Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Depot Dearth

Why do we seem to have such a problem keeping an eye on the unsexy but important? Isn't one of the cornerstones of a mature professional to know the importance of keeping a long view on the hard work needed in the background to keep the marquee shiny-sexy objects functioning?

Especially when money gets tight or the pressures of the now ratchet up, there is a temptation for the short-sighted to sacrifice long-term viability for today's green bubble on the PPT. We saw this in spades during the "Peace Dividend" era of the 1990s and again in a slower way once the Long War kicked off.

There is a lot of ruin in a navy, and deep decay can take root for a long time until it finally undermines the structural strength of its host. So it is, it seems, with depot level maintenance.

On the Surface side of the house, one of the big takeaways on the latent causes of the WESTPAC incidents of 2017 was that our ships were not getting the depot level support they needed. As a result, ship's company was doing depot level work - in addition to the work they already had to do. As humans only have 24-hrs a day, you can figure out the rest.

As we are reading more and more, we have a long-standing readiness problem on the aviation side of the house as well. Is it part of the same myopia?

The GAO is on the hunt. See if you can spot a pattern.

How bad is it?
This report is a public version of a sensitive report that we issued on April 25, 2018.7 The sensitive report included an objective related to the trends in aircraft availability. DOD deemed some of the information, such as aircraft availability, not mission capable status, number of aircraft in depots, and budgeted and executed flight hours, to be sensitive (i.e., For Official Use Only), which must be protected from public disclosure. This public report omits the information that DOD deemed to be sensitive. Although the information provided in this report is more limited, it addresses the same objectives and uses the same methodology as the sensitive report.

Why is depot level maintenance so important?
Depot-level maintenance occurs less frequently but requires greater skills. Specifically, depot maintenance is an action performed on materiel or software in the conduct of inspection, repair, overhaul, or modification or rebuild of end items, assemblies, subassemblies, and parts that, among other things, requires extensive industrial facilities, specialized tools and equipment, or uniquely experienced and trained personnel that are not available in other maintenance activities. Depot maintenance is independent of any location or funding source and may be performed in the public or private sectors.
Legacy systems are needed now and in the near future for when a war does or does not show up. Why are these problems so bad, and can more resources to depot level maintenance help?

Sadly, it appears no one knows.
Without clarity about whether the DOD instruction and the Navy guidance apply to legacy systems, program officials will not know whether they are required to have a sustainment strategy or are required to update the plan for their respective fixed-wing aircraft. Furthermore, the program offices, the services, and DOD may not have full visibility of necessary requirements to document program objectives, related risks, and the effectiveness of the program, ultimately jeopardizing the sustainability and affordability of each of the programs.
In absence of metrics, this is when you have to rely on experience and factual judgement.

While the bean counters work to get the right number, can a reasonable person assume that more support for depots now would result in better availability?


So, let's do that and then adjust later if needed. History is losing patience with us.

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