The F-35 Supply Chain Problem? The DoD Already Owns the Solution

“Without a policy that clearly defines how it will keep track of purchased F-35 parts, DoD will continue to operate with a limited understanding of the F-35 spare parts it owns and how they are being managed. ” – United States Government Accountability Office, June 2019

Parts to Spare?

In a recent report filed by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), the GAO reported that the F-35 fighter plane failed to fly nearly 30 percent of the time during a six-month period in 2018. The GAO report notes that the planes were unable to fly due to spare parts shortages, mismatches and logistical problems moving the parts around the world and thus, causing repair delays. 

According to multiple sources, aircraft maintainers can’t perform routine maintenance as the Defense Department has a backlog of about 4,300 parts.

F-35 parts shortages were just a fraction of the problem however, incompatibility is another huge issue for the DoD. According to the report, the DoD purchased sets of F-35 parts “years ahead of time.” Ongoing modifications to the F-35 fighter plane, made some of the parts ordered unusable as they did not match the military’s current needs.  In one example cited, 44% of purchase parts were incompatible with the Marine Corp’s F-35 planes.  

The report concluded that without major changes and enhancements to the young supply chain, F-35’s would be regularly grounded and more delays would be expected.  Not a great start for the most expensive weapons system in the history of the DoD.

The DoD’s Challenge 

Part of the DoD’s challenge as they look to overhaul the supply chain is that the program is so new, and we are just starting to learn the maintenance curve. At the same time, there’s a lot of technical inefficiencies compounding the logistical problems. 

The GAO report made eight major recommendations to improve the parts supply chain, including the development of a process to acquire spare parts, more accountability and a better strategy for the maintenance of the network.  “Without a policy that clearly defines how it will keep track of purchased F-35 parts, DoD will continue to operate with a limited understanding of the F-35 spare parts it owns and how they are being managed,” the report says. “If left unaddressed, these accountability issues will impede DoD’s ability to obtain sufficient readiness within affordability constraints.”

While the F-35 has a ground-based Automated Logistics and Information System (ALIS) designed to manage and track spare parts, it has been experiencing issues since day one. The problem is so bad, many of the F-35 operators are having to perform time-consuming, manual workarounds. In order to better keep track of the purchased parts and manage the flow and delivery of parts across the world, the DoD needs to invest in systems that will increase visibility into the F-35 supply chain.

An Amazonian Solution

The DoD would be wise to look at the logistical systems used at companies like Amazon. Amazon has created a solution where they (and the customer) have the ability to track orders in real-time throughout every point of the supply chain.

Customers get alerts when the package ships from the point of origin, arrives at the warehouse, gets loaded on the truck, and arrives at their door. This allows them to make better decisions around re-ordering, canceling and planning. Transferring this model to the F-35 supply chain would provide our logisticians with more accurate and timely information than they currently receive today. 

It’s becoming obvious that the DoD needs a solution like Amazon.  Lucky for us all, they already own one.

Better Logistics Through Telemetry

The Telemetry Suite of Logistics Apps, developed by Tactical Edge in partnership with the Office of Naval Research and the Small Business AdministrationSmall Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program, provides the government with an Amazon-like solution for tracking deliveries across the supply chain. 

Telemetry has the ability to associate a tracker tag with F-35 part shipments in-process around the globe. Like Amazon, these trackers would communicate information about the shipment’s location and state that would be visible to the DoD, those ordering parts and to those awaiting shipments for F-35 repairs. As part of a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), Tactical Edge has demonstrated this capability. 

During the CRADA, Tactical Edge’s Total Visibility Anywhere (TVA) tags were used to track shipments leaving CONUS and heading into Europe and Africa. Hourly Position Location Information (PLI) updates were sent back, which Telemetry was able to display on a map and push into other Authoritative Data Sources (ADS), specifically the National ITV Server, with over a 99% accuracy rate.

Bottom Line, What Does It Mean?

The DoD’s ability to make informed decisions about ordering and reordering parts would vastly improve overnight. Late deliveries, redundant orders or shipments moving to the wrong location could be accounted for, planned for and remedied. The efficiency of the F-35 parts supply chain could be optimized, ultimately resulting in more planes in the air where they belong. 

And the best part?  The government already owns the solution! So, there can be no expensive licensing agreements or vendor lock-in. And any additional development required to tailor the solution to your organization can be handled through a direct sole-sourced contract.  The competition requirements for any effort have already been satisfied through the SBIR process.

It’s the short-term and long-term solution the DoD needs to get this young F-35 program back on track. 

Next Steps

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