up to 50 years, the electronics may undergo four or five refresh cycles during a system’s life cycle.
PM TAS and the Fires Center of Excellence (Fort Sill, Oklahoma) are now using the lessons learned from these efforts in the development of strategies for the next generation of survey equipment. The existing, legacy system uses proprietary, contactor-developed software. One of the strategies under consideration is government-owned software that would enable the PM to develop a systems architecture and compete the individual LRUs that constitute the system. This will not only save initial procurement costs, but pay long-term dividends in sustainment.
SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT
Another key to operational availability is delivering the right parts at the right time to the warfighter. The M119A3 program uses a traditional organic system with TACOM providing all spare parts to support demand from the field and the Anniston Army Depot (ANAD), Alabama. PM TAS works with TACOM to identify high-demand items and has several active redesign efforts to improve system reliability, which will increase operational availability while reducing the demand for spare parts. One such effort is a major redesign of the recoil system, whose main function is to absorb and control the rearward movement of the cannon and return it to its original firing position. The recoil system, and the spare components required to maintain it, were identified as a significant cost driver in sustaining the M119A3. Working with PM TAS, engineers at ARDEC simplified many of the system’s components while reducing the total part count, resulting in a more reliable, easier and less costly system to maintain. (See “Adapting Artillery,” Page 32, Army AL&T magazine, October – December 2014.)
The M777A2 PBLCS strategy uses a competitively awarded firm fixed-price contract with BAE Systems to provide unique spares as well as various engineering and logistics support activities. These activities include tracking part requisitions and collecting reliability data from the field to identify opportunities to reduce operational costs. A life-cycle cost model was developed and is used to give the government return-on-investment data so the PM can make data-driven decisions. Sometimes the analysis results in redesign of components while other times just a change in maintenance strategy will reduce support costs. The Defense Logistics Agency and TACOM, which is the primary inventory-control activity, provide the spares. A key tenet of the PBLCS approach is end-to-end supply chain management of spares (vs. stockpiling) to achieve defined delivery metrics developed to achieve high operational availability. Under the terms of this contract, BAE Systems owns the spares until delivery, so the government does not have to fund the “iron mountain” of spares that risk excessive stockpiling or obsolescence.
In 2008, PM TAS conducted a business-case analysis to support the services’ approval of the PBLCS strategy. The analysis estimated an initial $109 million cost avoidance from the establishment of an organic pipeline. The warfighter achieved an additional $7 million per year in cost avoidance, as competing the contract resulted in lower spare parts cost for a total cost avoidance of $179 million over the potential 10-year period of performance for this contract. The contractor is evaluated annually on multiple areas of performance, including spare parts delivery, and awarded subsequent one-year award terms (up to a 10-year maximum duration) if they meet performance metrics. This contract is currently in its third year of performance, and operational availability has consistently exceeded 90 percent.
A TEAM APPROACH
Soldiers and Marines perform all field- and sustainment-level maintenance to organically maintain and support both howitzer systems. ANAD and Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow (California) perform depot-level maintenance for the Army and Marine Corps respectively. The depots rely on the organic supply chain for M119A3 parts and the hybrid (organic and contractor) supply chain for M777A2 parts.
Originally, the M777A2 PBLCS contract did not include metrics for unique parts being delivered to the depots. Seeing the benefits to depot workflow planning, TACOM and Marine Corps Systems Command have worked with PM TAS to include these metrics as part of the performance measures under the PBLCS contract.
The M777A2 has been in service since 2005, and recently workers at ANAD found several cracked cradles, a major structural component fabricated from thin-wall titanium, on howitzers undergoing routine overhaul. While these particular howitzers had seen extensive use in Afghanistan, the entire fleet was at potential risk. In response, TACOM released a maintenance advisory message requiring all M777A2 cradles to have an external visual inspection, and the Marine Corps released a Naval message to the same effect. In addition to the external visual inspection, PM TAS conducted internal inspections of the suspect areas using endoscopic equipment, much like doctors use to perform internal examinations on patients, as this method can detect small stress indicators before they propagate into cracks. Under the PBLCS contract, BAE is also part of the team performing metallurgical analysis, establishing condemnation criteria and developing repair options. All of this information is critical to developing the coordinated fleet-wide repair strategy, ensuring continued operational availability for the fleet.
As part of initial fielding, PM TAS provides operator and maintainer new equipment training to Soldiers and Marines. PM TAS, in concert with ARDEC and the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation (PEO STRI), is developing and fielding a suite of training aids, devices, simulations and simulators (TADSS) for the M777A2 and M119A3 towed howitzers. The purpose of these products is to provide operators and maintainers tools to maintain their proficiency on their assigned platforms. The importance of TADSS products has increased with shrinking training budgets as well as the number of nonstandard missions that Soldiers and Marines perform in the current threat environment.
The TADSS suite being fielded includes individual training products for the section chief and various crew members, as well as crew-level products whereby laptops are linked together to provide a collective training capability with multiple crew members operating a single virtual howitzer. The PM is also fielding a classroom version of these products at specific Army and USMC locations.
All these products are based on the howitzers’ tactical software, providing a realistic experience to the user, and will be updated as the M777A2 and M119A3 DFCS software is updated. With ARDEC developing and maintaining the DFCS software and TADSS products, the government retains full rights for the update of products and can also use them to train Soldiers and Marines when new DFCS software is released.
The value of these approaches is reflected in the interest allied nations have expressed in joining the M777A2 sustainment contract. Australia and Canada have been actively monitoring sustainment performance as part of a memorandum of understanding signed in 2012. The Navy International Programs Office has negotiated and is staffing a project arrangement that would allow allied participation under the PBLCS contract. Allied participation would save the United States a projected $1 million annually.
These approaches are not without obstacles as they have met resistance under the traditional Army budget and funding process. The current Army funding process has sustainment funding flow through the U.S. Army Materiel Command, which has the latitude to redistribute funding according to changing priorities during the year of execution. A PBLCS approach requires funding to flow to the PM at the start of the fiscal year so the strategy can be successfully executed. The Army is currently evaluating the value of PBLCS strategies while developing the process for funding PBLCS in a system traditionally geared to organic support.
In spite of these funding challenges, PM TAS’ innovations and performance are getting noticed. The assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology is using the M777A2 experience with PBLCS to develop a pilot template of how it measures sustainment for ACAT I programs (M777A2 is ACAT II). The goal is to establish metrics for various sustainment elements with program assessments, called operational sustainment reviews, conducted every five years.
Just as our weapon systems require technology innovations to stay one step ahead of our adversaries, the way we sustain systems requires a fresh approach to ensure that we provide our warfighters the systems they need in an evolving threat environment.
For more information on PM TAS products, go to http://www.pica.army.mil/peoammo/.
MR. CHRISTOPHER HATCH is the PM TAS deputy program manager. He holds an M.S. in the management of technology from Stevens Institute of Technology and a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Manhattan College. He is Level III certified in program management, Level II certified in system engineering and a member of the Army Acquisition Corps.
This article was originally published in the April – June 2016 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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