Ultrareliability:  Pillar of the AAN

by Richard W. Price

The Army After Next will face a battlefield that will require weapons and equipment that can operate for long periods without failing.  To meet that standard, all systems will have to be designed to be "ultra" reliable.

The reliability of Army After Next (AAN) weapons and equipment will need to be quantum leaps higher than that of current conventional systems. This need for ultrahigh reliability will be driven by the nature of AAN battle force operations—dispersed, lethal, agile, nonlinear—and by limitations on available battle force support.

"Ultrareliability" is one of six pillars being used to develop concepts for battlefield support of AAN warfighters. The AAN program itself was established to conduct broad studies of warfare looking ahead to about the year 2025. Its purpose is to frame issues vital to developing the Army after 2010 and to provide those issues to senior Army leaders for integration into the Army Training and Doctrine Command's combat developments programs.

AAN Visions

Combat service support concepts for the AAN are expected to be radically different from those in use today. These differences will be revolutionary rather than evolutionary. The nature of operations envisioned for the AAN battle force will demand that it be more self-sufficient than today's force. A battle force must be able to operate with complete independence for short periods of time and with minimal reliance on support organizations for extended periods. This need for operating with little or no support is a key factor behind the need for ultra-reliable systems and equipment.

The AAN battle force will be flexible and highly agile and will employ highly maneuverable weapon platforms and futuristic weaponry. The technologies required for some futuristic capabilities are still beyond the technological horizon. Nontraditional energy sources, armaments, and ultralight major weapon platforms are envisioned. Within a battle force's engagement area, the expected distances that units will travel and the hours that systems will operate will be at least double those of today. Not only will engagement areas be very large, but they likely will be far removed from higher-level support organizations.

The visions of battle force operations now being developed foresee infrequent equipment failures, most of which will be corrected by crews or operators using modular replacement. The maintenance philosophy will be to replace forward and repair rear. Modularity of design will be emphasized. Design for maintainability will call for crews to remove and replace failed modules instead of components; weapon system crews will have a limited number of on-board spare modules.

Advanced maintenance and recovery vehicle (AMRV) crews will have limited maintenance capabilities beyond those of system operators. Their primary tasks will be recovering failed and damaged systems, moving them to extraction points, and performing quick battle damage assessment and repair. Mechanics will be multicapable maintainers qualified to maintain an entire weapon system rather than focus on a narrow specialty.

Failed or damaged equipment that cannot be repaired readily by the operator or AMRV crew will be removed to a distant battle unit support element. Designing equipment for self-recovery will be emphasized, so that, in those unusual instances in which a system malfunctions or breaks down during an engagement, the system can move itself to an extraction point. In addition to self-recovery, a disabled asset can be moved to an extraction point by another vehicle of the same type or by an AMRV. The limited number of AMRV's will be used as a last resort. Recovery from the extraction point to the battle unit support element will be accomplished by air, using the advanced airframe.

More Than a Goal

The goal of ultrareliability as a pillar of the AAN is to provide failure-free operations for the battle force. More than a goal or a choice, fielding ultrareliable weapons and equipment is a "must." Increased operational tempo, greatly expanded distances, and the remote, self-reliant nature of the battle force will drive the Army to ultrareliability.

Though unknown today, specific ultrareliability characteristics tied to each type of system and equipment will unfold as more knowledge is gleaned from AAN wargames and further development of concepts.

What is Reliability?

Reliability is an attribute that reflects system dependability. By definition, it is the probability that an item will function as intended without failure for a specified period under specified conditions. Reliability is usually expressed as a probability, either as a percentage or decimal fraction. Total system reliability is the net result of a complex combination of the reliabilities of components and subassemblies.

An alternate parameter sometimes used to determine reliability is the average interval between failures. Two parameters commonly used today are the mean time between essential function failures and the mean time between system aborts. Where appropriate, "miles" or "rounds" are used in lieu of "time" in these parameters. With the AAN need for failure-free operations, one can easily see that average intervals between failures must increase immensely over those of today's systems.

A Change in Focus

Revolutionary differences in AAN battle force operations and support call for similar revolutions in reliability requirements. For the past 20 years, materiel system reliability requirements have focused on a weapon system's essential functions. This focus so far has met Army needs adequately. In most cases, reliability requirements have been driven by a need to minimize mission risk to personnel and equipment while maximizing the likelihood of mission success by the unit. A few cases have been driven by logistics constraints. The reliabilities needed for mission performance typically far exceed those required for adequate logistics responsiveness.

While reliability requirements focusing on essential function failures and system aborts will continue to be significant, new ones focusing on nonessential function failures may become important. Today, failures to nonessential functions are corrected as time allows and if and when parts and maintenance personnel are available. They are significant contributors to the proverbial "logistics tail." AAN distribution and maintenance systems must focus on essential support. Therefore, reliability requirements for AAN weapons and equipment may need to limit the likelihood of experiencing nonessential function failures as well as failures affecting essential functions.

Not only will essential function reliability continue to be important, it will become even more critical in the future. The lengthy, remote, high-tempo, self-reliant operations expected of the AAN battle force will require quantum improvements in this area of reliability. Today's system reliabilities will need to grow to ensure that a battle force can be confident of accomplishing its objectives with minimal risk of mission failure and at minimal risk to soldiers and equipment. For a battle force to achieve such levels of mission reliability, individual weapon systems, equipment, and their components must be ultrareliable.

Ultrareliability: Today or Tomorrow?

Ultrareliability is incorporated in many products we use daily. Take the television set, for example. In the 1960's, home visits by the TV repairman were frequent. Operational defects were numerous and varied, and problems like vertical picture rolling were common. However, today's younger viewers have never seen a television with that problem. In fact, it is not uncommon for a television today to last 20 years without needing service or repair.

Such longevity is found in many other consumer electronic products. Today's automobiles are outstanding examples of greatly improved system reliability. The term "tune-up" today has an entirely different meaning than it did in the 1960's and early 1970's. Then, automobiles required a tune-up every 3,000 miles. This usually included cleaning and adjusting the ignition points and condenser, adjusting engine timing, and cleaning and adjusting the carburetor. The points and condenser needed replacement every 6,000 miles, and spark plugs had to be changed every 10,000 miles. Today, a tune-up has been reduced to changing spark plugs every 50,000 to 100,000 miles. Cadillac's Northstar System boasts 100,000 miles before the first tune-up is needed.

Automobile tires are another dramatic example of the development of ultrareliability. Customers paid a premium in the 1960's to purchase a set of passenger car tires with a life expectancy (warranty) of 40,000 miles. Only a few companies offered such tires, and their prices were considerably higher than for other tires. Yet today, passenger car tires routinely are good for 60,000 to 80,000 miles, and brand-name tire manufacturers commonly offer automatic warranties of 60,000 to 80,000 miles at no additional cost.

Tremendous improvements in reliability of consumer products are partially attributable to technological advances. However, the key factor is an up-front focus on design for reliability, resulting in much higher reliability inherent in each product.

Such an emphasis on designed-in and built-in reliability is the first and foremost building block for achieving ultrareliability in AAN systems. It begins with ultrareliable parts and components and carries through to ultrareliable systems integration.

Ultrahigh reliability then can be achieved by using informed, anticipatory maintenance coupled with highly maintainable system designs. AAN systems and equipment will have built-in prognostics and programmable sensors to alert their crews of impending failures. Dual-role operator-maintainers will use predictive readings to correct impending problems before actual failures occur, thus avoiding the more serious consequences of system failure. In addition to on-board prognostics, drive-through diagnostic shelters will be used before combat engagements. Components and subassemblies likely to fail in an upcoming engagement will be identified and preemptively replaced. Though such preemptive part replacement has no effect on a system's inherent reliability, mission reliability may be enhanced.

What is Behind Ultrareliable Products?

Military customers and producers are unquestionably different than customers and producers of consumer products. Current ultrareliable consumer products disprove the popular notion that reliability is only limited by the amount of money one is willing to spend in production or purchasing. The pressures of market demand and competition are the impetus behind ultrareliability in consumer products. However, they are not the reason these products are so highly reliable. The reason is a conscious decision by producers to design and build in high reliability from the very beginning of product conceptualization. The old, traditional process of designing and building a product first, then modifying it to improve reliability has been abandoned, and for good reason. Consumer product companies realized that "tweaking" an existing design to achieve higher reliability was indeed very expensive. By changing their process to include design for reliability as an integral part of their initial design efforts, they were able to produce highly reliable products in a timely and profitable manner.

A similar conscious decision by the Army to develop and field ultrareliable weapons and equipment is needed to ensure that ultrareliability is achieved for the AAN. The key to success, as with consumer products, is an unwavering willingness to step away from the entrenched, traditional processes and seek innovative solutions. Instead of offering lists of excuses for why the Army can't achieve ultrareliability, the reality is that the Army must achieve ultrareliability in order to meet AAN demands.

Army Reliability Success Stories

The Army is not without its own reliability success stories. Notable achievements have been realized in improving the reliability of some current systems. Such successes are testimony that better reliability is achievable today, not tomorrow. Here are some examples of Army success. (Note that reliability for these systems is expressed in several different forms of average interval between failures.)

Family of medium tactical vehicles (FMTV) cargo variant reliability is nearly double its original requirement. The original FMTV cargo variant contractual requirement for hardware reliability was 3,000 mean miles between hardware mission failures. But the truck demonstrated 5,500 mean miles between hardware mission failures in production testing. Consequently, the contractual reliability requirement for follow-on buys has been raised to 5,500 mean miles between hardware mission failures.

Single-channel ground and airborne radio system (SINCGARS) reliability improved two- to threefold over the original requirement. Initially, the radio fell far short of its 1,250-hour mean time between failures reliability requirement. Improvements during development helped SINCGARS finally achieve its requirement. Other reliability enhancements have been incorporated through the years, causing the radio's reliability to increase further. Today, SINCGARS demonstrates a reliability in the range of 3,000 to 3,500 hours mean time between failures.

Abrams main battle tank reliability improved approximately 25 percent between the original vehicle and the second block improvement. Additionally, maintainability improved threefold. When originally fielded, the M1 Abrams tank demonstrated 304 mean miles between combat mission failures. This increased to 403 for the M1A1 and to 419 for M1A2. The fact that reliability grew at all is phenomenal because each successive block improvement made the tank much more complex, thereby introducing many more opportunities for failure. Even more significant than reliability improvements, maintainability in terms of maintenance man-hours per operating hour decreased from 2.67 for the original M1 to 0.85 for M1A2.

The Bradley fighting vehicle is one of the Army's reliability success stories.   Testing of the A2 version has achieved 750 mean miles of operation between failures. The Bradley fighting vehicle is one of the Army's reliability success stories.   Testing of the A2 version has achieved 750 mean miles of operation between failures.

Bradley fighting vehicle reliability grew 250 percent between original development and the second block improvement. In 10 years, Bradley reliability improved dramatically, even as the vehicle itself became increasingly complex as a result of two block improvements. The Bradley demonstrated a level of 289 mean miles between failures at the end of initial development. Ten years later, Government production testing of the A2 version demonstrated 750 mean miles between failures.

While none of these examples constitute ultrareliability, they clearly show that higher reliabilities are achievable without necessarily adding more cost. As these systems increased in capability and complexity, reliability was not an oversight. Instead, preserving or enhancing reliability was an objective, along with the objective of adding new capabilities to the systems.

Major Cultural Change Needed

Resistance to change is the foremost roadblock to achieving ultrareliability in Army weapons and equipment. Major changes do not occur easily. Moving from the reliabilities of today's weapons and equipment to those needed by the AAN is a gargantuan leap. The entire Army acquisition community must undergo tremendous change in processes and perspective. This change must span the requirements determination, research, development, contracting, and test and evaluation communities. Processes and practices must be re-engineered to meet the objective of ultrareliability. Openness to new ideas and nontraditional thinking are the keys to this reengineering effort.

Transformations of this magnitude do not occur without a major cultural change. This change must transcend the Army and its supporting cast of private contractors and defense industries. Requirements developers must shift their analyses to reflect the aggressive operating tempo expected of the AAN battle force and its austere support constraints. Materiel developers must seek creative ways to contract for ultrareliability. Defense industries must develop design and production methods that deliver ultrareliable products. Testers and evaluators must develop innovative approaches to measure and assess the attainment of numerically high reliability requirements. A much higher reliance on decision risk analysis will be needed, accompanied by an increased tolerance of the unknown by decision makers.

Above all, the most difficult task will be to break away from the many paradigms surrounding the traditional system development process. These paradigms restrict creative thinking and openness to new ideas. To achieve ultrareliability, the Army must follow the lead of consumer product companies by seeking nontraditional approaches, inspired by innovation and challenge. ALOG

Richard W. Price is the Eastern Regional Manager of Combat Developments Engineering, Headquarters, Army Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Monroe, Virginia. He holds bachelor's and master's degrees in civil engineering from Old Dominion University and an M.B.A. from Florida Institute of Technology. He is a graduate of the Executive Potential Program and is a registered professional engineer in the state of Virginia.