A team at U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command has developed a decision support tool to help decision-makers determine the best use of aircraft maintenance funds.
The Aviation Sustainment Maintenance Calculator provides cost estimations using scenarios and maintenance packages against the major fleets – CH-47 Chinook, AH-64E/D Apache, and UH-60 L/M Black Hawks. The tool was created to estimate major maintenance across the Army aviation enterprise over the 18-year span of the Strategic Portfolio Analysis Review, or SPAR.
“As we were planning future sustainment actions for our aviation platforms, it became readily apparent that we were coming up with answers – where to spend resources – on individual platforms, which may have not been the optimal solution for the entire portfolio,” said AMCOM Commander Maj. Gen. Todd Royar.
Service and Sustainment Program Evaluation Groups, or SSPEGs, are the Army's resource management institutional structures that initiate a program and budget development towards service sustainment of resources. The SPAR assists Army senior leaders in making informed resource decisions in line with Army priorities and readiness using SSPEG funds.
“Looking at the problem holistically across all aviation platforms will enable us to determine the best solution – or combination of solutions – for the entire community, [versus] picking individual winners and losers,” Royar said.
The calculations are done by G-8 every year in conjunction with G-4.
“Historically, it was a challenge trading files to get a broader picture of requested funds for sustainment, the associated costs and, finally, the impact on the fleets,” said Lt. Col. William Todd Hill, AMCOM G-3(M) aviation operations research officer. “During the SPAR assessment process this year, the G-8 recognized a need for a holistic tool or calculator to capture the enterprise requirements and constraints of major maintenance of the aviation platforms regarding SSPEG resources.”
Hill created the maintenance calculator using an existing data visualization tool and placed it on the U.S. Army Materiel Command G-8 server. It allows multiple people to compare various scenarios relatively quickly.
The baseline for the scenarios were built starting with what program managers want; brainstorming sessions were then held to develop different courses of action. Having the tool in a central location allows G-8 staff to enter estimated cost/inflation data. Program managers can then provide input on expected fleet life extension associated with the different maintenance packages.
The results allowed for comparison of different COAs with visual analytics displaying the impact of those COAs on the cumulative service life extension of the fleets versus cost, Hill explained. This, effectively, gives leaders the ability to maximize a result across the fleets with the budget allowed by Headquarters, Department of the Army.
Hill said the calculator also highlighted the opportunity to merge with an existing decision support tool currently used for determining the individual aircraft to receive reset or major maintenance post-deployment in support of contingency operations.
“Whether they pull the engine off and inspect or whether they replace fuselage, it's different for each fleet,” he said.
“We generally have more aircraft that need to be reset than we have funding, so it allows the leadership the ability to prioritize work,” said AMCOM Continued Airworthiness and Materiel Readiness Division Chief Thomas Somers. “Identifying the overall count and status of aircraft within the fleet and comparing it to the capabilities of the SSPEG resources are driving us to the next level of analyzing our SPAR requirements within aviation.”
Previously, the guidance wasn’t always precise.
“For example, aircraft deployed to Southwest Asia automatically got reset – whether it was necessary or not,” he explained. “With the current decision support tool, that rule still is in effect, [but] a unit can request a waiver. But every aircraft gets scored when it comes back so you know the impact of that deployment. It provides a single common standard that we can use across the entire Army.”
Before 2021, the calculations were made with Excel and macros using tail numbers of select aircraft.
A significant factor of the DST is an aircraft’s deployment status over time using an algorithm, developed by Somers, which is determined by someone reading through all of a helicopter’s flights.
“AMCOM's Aviation Field Maintenance Division does much of the work to prepare data for this calculation. When they get our results, part of what they do is that forecasting, scheduling and execution of that reset mission,” Somers said. “To provide them some planning time, we do the scoring, the forecasting and the actual execution.”
In the future, the same visual analytics software will be used to replicate the DST that currently exists within AMCOM by applying its logic across the fleets. The results will help identify current and future requirements within the SPAR and provide more details within the different scenarios.
“It allows the Army leadership and strategic planners the ability to build an order of merit listing so that, when we pull aircraft into reset, we take the worst of the worst first," said Somers.
To simplify the process, the data support tool was automated by James Barrett Marlowe, an engineer and data scientist who works in AMCOM G-3 but is matrixed from the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Center Value Engineering Office.
The new tool automatically determines the aircrafts’ deployment status.
“While still nascent, it has made us take a harder look at sustainment options as an enterprise,” Royar said.
Different scenario mixes and time frames yield different estimated costs for each fleet.
Hill said the next steps will be building an aircraft health assessment tool to identify future requirements for major maintenance based on performance, component life and utilization. Marlowe will continue to be heavily involved in those efforts.
“So it's a lot bigger than just us in this office with a little tool,” Somers said. “This is all-Army impact, because we do this for the entire Army fleet.”