FEATURED /// Sep 15, 2015
Bridging the Obsolescence Gap
Parts obsolescence negatively impacts many warfighter programs and capabilities. Defining the issue is not as easy as simply saying that a part is not made anymore. Parts obsolescence also includes components that are incapable of supporting newer, more technologically advanced platforms and equipment. For the military, the issue of obsolescence is a challenging one because the critical systems that the obsolete components support cannot simply be abandoned. When the overall system outlives the function or relevancy of its embedded components, the system is considered obsolete. In a nutshell, components are considered obsolete if they are no longer produced or they don’t “speak” to the newer parts.
WEIGHING THE OPTIONS Obsolescence management solutions are risky. On one hand, the issue could be addressed by constantly developing new products or re-configuring and re-working internal components to accommodate their rapidly changing life cycle. However, developmental timeline setbacks are unpredictable, costly and require continuous management and oversight. In the end, the result might not be worth the long-term investment. One work-around for components that cannot be economically produced is a systematic cannibalization of older systems. Yet another option for Department of Defense (DOD) programs is to stockpile equipment as part of a “last-time buy” initiative. However, this is not only unnecessarily costly, it squanders the opportunity to improve capabilities as platforms age.
BRIDGING THE GAP To address this issue, the DOD is working toward a sustainment strategy for the capabilities these aging components provide that would bridge the gap between legacy and objective force infrastructures. Finding a long-term solution is particularly challenging, considering the dynamic trends in the consumer-driven marketplace and rapid technological advances. It is punctuated by the fact that the DOD’s supply chain of original equipment manufacturers (OEM) is focused on responding to unprecedented demand in a consumer-driven market rather than re-treading old-parts reproduction with the military. Companies are constantly answering consumers’ demand for the “latest and greatest” while at the same time discarding older, less-capable products still largely being utilized by the military. These newer product offerings exceed the compatibility parameters of legacy military systems.
With current DOD budget cuts hampering the production and development of newer systems, legacy systems are required to not only support the mission for which they were designed, but also accommodate newer evolving roles in the modern battle-space. Despite their maturity, these systems still maintain their significance in spite of the limitations of their embedded components. In short, the military is being asked to do more, both in size and scope, with outdated components and limited capabilities.
In response to the demand on aging military systems, ADS recently partnered with Harris Communications, FLIR, Synexxus and Granite Tactical to develop a concept, tactical vehicle that would address many of the obsolescence challenges faced by the military’s aging tactical fleet vehicle systems. The prototype demonstrated the flexibility of integrating newer components into older systems in order to maintain and increase existing capabilities. Using the military’s HMMWV as the base system, the prototype was affordably upgraded to a fully-capable and relevant armored tactical vehicle with COTS C4ISR technology that was available through government-wide acquisition contracts. These components were then completely integrated into rugged and modern crew stations. Improvements to the HMMVW ranged from an up-armored crew capsule with 360 degree ballistic blast/ballistic protection and cameras with motorized, protective lids to a high-performance, multi-sensor thermal imaging system and modular, open hardware and software interfaces, just to name a few.
TO BUILD OR NOT TO BUILD In a perfect world, critical embedded components would outlast the overall system. This is especially true when considering military systems as end-of-life schedules continue to be pushed to the right. Once internal components begin to fail, there is obviously a need for an “apples-to-apples” replacement, usually with little-to-no intent of an upgrade. It is at this point program managers are looking for a solution when presented with the issue of finding a part that is no longer being manufactured.
While the obvious solution may seem as simple as coaxing OEM’s to reproduce the original components, it comes at a cost. OEM’s are reluctant to produce outdated components that have been shelved for an indefinite period. Additionally, components that adhere to stringent and specific military specifications and requirements can be costly. One solution is to utilize companies like Crestwood Technology Group (CTG) to contribute to obsolescence management by using information provided by OEMs to affordably reproduce original components or modify existing commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment.
Currently, ADS is working with its partner, CTG, to develop a solution for the Forward Observer/Forward Air Controller (FOFAC) kit, which replaces obsolete components in U.S. Marine Corps M1A1 Abrams tanks with new COTS systems. This kit seamlessly integrates existing M1A1 communications systems into modern C4ISR networks using “plug and play” architecture. The system integrates multiple components into the original equipment form factor, maximizing available space and heat dissipation within the vehicle, while minimizing power consumption.
LOOKING DOWN RANGE Given the current financial landscape, COTS components are the most efficient solution. It is important to note that obsolescence management goes beyond reproducing specific obsolete components. The full spectrum of issues should be addressed through analysis of obsolete items in order to research and locate similar COTS solutions for form, fit, function and “ruggedization.” This critical step is necessary in order to identify potential replacements, prevent counterfeits and prepare any engineering changes or waivers that may be required to adopt substituted items. Long-term considerations should be taken seriously when determining the potential for equipment redesign or reverse engineering that would eventually remove obsolete items at various system levels. This solution would ultimately enhance system performance and improve reliability and maintainability.
About ADS ADS Inc. is a leading solutions provider that proudly serves all branches of the U.S. Military, federal, state and local government organizations, law enforcement agencies, first responders, partner nations and the defense industry Overall, ADS is focused on solving customers’ challenges through the largest product and service offerings, the broadest array of procurement and contract options, world-class support and logistics solutions and legendary customer service. To learn more, please visit the ADS website at www.adsinc.com