Leveraging a Digital Aircraft to Shape a Sustainment Enterprise Extending to the Tactical Edge


By Robbin Laird

I have focused in a series of interviews with Pierre Garant on how to leverage a new digital aircraft, the CH-53K, to shape an innovative new approach to sustainment.

Clearly, technology is not enough. Organizational change enabled by technology is required and to do so in terms of new partnerships among industry, the government and the service operating the aircraft.

In this interview, I discussed the way ahead with Pierre drawing on his knowledge gained during his extensive career having worked logistics and sustainment from his unique perspective gained by working in the USMC, the government and industry. I was discussing the approach with Garant in a role of a future DOD sustainment planner and operator.

In that perspective, I sketched out what could be the future of end-to-end sustainment built around the inherent capabilities of a new digital aircraft.

The way I look at it, the digital backbone on the CH-53K has enabled the digital twin to drive the design and evolution process. As experience is gained from the use of the aircraft and data flows back to the digital twin, this will allow for configuration control and adaptation.

In addition, with the rapid arrival of advancing technologies, such as 3-D printing, which the Marines are clearly working with, distributed operations can be combined with digital manufacturing driven by the digital twin as well.

This means that the digital backbone on the aircraft allows not only for predictive maintenance and the organizational possibility of greater accuracy in having parts moved closer to areas of the operating force of the particular aircraft, but that 3-D printing can allow for the capability to provide for enhanced sustainability in the field and in the areas of operation.

Garant highlighted the need to get beyond legacy thinking about sustainment to achieve such an approach.

“Condition-based maintenance opens a significant opportunity to move beyond legacy approaches to logistical support. We need to shape a forward leaning approach rather than taking the new aircraft and fitting into a legacy box for how we have done logistical support in the past.

“We need to go beyond how the digital twin and the digital process allows us to build the aircraft differently to how we can recraft the sustainment enterprise to support the warfighter and their needs at the tactical edge.

“It is about making the warfighter in combat having greater readiness of aircraft at the point of operation, not just using the old approach of moving parts to inventory positions and then out to the field. It is early days for 3D printing, but the Marines are moving out in this area.

“I think your emphasis on linking the entire digital change from production and the digital twin to the use of digital or additive manufacturing in the field, which what 3D printing provides, is part of a crucial shift in sustainment management or the sustainment enterprise.”

I argued that working the relationship between how predictive maintenance could allow surge support by moving supplies closer to the warfighter based on anticipated use needs and determining what 3D printing could supply at the key point of need is a work in progress. And as the user community determines which method – build and deliver or build at the point of operation is best – the desired mix could be shaped.

The point is that the needs of the warfighter at the tactical edge can drive through the digital chain how the sustainment structure functions, and not the legacy approach of sequential decisions by authorities at each stage of a highly bureaucratized process of hand-offs in the logistics chain.

Garant underscored that when actual production of an aircraft ends, it is all about sustainment and having parts to support operations. We need a new approach to the sustainment enterprise which the technology of a digital aircraft unlocks.

In my view, it is never just about technology. After all, we had radar at Pearl Harbor, and we know how that turned out.

For the additonal interviews, see the following:

The Performance-Based Logistics (PBL) Foundation for the CH-53K Sustainment Approach: Shaping a New Way Ahead for Next Generation Digital Aircraft

Digital Maintenance in the Shift to Distributed Maritime Operations


Placing the Re-configured Maintenance and Sustainment Enterprise into Strategic Context

CH-53K King Stallions at WTI-1-24