Sustainment is a vital element of any product’s lifecycle. Keeping systems operational and mission ready requires a Digital Logistics Environment (DLE) — an ecosystem of applications, tools and practices that utilize innovative digital capabilities to manage and track key elements of the sustainment system and operational support pipeline.
“Aircraft and weapons systems lifecycles are increasingly extended far beyond anything ever anticipated, and sustainment costs are on the rise,” said Kenn Todorov, vice president and general manager, sustainment and modernization, Northrop Grumman. “At Northrop Grumman, we’re making investments in innovative technology and digital sustainment tools to enhance operational efficiency, forecasting, performance and affordability — and ultimately improve mission and warfighter readiness.”
Planners consider a multitude of data to customize and deliver successful sustainment support at the right time and place. To make informed decisions, each support function has to communicate and share data, so all team members have a timely, coherent picture of what is happening to the platform.
“There is a lot of data that needs to flow in order to enable sustainment,” said Philip Hammar, system architect and technical fellow, Northrop Grumman. Scheduled maintenance, condition-based maintenance, the supply chain and the availability of qualified personnel, along with data validating those qualifications — all need to be tracked and coordinated. “Digital information and analytics help you understand what's going on so you can be ready to execute the mission.”
Model-based digital engineering and innovative technologies are also changing how legacy systems are maintained, repaired, overhauled and upgraded now for the future to ensure mission readiness. Aging platforms naturally carry more maintenance program execution risk, as modifications and repairs made over that lifecycle may have altered the original configuration, making it challenging to conform to standard service requirements.
“Through the application of model-based engineering and digital technologies, we can rapidly create digital twins of parts in need of repair, for example,” said Marc McChesney, systems engineer and technical fellow, Northrop Grumman. “This helps us accurately diagnose the issue and develop a rapid and robust solution at a more affordable cost.”
An integrated digital environment also enables planners to take a model-based approach to sustainment. The model can be used to spell out policies around what needs to happen and when, define certifications needed among sustainment personnel and organize the movement of parts and materials.
By tracking and providing real-time information, a DLE helps teams update their models as demand changes. This optimizes the entire support ecosystem to deliver greater value at less cost. This is especially helpful in supporting sustainment of legacy systems, where replacement parts may be increasingly hard to come by.
“Using a DLE also allows the people who are running the program to spend more time doing the things that humans are really good at doing,” Hammar said. “When you are working close to capacity and there's a problem — where there's a change in op-tempo or some resource conflict — it takes a human to balance that in order to have those assets ready. With automation and other digital tools, the experts are free to focus more of their energies on those kinds of problems.”
Northrop Grumman's sophisticated enterprise intelligence and reporting tools tie all this together on the back end. These analytics capabilities give military planners the insights they need to support greater transparency and accountability because they can see the correlations, how data in one function relates to data in another area.
“With enterprise intelligence tools, they can look across the whole of the problem, the maintenance activities and the maintenance program itself,” Hammar said. “Then they can see the trends that might indicate where there is an opportunity to re-engineer something, to change the instructions or change how they run the supply chain that makes it more efficient at the point of service, where they're actually delivering the sustainment to the platform.”
With greater transparency, planners can get ahead of sustainment. They can leverage digital tools to make preemptive decisions, drive predictive activities and add a higher level of resilience to mission-critical and time-sensitive sustainment activities. These capabilities deliver the transparency, efficiency and performance needed to increase aircraft availability and enable mission success. For additional information about how Northrop Grumman is harnessing integrated digital technologies to sustain value-driven solutions, visit Northrop Grumman.