One of the truly revolutionary changes in military logistics over the past two decades has been the institution of performance-based logistics (PBL). Traditionally, the military bought parts or services, much from the private sector but also from its own depots, and attempted to integrate and manage all these activities on its own. Needless to say, this approach resulted in extremely high costs, lots of equipment waiting for repairs and reduced support to the warfighters. Under a PBL approach, the customer pays for a guaranteed level of readiness, not individual parts or services. A percentage of total systems available for use or a specified mission-capable rate are the usual metrics. So, the military contracts for a specific percentage available of a given fleet of trucks, armored vehicles, aircraft or helicopters. It’s up to the private contractor managing the program to do what is necessary to meet the target. The contractor has an incentive to invest in capabilities and performance upgrades to enhance availability.
One of the best examples of a PBL arrangement is the C-17 Globemaster III Sustainment Partnership (GSP) program. Boeing was recently awarded a new sole-source multi-year contract to support the C-17 transport. This is a collaborative arrangement between Boeing and the Air Force’s Warner-Robbins air logistics center in Georgia. The original C-17 GSP agreement was a PBL contract in which Boeing and the U.S. Air Force together manage C-17 sustainment activities, with Boeing in the role of lead integrator and therefore responsible for performance outcomes. The C-17 GSP provided the Air Force with a high mission-capable rate while achieving significant cost avoidance over the life of the contract. In awarding Boeing a new contract, the Air Force rejected a 2008 Department of Defense analysis recommending an Air Force-only support concept for C-17s, opting instead for a hybrid approach in which the Air Force will become the integrator and Boeing and the Air Force share responsibility for all C-17 sustainment activities.
So, it is a little puzzling why the Air Force is considering terminating the current performance-based partnership on the F-22. This arrangement allows for the management of all aspects of F-22 sustainment on a plane-by-plane basis. It is the only way to successfully manage the sustainment of the tiny fleet of 187 F-22s. I have been to the Lockheed Martin F-22 logistics support facility at Marietta, Georgia where Air Force personnel sit side-by-side with company employees tracking the status of each F-22, responding almost instantaneously to repair issues around the globe. Over the past decade there have been six studies of the F-22 logistics system; they all concluded that the current approach was the best way of ensuring high availability at the best price.
But, it seems as if the Air Force went shopping for an excuse to end the highly successful arrangement. It commissioned yet another study which concluded that the current performance-based, collaborative model for F-22 sustainment should be abandoned in favor of a more traditional, depot-based approach. The model the Air Force has is that employed for the F-16. Of course, in that case, the Air Force had hundreds of aircraft. The proposed approach would entail major costs for the Air Force including hiring and training personnel and acquiring and managing an expensive inventory of spare parts. More important, this approach is likely to reduce aircraft availability, which is critical when we are talking about such a small fleet.
The Air Force needs to rethink its approach to F-22 maintenance. PBL has proven itself repeatedly to be a successful way of providing capability to the warfighter while controlling costs. The Air Force should not mess with success.
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