Sustainment in the military

Maintain technological advantage over the life span of military systems

Modern military systems face a dilemma: They must stay at the cutting edge of performance yet serve for ever longer life spans. Solving that dilemma relies on linking sustainment strategy, operations, and execution

In an era when sports cars can add horsepower via software updates, it is tempting to believe that the challenges of long-term sustainment are a thing of the past, and that new technology will simply come along and solve many of the issues of long-term sustainment. This point of view can be tempting when we read about the positive impact of new technologies. For example, digital data taken directly from equipment can transition readiness reporting from a lagging historical snapshot to a real-time information source; supply shortfalls can now be mitigated with advanced manufacturing processes such as additive manufacturing and computer numerical control; and technical communities can leverage social platforms to source and qualify new technologies at a rapid pace.

However, none of these new technologies work in isolation. With weapons systems operating for many decades, most sustainment delivery is, and will likely continue to be, managed with outdated technology and processes. Failure logs and records are often handwritten and manually maintained; reporting mechanisms are often slow; and inventory piles onto shelves in some locations as parts shortages continue to plague operational availability in others. To effectively deal with significant challenges such as sustainment, the military needs not only new technology but also new ways of understanding, operating, and managing.

Tackling this massive endeavour requires military leaders to have clear and detailed understanding of the various levels of sustainment delivery from planning to execution (figure 1). This requires having a coordinated approach that doesn’t make isolated strategic decisions but instead shares and incorporates the necessary feedback vertically throughout the process. This integration is key to developing a sustainment approach that is both effective and flexible enough to support the operators and their missions throughout the life of the program. The approach should incorporate the following factors:

  • Strategic vision. Crafting a flexible, effective, and enduring sustainment strategy that balances competing demands on a weapon system throughout its life cycle readiness.
  • Operational construct. Addressing diverse stakeholder incentives by assigning ownership responsibilities that support the overall strategy.
  • Tactical execution. Constantly ensuring the right people, business processes, and enabling technology are properly inserted to make it all happen.


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