Project Improves Sustainment Strategies for Critical but Rarely Used Equipment

Across the US, commercial and governmental organizations maintain fleets of critical equipment that must be kept ready for handling emergencies, natural disasters, and hazardous materials. As this equipment ages, many municipalities struggle with sustaining these assets in a streamlined and cost-effective manner. Likewise, the Department of Defense faces similar challenges, particularly with the Boeing E-6B Mercury. This aircraft provides command and control of US nuclear forces, should ground-based control become inoperable. The E-6B has the capability to fleet ballistic missile submarines, a mission known as Take Charge and Move Out (TACAMO) and can remotely control Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) using the Airborne Launch Control System. To maintain these capabilities, the DOD extended the E-6B’s service life to 2038. Additionally, the DOD requires a long-term sustainment strategy to continue the weapon system’s useful service life through 2060.

To develop this strategy, in 2019 the CTMA Program organized a collaboration between the DOD service branch responsible for the E-6B: Navy Airborne Strategic Command, Control and Communications Program Office (PMA-271) and industry partner Guidehouse. This four-phase project, Methodology to Develop a Long-Term Sustainment Strategy for Aging Systems, can serve as a case study for other US governmental organizations and commercial entities. The initiative, which is scheduled to wrap up in July 2023, focuses on solving problems such as deteriorating safety, parts obsolescence, dated supply chain strategies and IT systems, and inefficient business processes.

“This CTMA project is somewhat unique because the product is a financial analysis and report as opposed to the development of a prototype through R&D,” said Kyle Considine, NCMS Project Manager. “This report, along with its findings and recommendations, will provide a roadmap that will assist the Department of the Navy (DON) in making a crucial decision on the future of the E6-B Boeing aircraft.”

Before this project kicked off, the DOD had already implemented the Service Life Assessment Program (SLAP)/Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) for the E-6B. However, these programs focused solely on extending the service life of the airframe to 2038 and did not perform modifications required to extend the life of the aircraft’s other critical subsystems: power, cooling, hydraulics, flight deck avionics, and fuel.

“The initial SLAP/SLEP of the aircraft was a crucial step,” said Considine. “The continued SLAP/SLEP will allow the DON to make a much more informed decision on the costs associated with a service life extension to the year 2060.”

In order to complete the SLAP/SLEP, the team needed to lay the groundwork with three main activities. First, they completed a sustainment roadmap that identified sustainment activities that had been performed on the E-6B to date as well as sustainment activities that should be performed on the E-6B to extend its service life to 2060. Second, the collaborators conducted an independent logistics assessment (ILA), an analysis of a program’s supportability planning that helps to inform an appropriate long-term sustainment strategy. Third, the team conducted a product support business case analysis (PS-BCA), a structured methodology that aids decision-making. The team used the multi-objective decision analysis (MODA) methodology to produce a graphical representation of the cost, benefit, and risk trade-offs among multiple COAs.

After completing this groundwork, the team developed a second SLAP/SLEP strategy to extend the service life of the E-6B to 2060. They identified known risks that drive non-mission capable status; known maintenance and engineering issues such as mean time between failure, mean time between removal, and other key metrics; organic versus CLS depot repair capacity; current sustainment and engineering strategies (enhanced phase maintenance, SLAP, etc.); and the optimum balance of cost, benefits, and risk for potential modifications. Currently, the team is working to complete the final phase of the project, in which they are producing an implementation roadmap that defines the activities necessary to extend the mission of the E-6B to 2060.

“This project is a great example of how the CTMA program is helping the Navy sustain this critical mission well into the future to secure our national defense,” said Greg Kilchenstein, NCMS’s Chief Technologist.

This project’s benefits extend beyond the Navy to all DOD service branches, which must decide whether to make the investment to maintain their assets or recapitalize. Making this decision requires the type of disciplined methodology that is being devised in this project. DOD service branches can implement this methodology at a fraction of the costs compared to recapitalizing aging systems, thus saving or avoiding costs of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars.