For today’s military leaders, sustaining and modernizing aging platforms and weapons systems to extend lifecycle performance is essential. Sustainment begins the day a platform is fielded and evolves until its disposition. Therefore, planning for, developing, and executing an effective and affordable sustainment strategy is foundational to mission success.
All military platforms and systems undergo periodic maintenance or have parts replaced with new components to ensure they are safe and operate to their full capability and, in some cases, to add enhanced capability. This sustainment and modernization is critical for delivering uninterrupted operational readiness so the platform can achieve mission success.
The Mission is Mission Readiness
Northrop Grumman has provided sustainment and modernization support for numerous platforms and products for decades, delivering platform-agnostic lifecycle management, irrespective of the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) that deployed the technology. This support includes the platform itself, its components, subsystems, such as sensors, software and ground systems as well as the necessary training, tools and supporting equipment.
“Northrop Grumman is well-known as a leader in aerospace manufacturing, building and sustaining numerous advanced aircraft platforms, space and sensor systems,” says Michael Deavers, director, strategy, global sustainment and modernization, Northrop Grumman. “Our sustainment and modernization work actually covers a whole host of platforms and systems regardless of manufacturer to help our customers rapidly field capability and maintain readiness. Our tools, capabilities and investments are tailored around that.”
The company has decades of logistics and maintenance experience and is responsible for sustaining a wide range of military platforms and sensors across the world. The global sustainment and modernization group supports platforms from its own product portfolio – including the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber and high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft systems Global Hawk, Triton and Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator – as well as non-Northrop Grumman equipment such as the U.S. Air Force’s Boeing 707-derived E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) and the E-11A Bombardier that is equipped with the company’s Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) gateway system.
Northrop Grumman’s current sustainment programs also include the Royal Australian Air Force’s KC-30 and C-27J aircraft, and the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force’s Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) as well as RQ-4 Global Hawk international customers including the NATO and the Republic of Korea. “The sun never sets on our global sustainment and modernization work,” notes Robert Gamache, director, technology and engineering, Northrop Grumman.
Beyond the Aircraft
Northrop Grumman’s maintenance and sustainment work isn’t just limited to air platforms. The company also delivers a broad array of support for ground systems, shelters, and radars; support and test equipment; network infrastructures; mission planning and pilot training; and, more, that support these air systems and the missions they perform.
Despite the challenges of supporting a global footprint and regardless of the type of system supported or OEM, Gamache explains that one requirement remains constant for military leaders: maximum availability and affordability. “The correct decisions really need to be made in terms of forecasting, what's going to occur in the fleet or ground or weapons system, and getting people, parts and facilities all to line up at the right times at the right places. Unscheduled maintenance activities increase costs and downtime,” he says.
A Focus on Innovation
Northrop Grumman is leading the way in digital transformation, investing in technology innovation to deliver improvements in operational efficiency, performance and affordability. Engineers at the company are advancing predictive analytical tools that can forecast activities and shape maintenance programs to ensure they are always scheduled. This has resulted in the development of a technology known as Rapid Accelerated Concurrent Engineering of Repairs – or RACER™ – which produces a digital twin of parts in need of repair. “Extending the digital thread and maintaining a digital twin will help us manage that particular fleet in a way that maintains that prime metric, which is maximum availability for minimum costs,” said Gamache.
Northrop Grumman also is using technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to train maintainers so militaries don’t have to take down operational assets in order to train them or train pilots. Gamache and his team are also evolving a scalable, modular Digital Logistics Environment and set of tools and metrics to streamline and optimize how all product support elements are integrated, tracked and managed.
These efforts are enabling enhanced sustainment support on programs including the F-35 Lightning II, where affordability is a top priority, as well as with enduring domains such as Special Electronics Mission Aircraft (SEMA). In the current climate and owing to budgetary constraints, many militaries are choosing to sustain and modernize existing capabilities rather than recapitalize with brand new equipment.
“Sustainment and modernization are critical to extending investments and keeping U.S. and allied fleets flying,” concludes Gamache. “Our experience and expertise help to enable our customers’ platforms to perform at optimum levels for the long term.”
Learn more about Northrop Grumman’s global sustainment and modernization capabilities.