Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) is harnessing recent advances in digital technology and data integration to expand the fleet’s tactical advantage.
NAVAIR leaders outlined the command’s roadmap for “going digital” during a Dec. 7 panel presentation hosted by the Patuxent Partnership and the Association of Naval Aviation’s Squadron #18. The panel was introduced by NAVAIR Commander, Vice Adm. Paul Grosklags, and moderated by NAVAIR’s digital integration officer, Todd Balazs.
Other NAVAIR panelists included Dave Cohen, director for systems engineering; Brig. Gen. Greg Masiello, assistant commander for Logistics and Industrial Operations; and Steve Cricchi, assistant commander for corporate operations and total force.
Today, the percentage of mission capable aircraft across Naval Aviation is not where we want it to be, Grosklags said.
“Over the past seven years, we’ve underfunded our aviation readiness accounts by over $6 billion,” Grosklags said. “Even though budgets are on the upswing, we’d be naive to think we’ll be able to fill in that deficit any time in our lifetime. The reality is we must change the way we do business to get after improving our readiness.”
A Naval Aviation Enterprise initiative called “Sustainment Vision 2020” is designed to deliver effective and efficient flight line readiness through an integrated, globally managed, predictive and responsive sustainment system, Grosklags said.
During the panel, Grosklags outlined plans for the creation of Naval Aviation sustainment operation centers that will take advantage of the massive amounts of data and information that Naval Aviation platforms currently produce.
“Manned by fleet decision makers and a team of analysts, these ops centers would provide decision-quality insight into the terabytes of data we pull off our aircraft every year, including aircraft status data, predictive maintenance indicators, and the location and availability of spare parts, facilities and people,” he said.
“It’s all about time,” Balazs said, describing NAVAIR’s digital transformation. “It’s not just about digital; it’s about leveraging digital tools to support a fundamentally different business model. We just can’t accept that it takes 17 years to develop and deliver new weapon systems to our warfighters … It’s not acceptable that we have that many aircraft down.”
According to Balazs, NAVAIR’s digital transformation will take place across several layers of the enterprise, including business, technology and workforce.
“We’re going to jump in and take advantage of available technology, pivot as technology advances and make the most of our analytical skill sets, giving the workforce more time for critical thinking and empowering them to make decisions,” he said. “We’re focused on outcomes, organizing around products and moving toward a ‘self-service’ infrastructure that enables our people to build the apps they need to do their jobs.”
Cohen described how close collaboration with industry will enable NAVAIR to dramatically slash acquisition cycle times, from 16-20 years to 8-10 years.
“We must start buying material and releasing to production from the day of contract award,” he said. “Industry is ready to do it. We [the government] need to be there with them.”
Cohen spoke about the advantages of model-based systems engineering, wherein industry leverages high-performance computing while government and industry engineers engage continuously on system designs via integrated, collaborative environments.
Cohen described NAVAIR’s mission-effectiveness analysis work, which involves engineers collaborating with fleet representatives to match available assets and needed capabilities to current and emerging threats.
This analysis work identifies the needs or “gaps” that will inform investment and provide insight into the operational context of future systems, thereby enabling the government to bring industry into the process early on.
“It will enable us to reduce time and cost significantly,” Cohen said. “We’ll know what the warfighters want based on accredited mission-effectiveness analysis, modeling and simulation and threat info, and we’ll start off with a nearly mature conceptual or preliminary design.
“We’re going to move away from large-scale design reviews and get on board with the asynchronous, chaotic way new systems are being developed in the commercial sector.”
He said today’s systems engineering technical review, or SETR, process is outdated and can impede development of new systems. With model-based systems engineering, government and industry engineers use accredited models to assess design attributes and performance and can review those designs on a daily basis, eliminating the need to prepare and review paper artifacts as well as prepare for and conduct large-scale design reviews.
According to Cohen, these models—high-fidelity, digital representations of platforms, systems and threats—will be carried forward to capabilities-based test and evaluation and live, virtual and constructive simulation, allowing pilots to train to the high-end fight.
In his remarks, Masiello expanded on Sustainment Vision 2020, outlining the plan’s key focus areas: maintenance planning, supply, infrastructure and manpower/training.
Like Grosklags, he believes Naval Aviation must do more to leverage data to improve readiness, citing the benefits of NAVAIR’s Aircraft Management Dashboard (AMDB), software that integrates near real-time data and reports provided by fleet maintainers and squadrons on the status of their aircraft.
“AMDB provides everyone from four-star admirals to maintenance officers access to the same information on supply documents and associated maintenance actions, down to the individual aircraft,” he said. “That level of transparency is a good thing. It enables us to make informed decisions together, in real time, to optimize fleet readiness.”
Cricchi rounded out the panel by addressing NAVAIR’s digital business transformation.
“The good news is we live in a data rich environment, and our challenge is to figure out how best to use that data to our advantage, which includes overcoming cultural barriers such as data ownership and access,” he said.
According to Cricchi, access to personnel information such as skills, experience, locations and program assignments will let NAVAIR quickly assemble and deploy teams to urgent projects or reassign personnel to fill critical capacity gaps.
“Collecting and correlating available data will make us more predictive, which is central to increasing fleet readiness and capability today and in the future,” he said.
Amy Behrman leads strategic and internal communications for NAVAIR Public Affairs.