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Maintaining Military Air Power with Rugged Mobility on the Ground

Military readiness is contingent on a well-balanced combination of strategic planning and troop preparedness. It’s hard to mobilize an effectual force without the right resources in place. But precision execution is reliant on more than just standardized processes and skilled troops. Real-time intelligence is one of the most decisive resources available today – not just for frontline combat units, but for troops responsible for asset readiness. That’s why mobile PC technologies are so critical to the success of today’s military aircraft maintainers, especially in the midst of force reductions and surging operational demands.

Military Maintainers are Retiring, but the Fleets They Maintained for 20 Years are Not.

Rugged Mobile Computing for Air Force Workflows

Military aviation is in a time of transition. As evidenced by a recent 2017 United States Air Force budget plan, extensive efforts are being made to “rebalance the force and counter readiness problems resulting from years of deployments, personnel shortages and sequester-forced spending caps that have cut into modernization programs across the board.” President Trump is even recalling thousands of retired Air Force pilots in an effort to sustain the country’s mighty air power. At the same time, Congressional orders are requiring one of the smallest Air Forces in decades to keep the full fleet of A-10 Thunderbolts in the air another 5 to 7 years beyond their planned retirement age. That is no easy feat as the maintenance requirements will increase exponentially as A-10s remain the go-to attack plane for close air-to-ground support in the Middle East.

According to an April 18, 2016, report from the Air Force Times:
"The Air Force has been sounding the alarm over the last year on its shortage of maintainers, particularly seasoned crew chiefs and flightline avionics airmen needed to keep fighters, bombers and RPAs in the air. To help hold on to its veteran maintainers, the service is offering them incentives such as re-enlistment bonuses and high-year tenure extensions."

As military leaders seek to compensate for a reduced force across all branches and a rate of deployment comparable to the early 2000s, they are evaluating technologies that will allow them to :

  • Support more missions despite lower manning levels
  • Make smarter decisions in real-time during training and field operations
  • Take faster action to strengthen specialized skill sets and, as a result, strengthen operational impact.

At the same time, military leaders are striving to appeal to a new generation of workers that expect a certain level of technology utilization in their careers. Younger service members have spent their entire lives in front of a screen and are most productive when they have access to technologies such as mobile computers. By creating a familiar working environment conducive to professional advancement, it is easier to recruit and retain candidates that may otherwise be attracted to competitive civilian opportunities. Mobile computing technologies support a military structure that aligns with civilian business models. They provide a win-win solution for recruitment, retention, and the application of today’s military proficiencies to future systems. Thus, the urgency to transition to technology-centric, paperless programs across multiple military operations.

Migrating Today’s Military Maintainers to a Highly Mobile Computing Platform

As research firm VDC noted in an Executive Brief for its report on “Cutting Through the Fog of War: Mobile Solutions in the Military”:

Militaries and defense organizations have extensive and unique communication and mobility needs, which require frequent upgrading to remain competitive against possible threats.

And, though a variety of mobile devices and communications systems have been leveraged to aid with situational awareness, “disjointed legacy systems” remain a pain point for defense organizations. Many are still utilizing paper-based records systems and work order submittals. Others are testing a variety of electronic documentation methods, but have yet to settle on a single cohesive solution capable of reaching all stakeholders.

By transitioning from a divided operating environment to a fully digital system, military organizations can execute more coordinated efforts and increase their response impact despite limited resource availability. By reducing its reliance on commercial off-the-shelf mobile computing platforms and introducing more scalable solutions, a single military aircraft maintenance unit could shorten its aircraft turnaround times, reduce the number of maintenance oversights and repair mistakes and ultimately sustain the high operations tempo that is currently warranted.

In short, a paperless and fully mobile military force means a more adaptable force.

Safety and Security are Non-Negotiable. Equipment Failure is Not an Option.

Xplore rugged tablets for military mobile applications

Every military organization needs a set of standardized processes that provide real-time access to actionable data. When aircraft maintainers are faced with increased operational tempos – whether during a TDY for unit training or when deployed in support of global missions – mobility-based tools become more critical to performance. Work order requests increase as more frequent sorties increase their fleet’s wear and tear. Routine maintenance timelines are condensed as aircraft readiness demands expand and deadlines tighten. Accuracy and efficiency become essential to all inspection, maintenance, and repair operations. As do mobile computers specifically designed to meet military maintainer’s extreme demands:

  • Large screens that are viewable outdoors amidst the sunshine, dust, rain, snow, and humidity akin to global operating regions
  • A lightweight form factor that allows for secure carry in crawl spaces, cabins, and hangars alike
  • Gloved finger, pen, and keyboard data entry options, as additional data documentation and verification tools such as a built-in camera, barcode scanner, and specialized I/O connections
  • Reliable wireless, satellite and GPS communications
  • Devices that are inherently safe to use in Hazardous Locations, vibration and shock proof, and resistant to corrosive elements – including oils, fuels and salt fog
  • Field-serviceable devices with long life cycles and long battery life
  • Secure data transmissions to and from the field/flightline and command

Compromise on any of the above to achieve the perceived “cost savings” of a commercial-grade device and risk losing the ability to :

  • Replicate specialized work order templates and maintenance checklists.
  • Deliver easily-readable technical manuals for all aircraft parts in real-time.
  • Document specific actions taken during technical order completion and maintain accurate records
  • Facilitate a collaborative relationship between pilots, maintainers and crew chiefs. This centralized tool enables them to standardize on more efficient processes.
  • Keep maintainers (and all troops) fully operational no matter where they are in the flight line or on the front lines.

In fact, many of the commercial off-the-shelf solutions tested by the military to date are resulting in spending overtures and stalling future technology buys as re-evaluations are conducted on mobility’s return on investment (ROI). If you want to protect your troops, and your spend, make these cost considerations when computing spend-to-savings ratios of commercial-grade vs. genuinely military-grade mobile computers:

  • Which device can support frequent software upgrades and evolving security measures?
  • Which device can be easily tailored to the variations in workflow specifications and extremes of military operating environments?
  • Which device will offer the most consistent user-experience over the next 5-7 years? Which will require the most training?
  • Which device – taking into account the above – will result in a lower TCO over the next 5-7 years despite the frequent programming upgrades required in defense environments?
  • Which devices can be equally utilized in friendly and forward deployed locations?
  • How much time will you spend developing a single device training program versus the many re-trainings that will be required when COTS devices fail and new form factors or brands are introduced?

Taking all of the above into account, rugged mobile PCs tend to emerge as the most appropriate platform for military mobility. Rugged tablets, in particular, offer the best investment protection – not only for the military's technology spending but for their investment in the training and retention of highly qualified and highly skilled maintainers.

Read More about Rugged Tablets’ Contribution to Military Missions :

Military-Grade Rugged Tablets Must Prove Genuine Protection against Environmental Threats
Maritime Mobility: Why Some Rugged Tablets are Immune to Typical Computer Corrosion
The Rugged Tablet vs. the Rugged “Clamshell”: How Different Are They?
Decontamination of Mobile Devices – Not Just a Healthcare Concern

Check Out Part 2 of this Blog