Shaun Q Morris
Lt Gen, USAF, Program Executive Officer, Rapid Sustainment Office, US Air Force
Data to Decisions
The United States Air Force (USAF) Rapid Sustainment Office (RSO) was established with a sustainment-centric focus to leverage both mature and emerging technologies to dramatically improve USAF readiness and warfighter capabilities. Organized with a non-traditional Air Force construct based on agile principles and a short chain of command, the RSO pioneers innovative, cost-effective sustainment technologies and tools that keep the Air Force fleet flying. The RSO identifies emerging technologies, applies and validates them through rapid prototyping, then deploys and scales the successful technologies over time. Moving technology from one phase to another is an impressive feat that showcases the RSO’s ability to rapidly deploy emerging technologies.
Sustainment is one of the biggest and most complex challenges in modern military history. Not simply aircraft maintenance, its reach goes much further into supply, transportation, sustaining engineering, data management, human systems, and safety considerations. Sustainment is multi-faceted and complex with two primary and often competing goals of increasing equipment availability while reducing operations and sustainment costs. Since 70 percent of the cost of an Air Force system is expended to sustain its operation, it is vital to seek and develop novel technologies and processes that drive down costs.
To actively address these objectives, the RSO focuses on rapidly identifying promising technologies and sustainment process improvements, prototyping and verifying their utility and application, and deploying those that demonstrate the ability to increase readiness across the Air Force enterprise.
Through collaborative partnerships across business, government and academia, the RSO pushes the boundaries on scaling innovative and proven technologies that will make Airmen safer and their jobs more efficient, reduce costs and increase mission readiness at an accelerated speed.
The RSO has spearheaded more than 30 projects since launching in 2018, focusing on six technology areas: artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced manufacturing, automation and robotics, data and digital environments, AR/VR, and rapid and austere maintenance environments.
After a successful inaugural Pitch Day in 2018, the RSO awarded one of its seventeen prototype contracts to C3 AI to target use cases such as predictive maintenance and multi-domain command & control. RSO’s Condition-Based Maintenance Plus (CBM+) Program Office has used C3 AI to deploy an AI-based predictive maintenance application to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of USAF maintenance processes. Using this solution, applications forecast remaining life and proactively remove high-risk components before failure, reducing the impact of unscheduled maintenance events resulting from a failure and increasing aircraft availability. RSO will expand this technology to an additional 20+ USAF aircraft platforms over the next several months. This solution is now a platform of choice for the USAF to increase aircraft availability and drive digital transformation across the enterprise through the advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities.
Successful implementation of artificial intelligence has reduced unscheduled maintenance and facilitated a digital flight-line. CBM+ has streamlined maintenance operations, optimized the supply chain, and improved asset generation and fleet awareness.
CBM+ enables more efficient weapon system sustainment by transforming sustainment data into valuable knowledge about the condition of components on weapon systems. This new knowledge enables USAF maintenance organizations to optimize maintenance plans and ensure that asset health can meet mission needs.
The CBM+ program to digitally transform sustainment practices by deploying machine learning and advanced analytics to support enhanced reliability-centered maintenance has the potential to save over $5.5B when fully implemented across the USAF aircraft fleet. Over 14.5TBs of maintenance data and supply records have been ingested from 6 separate systems of record. The B1-B maintenance data alone comprised 500GBs of data. Expected results include reducing unscheduled maintenance downtime, increasing the mission-capable rate to 80%, reducing sustainment costs, reducing unnecessary scheduled downtime, and providing capacity for prioritized predictive maintenance.
As of March 2021, the CBM+ program has fielded solutions for 12 aircraft platforms and are onboarding 9 more, actively monitoring over 3000 aircraft. Over 550 maintenance units have been trained and saved a collective 5,000 hours of troubleshooting time, and handled 250 sensor based algorithm maintenance alerts to avoid inflight failures.
C3 AI provides a tailored workflow for RSO using the C3 AI Suite and C3 AI Readiness Application for Aircraft to analyze, review, and field component remaining life thresholds, as well as offer a structured process to review and field forecasts. USAF field users at operating bases can supplement current tools and processes to target aircraft for scheduled maintenance and components for predictive removal.
CBM+ must cover airframes that span the range of technology eras from the 1950s to the modern day. The KC-135 was built in the mid-1950s, so there is not a lot of technology on board. It’s necessary to look at the flight data recorder and even manual maintenance logs and pilot notes to recreate the history of issues and maintenance actions on the airframe, using image recognition and natural language processing. On the other hand, the F-35 is just being fielded today, and includes a host of sensors generating huge volumes of data on many different operational parameters.
Building a data model and data ingestion stream for such a range of aircraft is a huge challenge, but in the end, building a digital twin of each type of aircraft provides a common view that can be rolled up to provide fleet-wide and platform-wide perspectives. Logistics planners can access data at the top level and optimize overall supply inventory and reduce excess for hundreds of millions of dollars in savings. Meanwhile, individual maintainers can drill down to an specific airframe, view its history, and generate predictions to guide maintenance decisions to avoid unnecessary downtime. Solving the data integration problem has been a huge enabler for increasing mission capability rates and reducing sustainment costs, and the open and extensible framework facilitated by the C3 AI model-driven architecture has delivered huge value to the RSO and the USAF.
One highlight is analyzing seven years of data from the Integrated Maintenance Data System to develop a Serial Number Tracking module as a big data and AI/ML-driven solution based on C3 AI. The module monitors and tracks parts by serial number and identifies bad actor parts, flagging them for removal from inventory circulation. This module has increased aircraft availability (readiness) and mission capability rates, as well as confidence in the quality of parts in circulation.
About Rapid Sustainment Office, US Air Force
The US Air Force created the Rapid Sustainment Office in 2018 to transform the operations and sustainment enterprise vital to the world’s most advanced air force. RSO’s objective is to increase mission readiness by identifying, applying, and scaling proven solutions at the speed of relevance to advance the operation and sustainment of the United States Air Force.