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Smart, mobile and wearable: The next generation of defense technology maintenance systems

Embracing digital defence technology to support a modern military

Overview

Today’s aircraft, warships and tanks increasingly feature cutting-edge monitoring sensors that allow greater awareness of equipment condition and performance.

However, many defense maintenance systems supporting these assets haven’t kept pace. As a result, valuable capabilities are wasted and productivity-sapping demands are placed on crews. Of greater concern, military leaders can be left with an alarmingly deficient view of mission readiness.

By incorporating five digital attributes, the next generation of defense maintenance systems can streamline operations and aid decision-making to better support a modern military.

Background

As the nature of modern conflicts has evolved, so too have military assets and defense technology. Aircraft, warships and land fighting vehicles increasingly incorporate cutting-edge defense technology management and monitoring systems that allow greater awareness of equipment condition and performance.

Antiquated processes on antiquated systems
However, behind the scenes, these sophisticated military assets are often supported by outdated defense technology maintenance systems. These lumbering systems largely emulate yesteryear’s paper-based, form-driven approach, putting productivity-sapping demands on maintenance crews.

Military assets wasted
Added to this, defense technology maintenance systems haven’t kept pace with the advances of military assets. As a result valuable capabilities of highly expensive assets are not being fully utilized.

Deficient view of mission readiness
Aside from the productivity implications, there is a greater concern. The limited, outdated information that today’s systems offer can leave military leaders with an alarmingly deficient view of mission-readiness.

Analysis

By focusing on the business objectives and incorporating digital technologies, the next generation of maintenance systems can help defense to radically improve capabilities and performance. These systems will have five key attributes:

  1. Role- and Asset-driven
    Rather than being form-driven, the next generation of defense technology maintenance systems will be role- and asset-driven ─ built with the business objective and user experience at their core. In doing this, defense maintenance can realise more efficient business processes in a modern, digital-enabled environment. The new intuitiveness would streamline operations and increase equipment availability, while reducing training requirements and input errors.

  2. Built for Analytics
    Maintenance data is rarely available organization-wide to provide more strategic value, and this needs to change. By designing a defense technology maintenance system with analytics in mind, defense can create a data supply chain that flows easily and usefully across the organization. This can provide insights ranging from the condition of a single item of equipment, to the availability of a fleet, to the preparedness of an entire force.

  3. Mobile-first environment
    While mobile devices have crept into today’s defense technology maintenance environment, they often provide on-the-go access to existing applications ─ only embedding the form-led processes from which we need to evolve. 

    Tomorrow’s systems will be designed mobile first, leveraging the cloud and wearable technology. The benefits of this are already being seen in the aviation industry. Japan Airlines engineers recently wore Google Glass to transmit aircraft images to maintenance specialists. The specialists were then able to feed any issues back to the engineer on the ground, assessing far more aircraft than if on site.
  1. Single device, multiple apps
    As seen in the consumer and business space, apps on mobile devices can open up endless new possibilities for accessing information and streamlining tasks. Apps that present context-sensitive information specific to the task at hand, based on the user’s location or job function, are being successfully deployed by logistics firms. Location-aware delivery apps used by DHL automatically bring up a delivery confirmation screen on a driver’s mobile device on reaching their drop-off destination, simplifying and accelerating the task.

  2. Support self-diagnosing assets
    Equipment manufacturers are increasingly building self-diagnostics capabilities into their products to monitor performance and flag potential problems. Similar functionality is appearing in military assets. The Joint Strike Fighter features a host of sensors that can automatically transmit condition and usage information back to base when flying overhead, advising of core system health and performance.

Recommendations

Far from being ‘nice to haves’, these five attributes are rapidly becoming essential. It’s clear that, to effectively service a modern military and its assets, defense technology maintenance systems need to evolve.

As a backdrop to this, many defense spending reviews are seeking ways to implement more flexible and responsive maintenance support arrangements to make optimum use of people and assets.

The answer to both lies in embracisang digital and its transformative capabilities.