The Osprey Maintainability and Sustainment Eco-System

By Robbin Laird

The Osprey was built from the outset as a digital aircraft and a pioneer in the introduction of data-rich systems for maintainability and sustainment. The V-22, as is the case with the F-35 and H-53K, is a very capable and complex aircraft that has needed attention to detail to make the entire enterprise work as part of a comprehensive sustainment system.

Readiness considerations in public discussions of the aircraft have tended to focus on the availability of parts, certainly a consideration, but understanding the entire eco-system is the key to generating higher readiness rates.

How might one characterize the Osprey’s maintenance and sustainability eco-system?

Brad Wanek, Director, V-22 Sustainment at Bell provided this definition:

“I see three major components of the V-22 eco-system related to aircraft readiness. These operate in concert and must be in proper balance to deliver the optimal outcome.”

“Each of these three are interdependent subsystems, which cannot operate without inputs from the other two. They are supply, maintenance, and information.”

“The supply system is the most objectively quantifiable and, as a result, the easiest to measure and track performance. Because of the readily available metrics, supply has, in my opinion, received disproportionate focus of effort.

“Maintenance system performance is as much or more a driver of aircraft readiness as supply, but it receives less focus. We can track maintenance management effectiveness overall, but the subcomponents of maintenance capacity and capability, such as maintenance training quality and the experience and proficiency of the maintainers, themselves, are more difficult to measure. Accordingly, when it comes down to metrics, it receives less leader attention.”

“Information flow is critical to the functioning of both supply and maintenance, yet it is relatively neglected in discussions about fleet readiness. The quality and capability of the information systems available to manage the maintenance and supply systems are critical factors in aircraft readiness.

“Having the information systems which can harvest knowledge from the aircraft to inform maintenance and supply personnel and having the capacity to utilize that knowledge to shape and improve maintenance and supply methods and procedures will ultimately determine the level or readiness that can be achieved.”

In this very thoughtful characterization, we see a dynamic interactive system among physical parts (supply), the level of performance of maintainers and their support element and finally, the increasing importance of exploiting the capabilities of data rich aircraft like the V-22.

The parts production issue is a key one as supply chains post-pandemic have been taut. It is also the case that governments in the West have followed a just-in-time parts production and delivery system which has guaranteed there is not a deep supply of production capacity. The war in Ukraine has provided a stark reminder of how challenging it can be to ensure a robust supply chain response in the event of an unanticipated evolving crisis.

Then there is the question of the arrival of 3D printing. It is now possible to produce parts at the point of operation thereby changing the mix of prefabricated parts which need to be shipped to the point of operation and those which can be produced locally. This obviously is a work in progress and the proper mix will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Efficient delivery of supplies is a key element as well. With Marines emphasizing expeditionary forward basing, the question of where to position supplies to ensure readiness at the tactical edge is a key consideration. It is not simply stockpiling at fixed points; it is about availability of parts to sustain the tip of the spear operations.

The second element for eco-system consideration is the experience and proficiency of the maintainers themselves. I have interviewed many maintainers of the Osprey over the years, and the evolution of how they are trained, how they work with industry service representatives, and how they share knowledge is a key issue.

The place of origin for Osprey operations, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, faced a difficult logistics challenge from the very beginning because squadrons were required to deploy into combat soon after Initial Operational Capability (IOC) was attained. In many cases, maintenance practices were learned on deployment. This is a problem the Marine Corps plans to avoid with standup of the new version of the CH-53 by delaying until 2025 or 2026.

Given the difference of the V-22 from any that proceeded it, cultural change was crucial as well. That point was made during a 2013 visit to MCAS New River and my discussion with Colonel Chris “Mongo” Seymour.

“Getting the Marines to own the system and learn how to fix “new” problems, which always come up with a new aircraft was essential. The problems are different, and they must be worked differently. You need to challenge the maintainers to change their culture.”

Over time, the role of industry service representatives in helping active-duty maintainers has ebbed and flowed, although with the introduction of the Osprey into the U.S. Navy fleet, their role has been a central one in shaping the hands-on training approach.

But there remains a fiscal challenge as well as policy questions regarding the role such senior industry personnel should play in the future. Personally, I think the role is a significant one as the U.S. military evolves and the recruitment and re-enlistment challenges seem to be a steady challenge facing the force. A complex aircraft needs an experienced corps of maintainers.

The third key element of the interactive sustainment eco system is information and knowledge obtainable from the data generated from the aircraft and the maintenance regime.

John Russell, Manager, V-22 Field Services of Bell, characterized the information piece as follows:

“The aircraft has multiple components and sensors that monitor and record flight profiles, system functionality, vibration analysis, and exceedances.”

“At the end of a flight this data is extracted from the aircraft and uploaded into a computer system that displays the information for maintainers to review. This system, known as CAMEO (Comprehensive Automated Maintenance Environment – Optimized), provides fault and exceedance information for maintainers to evaluate.”

“The maintainers need to have an expansive understanding of aircraft sub-systems, theory of operation, and maintenance related tasks in order to interpret the data properly.”

“If faults, failures, or exceedances are identified, CAMEO will provide trend analysis and general references for corrective actions. “

“If engineering disposition is required, more detailed data can be extracted for evaluation.”

“All CAMEO data, fleetwide, is uploaded to the government’s Readiness Integration Center to provide Automated Logistics Environment (ALE) support to engineering, logistics, and maintainer communities.”

The Osprey has been a pioneer program in terms of generating such data for the services, the government and industry working together to leverage the data to gain better insight into the performance of the aircraft and its parts.

But to maintain expertly the aircraft, one needs to know the overall system of the aircraft and not simply be a specialist on a single subsystem of the aircraft.

It is clear that the three elements of the Osprey’s sustainment eco-system, as described here, are highly interactive.

The physical supply side is affected by the actual performance of the parts, the ability to move the parts to the point of maintenance, and to the manufacturer being able to improve parts through input from operational experience.

The performance of the maintainers decisively affects aircraft readiness, and their collective knowledge provides feedback throughout the system and provides an important input to the manufacturer regarding parts improvements. Industry Service Representatives can play an important role in providing information back to the manufacturer regarding improvements in parts and procedures as well.

The information generated by the aircraft and flowing through the logistical system forms a critical digital backbone for understanding the aircraft and informing the process of product improvement.

Over the course of almost 500,000 flight hours, the Osprey’s maintenance and sustainability eco-system has become ever more robust and effective. These lessons learned will continue to evolve and ultimately set the stage for improved readiness and reliability of this aircraft as well as future advanced tilt-rotor variants now being developed.

Featured Image: A Marine, with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 (Reinforced) (VMM 365), performs maintenance on an MV-22B Osprey, assigned to the Blue Knights of (VMM) 365 (Reinforced) on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5), March 18, 2020. Photo by Seaman Darren Newell. USS Bataan (LHD 5)