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Last Updated: Mon Jan 27 11:18:09 UTC 2014

With Particular Reference to the RAAF

Air Power Australia - Australia's Independent Defence Think Tank

Air Power Australia NOTAM

   12th November, 2007

Air Cdre E. J. Bushell AM, RAAF (Retd)

Contacts: Peter Goon
Carlo Kopp

Mob: 0419-806-476 Mob: 0437-478-224

The ‘M’ word (Maintenance) crops up in all sorts of odd places today. Recently, it appeared in an advertisement for a Maintenance Requirements Determination Manager in Defence Material Office (DMO), a fair distance organisationally from where it is most needed.

The job description was also somewhat puzzling:

---provide and oversee engineering requirements in support of Maintenance Requirements Determination, involving design review, approval acceptance for non-significant maintenance requirements determination tasks for (various) weapon systems.

Prepare and issue Technical Management Plans and Planned Maintenance Schedules, and should have a good understanding of technical airworthiness.’
(APS Level 6, up to $81,300.)

‘M’ has a long life. During the system design and development phases, ‘M’ forms part of a team which includes ‘E’ (Engineering), ‘R’ (Reliability), and ‘A’ (Availability). Together, their job is to drive the design/development objectives that ensure the weapon system produced meets its specified operational requirements with minimum down-time and at lowest cost.

On the introduction of a system, ‘M’ assumes a lead role over the system’s operational life, under the monitoring and guidance of, you guessed it, that powerhouse ‘E’ (Engineering), which establishes and varies the technical, operational, and airworthiness standards that have to be met by ‘M’. ‘M’ must guide ‘S’ (Supply) to ensure that only technically acceptable items are procured for use during maintenance, and also state the times and places that spares are needed to meet maintenance plans. These activities must be managed by the user to ensure the timely visibility and control of maintenance the RAAF must have to be able to assure maintenance efficiency, safety, and technical airworthiness.

With these functions and relationships firmly in place, an organisation can be confident of operating a system effectively, efficiently, economically, and safely.

‘M’, however, together with several of his associates, ran into trouble with the new management approaches that swept Australia some years ago. Firstly, in Industry, ‘M’ was caught up in the general rush towards downsizing, flattening of organisations, and out-sourcing embraced by a ‘new management’ wave that was influenced heavily by accountant and MBA ‘experts’. Their common characteristics included:
  • A lack of understanding of, or patience with, technology;
  • An obsession with the ‘bottom line’, itself somewhat querulous;
  • A short-term planning focus;, and hence,
  • A drive to achieve short-term business indicators that must show some form of continuing ‘improvement’, mostly through a perceived reduction in costs (generally through the departure/loss of experienced staff).

‘M’ fitted into these new perceptions most uneasily. From being seen traditionally as a sound investment in reliable and safe production capability, it was now seen only as a cost to production that had to be reduced, with little if any understanding of the long-term implications. As a result, maintenance, technical training and maintenance infrastructure became ‘non-core’ activities. Before long, industry and public instrumentalities stopped training engineers and technicians (especially apprentices), effectively killing off the breeding grounds for both current and future technicians, technology managers and that important element of the powerhouse E (Engineering); namely, the practical Engineer.

Throughout this management ‘evolution’, the RAAF was able to keep the role and importance of ‘M’ in sharp focus and under tight management. However, under the pressures of the Commercial Support Program (CSP), the Defence Efficiency Review (DER) and its sibling, the Defence Reform Program (DRP), structural changes that included the disbandment of its Technical Services Branch and the introduction of a ‘General Branch’, RAAF technical functions were dispersed indiscriminately across multiple organisational, functional, and financial interfaces. Visibility and control of the technology being operated were largely lost, as were the professional operational and engineering management skills sorely needed for new capability projects.

As the problems associated with inadequate visibility and control of maintenance practices and standards became unacceptable, the RAAF established recently within Air Force Office the position of Director, Maintenance Policy and Planning-Air Force. While a good start, structural problems remain that will frustrate the changes that must be made if the objectives set for the Director are to be achieved.

Today, the RAAF sees its maintenance management function largely reduced within DMO to a ‘line item’ in long-term ‘supply and support’ contracts by overseas aircraft manufacturers. The main drivers of such contacts are generally perceived as ensuring reliable and sustainable logistics support, ‘managing’ risk by transferring it to the contractor, and achieving a perceived cost saving. However, there are several problems with this approach:
  • An aircraft manufacturer is not generally an expert in the through-life support of his aircraft, except in inherent design and structural areas. His organisation is focussed upon production and so his facilities, processes, documentation, spares, skills, specialist equipment and so on are not maintenance orientated. Some contractors, however, are now taking up maintenance support contracts, sensing a lack of technical and contractual expertise in the non-military organisations now becoming responsible for supply/support contracts. Because of their lack of technical knowledge and confidence, these organisations include a significant legal staff to argue any differences that might arise – processes guaranteed not to consider the Service being supported when lengthy and expensive legal argument takes place. Corporate/Legal considerations will always come first where differences arise.
  • Furthermore, the aircraft manufacturer makes little of an aircraft apart from the structure. The systems and equipment installed come from a wide range of suppliers who themselves rely upon other suppliers. Support from an aircraft manufacturer will thus normally include several levels of mark-up in costs, making it much more expensive than it has been traditionally. The approach also obscures visibility of maintenance and engineering information that should be evaluated to identify the need or potential for local support.
  • The supply/support contract philosophy is seen as reducing the risk of default, but no contract can achieve this. If a contractor defaults for any reason, the prime risk – that is, the impact upon the readiness, responsiveness, flexibility, effectiveness, safety, preparedness, and airworthiness of military aircraft operations – must always be borne by the Service affected. DMO can only impose commercial sanctions upon a defaulting contractor, or attempt to as a long and expensive legal process takes over. This is no substitute for self-reliance!
  • In addition, the likely demands for support can not be foreseen easily over time, especially in terms of type, location, and circumstances of operation, so the manufacturer must ensure that a substantial ‘insurance’ loading is included in the contract to cover these unknowns.
  • Finally, there are ‘indirect’ costs inherent in all supply/support contracts in terms of our local Defence Industry Base and to Australia’s self-reliance. Every job exported results in a loss not only of the work itself, but also the technical expertise that goes with it. The resultant export of work and expertise makes Australia dependent for its air power capability upon a foreign company operating as a monopoly supplier, a parlous situation that was not allowed to occur in over 70 years of RAAF management.

Traditional RAAF Technical Services management not only provided visibility and control of maintenance efficiency and technical airworthiness standards, it established, through maintenance planning, the manpower and skills, facilities, spares, support and test equipment, documentation, and specialist training, indeed everything needed to operate and support an aircraft in Australia from the date of its introduction into service. Now, with all lines of maintenance, apart from the lowest skill work at flight line level, coming under supply/support contracts negotiated by DMO, primary responsibility for most deficiencies in maintenance support, safety, and technical air worthiness must reside with DMO and the contractor, not the Chief of Air Force.

And Now ‘E’ ?

To date, only ‘M’ has been discussed. It seems that DMO is now considering adding ‘E’ (Engineering) support to its supply/support contracts, much along the lines tried unhappily by US forces during the 1980s and 1990s under a Total System Performance Responsibility(TSPR) philosophy and contracting methodologies. These contracts failed mainly through excessive cost (the ‘insurance premium’) and an inability on the part of contractors to meet the needs of dynamic Service operations. In effect, under this approach, the contractor becomes the Technical Airworthiness Authority, the far-reaching implications of which do not seem to have been recognised by Defence planners, especially in DMO.

If Australia goes down this path, we can look forward to:

  • Further downsizing and de-skilling of the RAAF.
  • Increased cost of ownership of our air power capabilities, and an embedded long term inflexibility in financial management as the financial tide ebbs and flows.
  • A pervasive risk of reduced operational capability and flexibility through unresponsive support.
  • Further reductions in professional aerospace engineering input to RAAF and Defence plans and programs.
  • A marked, possibly total, withering of Australia’s Defence Aerospace Industry.
  • A critical reduction in Australia’s self-reliance capabilities in the most critical area of Australia’s strategic need – air power.

In addition, we will have to change the phrased, Australia: The Smart Country. Placing the control of sovereign assets into the hands of those who are non-Australian and live overseas is just plain stupid.

These implications combine to impact Australia’s standing as a significant contributor to stability and security, both in our region and throughout the world.

In terms of air power alone, if Government policy on the need for a sound Defence Industry Base and a demonstrable measure of self-reliance is to be implemented, it would be sensible to:

  • Restructure the grossly inefficient organisational and functional interfaces that exist, principally those between the RAAF and DMO, to better reflect the supported/supporting relationships that should exist. This must ensure that all new equipment analysis and direct support activities come under direct Air Force Office (AFO) management.
  • Re-establish a Technical Services organisation within AFO to provide Chief of Air Force with the technical visibility, control, and coordination of all force elements to provide for the direction of the RAAF as a force rather than a mixture of small, self-determining force elements.
  • Re-establish maintenance only units to free operational units to concentrate on operations. This will also provide a breeding ground for the technicians and engineers needed to run a modern air force and provide professional input to RAAF and Defence plans.
  • Re-skill the RAAF in all areas, and increase the level of professional management by revising the ‘General List’ which, from experience, can not be claimed as a success

Such changes will go far towards re-establishing the RAAF as a skilled operator and proponent of high technology air power capabilities. ‘M’, ‘R’, ‘A’, ‘S’, and ‘E’ all stand ready to do their part once again, but they can do so only within a coherent system of RAAF technical management.

Related Materials:

Volume IV - APA-2007-04 Air Cdre E. J. Bushell AM, RAAF (Retd) The Never Ending Story of Airworthiness versus Murphy's Law
AIRCDRE Bates G. -   ADA Defender - Autumn 2007 - Risking the Sustainment capability of the Air Force


Ted Bushell, AM is a retired Air Commodore with 35 years experience in RAAF engineering, maintenance and new project management.
He  joined the RAAF as an Engineering Apprentice in 1948 and left the Service in 1983 following a career as an aeronautical engineer in Unit, Command, and Air Force Office appointments. His final appointment was as the last Senior Maintenance Staff Officer at Headquarters Support Command, Melbourne.

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