Tactical Impact Far from the Point of Need: Transforming Sustainment Operations Through Tele-maintenance

By Col. Charles A. FisherFebruary 23, 2023

William Wall, shop supervisor at the Army Medical Materiel Agency’s Medical Maintenance Operations Division at Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, assists in providing tele-maintenance support to members of the 51st Medical Logistics Company on July 14, 2021. Also pictured are biomedical equipment technicians Frank Cali and Vito Rizzo.
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – William Wall, shop supervisor at the Army Medical Materiel Agency’s Medical Maintenance Operations Division at Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, assists in providing tele-maintenance support to members of the 51st Medical Logistics Company on July 14, 2021. Also pictured are biomedical equipment technicians Frank Cali and Vito Rizzo. (Photo Credit: Rachel Mummau) VIEW ORIGINAL
William Wall, shop supervisor at the Army Medical Materiel Agency’s Medical Maintenance Operations Division at Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, assists in providing tele-maintenance support to members of the 51st Medical Logistics Company on July 14, 2021.
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – William Wall, shop supervisor at the Army Medical Materiel Agency’s Medical Maintenance Operations Division at Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania, assists in providing tele-maintenance support to members of the 51st Medical Logistics Company on July 14, 2021. (Photo Credit: Rachel Mummau) VIEW ORIGINAL

A Russian barrage of long-range missile strikes beginning in February 2022 wreaked immediate havoc on Ukrainian military assets and civilian infrastructure. Quickly repairing damage to the sovereign nation’s weapons systems became paramount to Ukraine’s ability to stave off further invasion deeper into 2022. As the Ukrainians have employed long-range fires in response to the Russian invasion at a rate not even the U.S. Army has utilized in recent years, maintaining the various American-manufactured systems within the confines of international policy has demonstrated the necessity for sustainment delivery far from the tactical point of need. To answer the call, the 405th Army Field Support Brigade’s Tele-Maintenance and Distribution Cell-Ukraine (TDC-U) has established operations outside the battlefield in NATO territory, leveraging secure video and chat channels to guide Ukrainian counterparts through the entire maintenance process of weapons systems they may find unfamiliar. From Javelins to 155 mm howitzers, the TDC-U demonstrates how tele-maintenance alters the ways in which the Army sustainment enterprise successfully operates in contested and dispersed environments.

Tele-maintenance, or the use of any telecommunication system to perform maintenance actions remotely, has seen a resurgence in popularity within the Army following the Ukrainian response to Russia’s invasion. By connecting technicians in the field with additional resources as far away as the strategic support area, maintainers can leverage knowledge present across their next-level maintenance center and even the original equipment manufacturer anywhere in the world. Effectively utilizing tele-maintenance mitigates readiness risk when maintenance teams on the ground experience a weapons system breakdown on an unfamiliar platform. Those teams no longer need to operate in isolation. Rather, they can quickly and securely connect with other maintainers and technicians up the echelon stream to make corrective actions and reinstate mission capability.

Historically speaking, tele-maintenance is not a novel Army concept. Its employment dates to the late 1990s when Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) leveraged commercial off-the-shelf systems to enhance equipment maintenance in the field. CECOM’s program, consisting of only a small video camera and supporting modem to test varying electronic devices, aimed to reduce the number of emergency repair teams deployed in the field while increasing their maintenance efficiency. The intent of modern approaches, like those levied to enhance materiel readiness in Ukraine, diverges from those of the 20th century and runs parallel to those of the past.

In 2021, specialists at the Army Medical Materiel Agency piloted a new tele-maintenance program, where depot-level maintainers connect with field-level Soldiers using already available and familiar video teleconferencing systems, such as Microsoft A365 and the Department of Defense’s Global Video Services platform. The video teleconferencing process allows depot-level support to maintain complex medical devices at the workbench of the forward-deployed medical maintenance activity without additional burden and at the pace of need.

As the Army modernizes for the complex and dynamic nature of the future operating environment across echelons, minimizing the number of repair teams deployed while ensuring they can execute their maintenance tasks in hours instead of days serves as a critical indicator of our readiness posture. With the Army’s recent shift from counterinsurgency (COIN) to large-scale combat operations (LSCO), the demand for tele-maintenance will naturally grow due to the number of platforms needed on a dispersed, contested battlefield. Recent updates to Field Manual (FM) 3-0, Operations, codify multidomain operations into our warfighting doctrine and update how we will overcome those challenges posed by near-peer adversaries now and in the future.

FM 3-0 calls for larger formations to serve as primary units of action, like the brigade combat team, and identifies those assets critical to constructing dispersed base clusters in the rear area to support logistics operations in the close area. With dispersed logistics, the Army will not be able to rely on a central maintenance facility in the close area. Thus, our ability to leverage tele-maintenance will ensure platform readiness for small units operating far from their central command post. According to FM 3-0, Russia may employ pre-conflict activities to deny access to strategic and operational logistics support. With this assumption in mind, it will be vital to keep platforms operational as close to the forward line as possible. Tele-maintenance, when coupled with similar initiatives that deliver readiness at the tactical point of need, like advanced and additive manufacturing, will enable rapid forward repair of combat platforms that may not have been feasible in the years of COIN.

An Army prepared to fight and win in LSCO will be sustained absent the large, static logistics centers present during COIN operations during the last twenty years. The future Army sustainment enterprise will be agile, adaptive, and prepared to execute logistics on behalf of dispersed units operating at the extent of contested lines of communication. The Army is modernizing with transformational change front of mind, and key supporting initiatives, such as advancing our tele-maintenance capabilities, ensure we maintain the collective momentum necessary to chart a sustainable strategic path forward to deter, deny, and defeat in competition, crisis, and conflict.

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Col. Charles A. Fisher currently serves as the director of the logistics initiatives group for Department of the Army, G-4. He enlisted in the Army as a combat engineer in 1992 before accepting an ROTC scholarship to the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He graduated in 1997 as a distinguished military graduate and then commissioned in the quartermaster corps. He holds a Bachelor of Science in health services administration from the University of Central Florida, a Master of Business Administration from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a Master of Science in global supply chain management from Syracuse University, and a Master of Strategic Studies from the Army War College.

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This article was published in the Winter 23 issue of Army Sustainment.

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