The U.S. Air Force spends about 70% of lifecycle costs in sustaining, not acquiring its aircraft, according to Will Roper, assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics. Roper has ambitious plans for innovating in procurement of new aircraft and systems, but says he is operating in an austere budgeting environment. As a result of these constraints, the Air Force is looking to becoming much more efficient in maintaining aircraft in order to free up the funds for needed innovation.
Speaking to a Mitchell Institute Seminar in Arlington on April 12, Roper was confident there are ample opportunities for maintenance savings. He estimated that at least 10% of maintenance spending and possibly up to 20% can be cut by using new tools such as more predictive maintenance, additive manufacturing and additive repairs.
Until fairly recently, the Air Force used no additive technologies and had little digitized maintenance, Roper said. “Now we are printing thousands of plastic parts and are moving to metal parts and to safety-critical parts.”
Apart from printing replacement items, the service is also moving to additive repair of parts. It has already started two additive repair centers, and Roper says they will focus on repairing engine parts. The savings here would be substantial. For example, when engine blades go out of tolerance, they can cost from $10,000 to $100,000 to replace.
On predictive maintenance, the Air Force has entered a partnership with Delta Tech Ops to transfer the latest in commercial best practices to Defense aviation maintenance.