The British Army’s forthcoming Ajax family of vehicles have been designed to possess a high degree of commonality across variants to reduce the logistics and maintenance burden in the field. (UK MOD)

The military vehicle maintenance market is in a state of transition: The model that came into play over a decade of US-led combat operations in the Middle East was focused on keeping vehicle fleets that were often acquired under Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) programmes maintained.

For the US, and her allies deploying vehicles to the Afghan and Iraqi theatres, this saw the most urgent levels of Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) prioritised; servicing, day-to-day preparation, maintenance by replacement, and minor repair and modifications. Meanwhile, depth repair services, such as reconditioning, special modification, major conversions, reset or base overhauls, were delayed; often until vehicles returned from deployment.

Battle Damage

This took its toll on the vehicle fleets of US-led coalition forces. Following the draw-down of troops and equipment from operations in Afghanistan and Iraq in circa 2011, US and allied militaries turned their attention to resetting and overhauling vehicles that had seen deployment throughout these respective campaigns. Vehicles that had been acquired under disparate UORs, such as the Force Protection Mastiff, Ridgeback and Wolfhound Mine-Resistant/Ambush Protected vehicles that were acquired by the British Army to assist their deployment in Afghanistan, or that had been upgraded with new equipment throughout operations to different levels also needed to be brought up to a common standard. For example, BAE Systems ran a multi-year programme to reset United Defence/BAE Systems’ M2 Bradley family tracked Infantry Fighting Vehicles for the US Army between 2012 and 2014. The company was tasked with partially tearing down, rebuilding and testing each vehicle to restore capability and extend their service life. The level two reset, carried out at the Red River Army Depot in Texas, and BAE Systems sites across the US, saw key vehicle components removed for reset, then returned to the depot and BAE Systems for rebuild and testing. As part of this initiative, L-3 Communications was tasked with resetting the M2 Bradley fleet’s transmissions. 

US Army M-113 family tracked armoured personnel carriers are benefiting from a BAE Systems-led reset programme which is also adding new capabilities to these vehicles. (US DOD)

Meanwhile, in February 2010, the US Army awarded BAE Systems a contact modification worth $32 million to cover the rest of 417 United Defence/BAE Systems M-113 tracked armoured personnel carriers. A BAE Systems press release announcing the news detailed that the work would include the replacement of old and damaged components, and returning the vehicles to a “pre-combat condition.” The award of the February 2010 contract followed the award to the company, by the US Army, of a $91.4 million contract extension by the US Army in February 2008 to perform similar reset work on 1074 M-113s. The US Army took the opportunity of the M-113 reset work to also outfit these vehicles with new add-on armour and nuclear, biological and chemical warfare protection equipment, the company disclosed in a press release. Away from the M-113, BAE Systems has also received contracts to reset the US Army’s BAE Systems’ M-777 towed howitzers, collaborating with the force’s Anniston Army Depot in Alabama to this end. According to an official US Army statement, the reset effort includes the rebuilding of the gun’s recoil and hydraulic systems.

A substantial reset programme is also ongoing for the M-777 howitzers used by the US Army. This includes the rebuilding of the gun’s recoil and hydraulic systems. (US DOD)

Away from BAE Systems, Textron has been tasked to perform the reset of the firm’s M-1117 Guardian Armoured Security Vehicles used by the US Army’s Police Corps to reverse the effects of combat stress on the fleet while also giving the army the ability to apply vehicle survivability, safety and mobility enhancements, reports noted. An initial contract worth $4 million was awarded to Textron as part of a pilot programme to this end in October 2007, to cover the reset of an initial six vehicles. A further contract was awarded in 2008 worth $4.6 million covering twelve vehicles, with a further contract awarded by the US Army in October 2011 worth $19.8 million to cover the reset of 392 vehicles with two one-year options covering the reset of a further 225 examples.

Damage is evident on this M-1117 Guardian vehicle operated by the US Army. Extensively utilised by the force’s Police Corps, these vehicles are undergoing a major reset effort. (US DOD)

A new model

Similar reset work has been performed by allied militaries around the globe. The current focus of many armies is deciding what vehicle fleets in the coming decade will look like, and how they will be supported. This includes looking at the mix of uniformed and contactor personnel carrying out MRO work, considering new models for how vehicles can be supported in the most cost-effective manner possible, and putting into place processes that can cope with the operations which may involve Western militaries in the coming decades.

A major influencing factor when looking at how vehicle fleets will be supported in future is to consider what the military campaigns of the future are likely to look like. In the UK, defence commentators such as Professor Michael Clarke, the former director general of the Royal United Services Institute; a London-based think tank have used the term ‘strategic raiding’ to describe the short, sharp, quick tempo operations the UK government may focus on in the future, rather than the long, drawn out operations recently witnessed in the Middle East.

This model has already arguably begun to influence the types of vehicles that the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) is investing in, chiefly highly flexible, mobile, medium-to-light weight vehicles that can be easily supported in the field as opposed to heavy tracked vehicles with complex logistics support requirements. In this regard, the British Army’s forthcoming General Dynamics Ajax family of tracked armoured fighting vehicles, of which the force is expected to receive circa 589 examples in several variants between this year and 2019, according to UK MOD figures, is an instructive example. The Ajax variants feature a high degree of commonality, reducing their maintenance and logistics burden in the field. Such procurements are also spurring change in the way the MOD allocates support resources.

The British Army’s forthcoming Ajax family of vehicles have been designed to possess a high degree of commonality across variants to reduce the logistics and maintenance burden in the field. (UK MOD)

In January 2015 the UK MOD awarded Babcock International a ten year contract worth $1 billion for the maintenance of the British Army’s land vehicles. The contract was awarded as part of the sale of the land portion of the UK MOD’s Defence Support Group (DSG), which had been tasked with the MRO of British land and air materiel to Babcock for $170 million, and aims to “transform the way the army’s vehicles are maintained, repaired and stored,” according to an official UK MOD press release announcing the news. According to the announcement, Babcock will be responsible for the maintenance, repair, overhaul, key engineering and fleet management, and storage of vehicles and light weapons in the army’s fleet to optimise availability.

The handover of the services performed by DSG to a private company is expected to generate significant savings over the life of the contract, estimated at around $606.8 million over the contract’s term; deliver value for money for the MOD, and allow MOD resources to focus on operations, rather than support, the UK MOD press release continues. The UK MOD continued that the DSG land business staff have transferred to Babcock, and the company is leading an improvement programme over several years in order to optimise the output performance of the business, giving the DSG the potential to provide vehicle maintenance to other existing heavy vehicle customers which it was unable to do while owned by the UK MOD. According to the UK MOD Babcock is already working to identify commercial opportunities for the DSG elsewhere within the Babcock Group.

Babock adds that around 50000 vehicles; or thirty percent of the UK MOD’s vehicle inventory, are supported by Babcock, including the army’s 14000 strong so-called ‘white’ fleet, including vehicles such as coaches and cranes, alongside armoured vehicles. The firm adds that the support model is based around ensuring asset availability and efficiency, covering vehicle procurement and rental assets, while providing services including maintenance, repair, breakdown recovery assistance and incident management. Babcock also works with Amey under the ALC joint venture on the UK MOD’s Construction Vehicle (‘C-Vehicle’) capability. Under the terms of this initiative, ALC provides the UK MOD with construction and field mechanical handling equipment operated by the Royal Engineers and Royal Logistics Corps, both constituent parts of the British Army, the joint venture has articulated. Under a fifteen year $728.6 million Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract that will run until 2020, the former UK MOD legacy C-Vehicle fleet of some 4000 assets was purchased by ALC, with the exception of some specialist militarised equipment, and is being replaced with a significantly smaller fleet (around 2100) of commercial specification.

British Army platforms such as this BAE Systems FV-4034 Challenger-II Main Battle Tank will benefit from new MRO arrangements which the UK MOD has concluded with the private sector. (Rheinmetall)

Under the terms of the initiative, ALC is responsible for ensuring optimal use of the fleet, providing global visibility of the fleet’s availability through a management information system operated within the defence information infrastructure. Moreover, it provides training, technical publications and commercial equipment to optimise the fleet holding, spares provision and inventory management. This contracting for availability approach is a big shift with big benefits for the customer as it takes the work of vehicle MRO out of the UK MOD’s hands and ensures that the latter has access to the vehicles they need when they need them in a cost-effective way.

A Growing Market

Integrating private sector innovation and know-how with core military activities allows defence ministries and departments to more accurately see how effectively services are being provided, and puts the onus on industry to deliver a service that can be measured in order to maximise cost-effectiveness and channel resources to areas where they are most needed. This shift toward contracting industry for military support requirements is also driving significant growth in the global armoured vehicle MRO market. In its Global Armoured Vehicles and MRO Market 2016-2026 report, Strategic Defence Intelligence (SDI), a London-based research firm, estimated that the market, valued at $22.5 billion in 2016, will grow to reach $32.4 billion by 2026. Within this market, SDI expects the infantry fighting vehicle segment to be the best performer with 32.2 percent of the market share, with main battle tanks (25.8 percent) and armoured personnel carriers (17.4 percent) following behind. Growth, the report argues, is being driven by the requirements of international conflicts and insurgency, and vehicle modernisation and acquisition programmes being undertaken by armed forces across the globe.

Industry is developing new and innovative ways to approach the readiness challenge. One area of development is using virtual reality headsets and ‘Google Glass’ type glasses hat can give technicians a simulated x-ray vision for maintenance and repair work. These systems work by overlaying computer graphics and diagrams over the wearer’s natural field of vision to show what components need attention, how they can be accessed and fitted. Companies including NGRAIN, Fieldbit and Accenture have developed these smart glass type systems with an eye to using computer-aided design to simplify logistics and maintenance processes in the industrial sector, with agencies such as the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) showing interest in applying the technology to the military sector.

Elsewhere, researchers at Purdue University’s Centre for Systems Integrity in Indiana, working with Honeywell and the US Army, has developed a ‘diagnostic cleat’, a speed bump-type system that contains sensors that military vehicles can be driven over to detect damage to critical suspension components. The idea is to help operators save time and maintenance costs by identifying damage before it leads to failure in the field.

HUMS

During the Eurosatory defence exhibition held in Paris in June 2016, Thales and Soframe launched a new service product designed to optimise military vehicle fleet management called MILFLEET. The set of fleet management services offered by MILFLEET is based on predictive maintenance concepts made possible by the increased digitisation of the latest generation of military vehicles. The service ensures that the right vehicles are available in the right place at the right time and in the best possible configuration for the customer. Platform-agnostic, MILFLEET provides an optimal vehicle support organisation with individualised management and maintenance of vehicle equipment and systems tailored to the exact requirements of each customer. A Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) collects data from embedded in-vehicle sensors to allow predictive maintenance and detect and rectify potential faults before they occur.

HUMS has become a central aspect of effective MRO for platforms deployed across the battlefield, and increasingly new generation platforms with high levels of digitisation are having the monitoring capabilities built in from the design stage. In addition to recording the status and operation of mobile platforms, sensors can measure operational conditions, performance parameters and system status. Originally developed for the helicopter market, ground vehicles are increasingly benefiting from this technology. For example, the UK MOD selected General Dynamics’ UK division to supply British Army vehicles with Systems Information Exploitation/HUMs (SIE/HUMS) devices. Delivered in 2012, the system is designed to optimise availability and minimise maintenance via the monitoring of a vehicle’s systems.

Meanwhile, the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL), headquartered in Maryland, is exploring technologies that replace time-scheduled maintenance with a process used to repair parts and systems only when they need to be fixed, removed and replaced. Known as Condition Based Monitoring (CBM), this approach gives the army a more effective way of knowing when a part or component is in trouble. When matured, the science will be used to diagnose problems, predict the potential failure of those parts and determine their remaining useful life. The research involves developing analysis technology to translate data from existing sensor capabilities. The CBM approach sees sensors placed strategically around the platform which then generate critical information, such as vibration levels or damage characteristics, that are recorded in real time by the HUMS device. This data is then analysed by the maintainer to determine the condition of the components being monitored.

In 2014 the UK MOD announced that it will seek a next-generation HUMS system to fit to approximately 3000 vehicles (potentially rising to 5000) in its fleet consisting of 15 different types with sub variants. The UK MOD has stipulated that the HUMS-Next Generation (HUMS-NG) system must enable the collection of system data through automated processes that do not require human intervention, manipulation or manual data input, with the HUMS-NG provider to provide analysis of this data to allow the user to make timely through-life fleet management decisions.

Taking this to the next level, the concept of predicting component failure weeks or even months in advance is gaining traction in the MRO market. GE has developed a system called SmartSignal that goes beyond the basic HUMS capability that uses algorithms to monitor equipment behaviour in order to identify impending failures early and provide actionable notifications. The idea is that such technology can reduce maintenance costs and damage to critical equipment in order to keep operations safe and productive, essentially helping the user avoid unplanned downtime on assets.

Modernising Readiness

The US Army is currently in the process of rolling out new capabilities as part of its Logistics Modernisation Programme (LMP) via the LMP Increment-2 initiative. The LMP is responsible for enabling Army Material Command (AMC) readiness, providing business processes and advanced capabilities that track and manage production and MRO orders at Lifecycle Management Commands, depots, arsenals, and ammunition plants. As part of the LMP, the commercial off-the-shelf integrated Enterprise Resource Planning system manages the process of delivering items and equipment from the home-front to soldiers in the field faster and more efficiently than predecessor systems.

Under the LMP Increment-2 implementation, the LMP architecture will expand. As an example, the typical overhaul work on an army platform can require around 30000 pages of documentation, whereas LMP Increment 2 will see most of that paper replaced with technology, including the use of handheld tablets that support automation. Key to the system is its ability to predict what materiel will be required when and where to support mission requirements. With the final wave of LMP Increment-2 rolled out in June 2015, the army has since reported that readiness has improved, and the AMC’s ability to forecast materiel requirements has increased by 20 percent, while the US Army’s TACOM (Tank and Automotive Command) Life Cycle Management Command, and Aviation and Missile Command have improved item forecasting rates by 6.5 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively. While the army notes that these percentages may seem small: “the multiplier is the hundreds of millions of dollars these commands use to manufacture and remanufacture tanks, helicopters, and other major end items and equipment used by soldiers,” notes an army publication discussing the LMP programme. Looking ahead the army expects further benefits to its overall readiness posture, with the improvements set to optimise force readiness through enhanced equipment tracking and management, balancing the army’s steady state missions, contingency response capability, and available resources, which all rely on the equipment and materiel managed and tracked by the LMP.

The most marked change in the MRO sector at present is the shift from providing a reactive response to a predictive and preventative service. The key to minimising downtime for vehicle fleets is to know in advance what issues have to be dealt with, planning that work by having the right materiel in the right place at the right time, and giving users as much information as possible on how best to manage fleets to maximise availability and minimise costs.