Subject matter experts from throughout the Army, industry and academia gathered both in person and virtually for the first Organic Industrial Base Modernization Summit Feb. 8-11 at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.
Hosted by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command Logistics Center Industrial Operations Directorate, the goal of the event was to look at how emerging technologies are being implemented at Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and Corpus Christi Army Depot in South Texas. In addition to emerging technologies, it also provided a forum for representatives from each of the depots to share ideas and lessons learned regarding modernizing their decades-old facilities.
The summit began with an OIB modernization overview presented by Col. Richard Martin, the deputy director for the U.S. Army Materiel Command OIB Modernization Task Force, who spoke more broadly about OIB modernization efforts taking place across the Army’s depots, arsenals and ammunition points worldwide.
“This is an Army effort,” Martin said. “It's Army Materiel Command in coordination with [the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology].”
Martin laid out the framework for the Army’s 15-year modernization strategy, noting that everything he discussed was pre-decisional, as it will be briefed to the secretary of the Army later this month and ultimately go before Congress later this year.
The six areas of focus included: updating policies and regulations, redefining workloads, modernizing facilities to support the workloads, ensuring the facilities include modern technology and are agile enough to be used for multiple weapons systems, synchronizing funding, and aligning the workforce to meet the workload demands.
Of the six areas, Martin said modernizing facilities is one of the main efforts.
“If you look back at the OIB over the last several decades, much of the big infrastructure has been around since the World War II industrialization period,” he said. “We’ve done some improvements and maintenance along the way but this is the most significant Army modernization effort in 40 years – since the start of the Base Realignment and Closure process.”
Martin described the OIB modernization plan as a once-in-a-generation opportunity and said it is critically important to implement the plan now in order to sustain the future weapons systems of tomorrow.
When discussing automation and aligning the workforce with future systems, Martin emphasized that modernization does not mean reducing the workforce or replacing them with robotics. Rather, he said it will reduce the risk to the employee.
Paul Jonas from the National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University reiterated Martin’s statement when he briefed the advancements WSU is pursuing as part of their partnership with the Army. He used the Joint Autonomous Repair Verification and Inspection System as an example. The JARVIS II is a helicopter blade inspection robot that will automate some of the more risky blade inspection and repair processes at CCAD.
“Once we have the digital data, there are automated processes that can minimize the risk for the employee,” he said. ”Robotics automation is not here to replace the employee; what we want to do is take their hands out of the process and keep their brains in it.”
Jonas discussed other modernization efforts, such as additive manufacturing and the impact it can have when it comes to replicating parts for legacy Army systems. In 2018 WSU was able to scan and replicate non-structural parts for Army aircraft with 3D printing within 35 days from planning to completion – a process that could be extremely beneficial in an uncertain environment with supply chain disruptions.
The OIB Modernization Summit also included briefings from industry partners about an emerging technology which would allow depot artisans to remain working while also interfacing with experts and radio-frequency identification, which is currently being used to track parts and could eventually be used to eliminate the need for paper copies of property books.
Tom Ray was one of the champions for the summit. He serves as the director of the ALC Industrial Operations Directorate and frequently travels to the depots. Ray said during his travels he hears about the challenges at each depot, as well as how they are solving some of those challenges. That is how the idea for an OIB summit started — as a forum for the depots to get together, share best practices and also hear about emerging technology from partners in both industry and academia.
Ray said, “Our artisans at Letterkenny [Army Depot] can take a circuit from the 1980s or 1990s and bring it back to 100% reliable, while adding on technology to bring it up to today’s standards. At Corpus Christi [Army Depot], they take engine components that have been in service and bring it back to zero hours.”
He described the processes at both facilities as “amazing” and said it is important for the Army to be able to sustain their own systems. He added that with new technologies coming out, they are starting to look at what sustainment of those new technologies is going to look like.
“This organic industrial base is our ability to sustain parts and repair parts, so the Army can make the decision on how long we want to sustain weapons systems,” Ray said. “However, we also want to ensure we are aligned with new weapon systems technology, so we are looking at future requirements and projecting future needs, so we are ready for future missions.”