One of the most interesting parts of the new U.S. defense strategy is the proposal to make up for capability gaps by more sharing and pooling of scarce assets. Resources are saved by managing critical assets as a pool from which allies can draw. Another way to reduce costs is to create common maintenance and sustainment capabilities. For example, since the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is going to be operated by at least nine nations and probably more than a dozen, a common global maintenance strategy will ensure that there are enough spare parts for everyone but not excess inventory.
However, while acquiring U.S systems, many U.S allies have pursued different sustainment strategies. A common strategy for allies with few dollars to spare is to contract with private companies to provide maintenance and sustainment. Some of the most successful of these have been based on the idea of performance-based logistics (PBL). In a PBL-based approach, a government contracts with a private company for specific performance outcomes, such as the percentage of aircraft available per day. The private company, and not the government, is responsible for managing spare parts inventories, the maintenance workforce, the supply chain, etc. The government pays a set price. The company can increase its profits over time by lowering the overall cost of performing the work, provided it meets its performance targets.
For example, the United Kingdom has a 25-year PBL-based contract with Boeing to manage the maintenance of all its Chinook helicopters, the same type the U.S. flies. AgustaWestland leads the U.K. team providing similar long-term support to the U.K. Apache fleet. Just recently, the Republic of Korea signed a five year PBL with the same company for maintenance of that country’s F-15 fighters.
As the U.S. proceeds with plans to pool or share assets with close allies, will it need to adopt those countries’ sustainment strategies? It makes no sense to have platforms going back and forth between contractor-provided logistics and government-provided logistics. If the idea is to create single pots of capability, then the way that grouping of platforms is sustained should also be the same. That is the best way to ensure that the total number of systems available at any point in time is maximized.
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