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Military Systems Sustainability: A Lean Model


Since 1990, the Department of Defense (DoD) has reduced its budget by 29%, a reduction that has greatly impacted weapon system acquisition and in-service support [Cordesman 2000]. Reduced budgets have forced the military branches to extend the life of legacy systems with significant reductions in acquisition of replacement systems. In addition, current weapon systems are faced with rising operations and maintenance ("sustainment") costs due to:

  • Increased operational tempo.
  • Increased mean time between maintenance cycles due to increased operational requirements.
  • Increased life extension of existing weapon systems due to delays in new system acquisition.
  • Unforeseen support problems associated with aging weapons systems.
  • Material shortages due to diminishing manufacturing resources and technological obsolescence.
As sustainment costs increase, less funding is available to procure replacement systems. An analysis conducted by DoD [Gansler 1999] concluded that, unless mission requirements and the operational tempo are reduced, or the budget significantly increases, the operational maintenance cost portions of the budget will equal the total current (net present value) budgets by the year 2024. This chain of events has been characterized as the DoD Death Spiral and is illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1. DoD Death Spiral (Source: Dr. Gansler, USD(A&T), Acquisition Reform Update, January 1999)
Figure 1. DoD Death Spiral (Source: Dr. Gansler, USD(A&T), Acquisition Reform Update, January 1999) (Click to Zoom)

To waive off this death spiral, DoD must find innovative solutions to support legacy systems, solutions that are both cost effective and flexible. The DoD must economically manage these system life cycles to address obsolescence and modernization issues without degrading readiness, cost, and performance objectives.

A Lean Sustainment Enterprise Model for Military Systems

To achieve a truly lean approach, some organizational structures within the current military system must be integrated. The authors propose a new Lean Sustainment Enterprise Model (LSEM) that calls for consolidating and integrating the following sustainment functions: In-Service Engineering, Integrated Logistic Support, Intermediate/Depot Maintenance, Operational Support, and Supply Support. This realignment of the military sustainment system mirrors a commercial Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) operation. The goal is to achieve significant customer service levels while reducing total ownership costs. The new organizational framework allows close coordination between the operational community and the supporting sustainment network required to meet evolving life cycle support requirements.

The proposed enterprise model is illustrated in Figure 2. The key attribute of this framework is that it is organized around three primary sustainment structures: Operational Sustainment, Sustainment Engineering, and MRO operations. These three structures are consolidated into one Life Cycle Support Facility, shown in the center. The Supply Chain that feeds this new Facility is illustrated in Figure 2 to the right of the Facility, and the Operational (O) Level and Intermediate (I) Level Maintenance activities, which benefit from the Facility, are illustrated on the left (as the Operational Support function).

Figure 2. The Proposed Lean Sustainment Enterprise Model
Figure 2. The Proposed Lean Sustainment Enterprise Model (Click to Zoom)

Within the Life Cycle Support Facility, there exist the traditional integrated logistic support (ILS) functions, such as training, packaging, handling, shipping and transportation, and the computer resources (CR), among others. These functions are now part of what the authors call the first structure, the Operational Sustainment (OS) structure. New information systems technologies allow many of these stand-alone ILS elements to be combined and integrated into a net-centric environment. Sophisticated interactive technical manuals are rapidly evolving to include training and elaborate diagnostics capabilities. Advances in both enterprise-wide and specialized logistics engineering applications software packages are being designed with open architectures that would allow an integrated digital environment. These advances in information technology potentially could eliminate many traditional logistic infrastructure bureaucracies that were established during the cold war. OS processes must be re-engineered to effectively use these new technologies and applications.

The second structure within the life-cycle facility, Sustainment Engineering (SE), provides engineering services to the other structures, primarily the MRO structure. The SE structure uses an Integrated Systems Engineering Management framework to maintain such traditional functions as provisioning technical documentation, product baseline maintenance, technical data packages, and engineering models. Intelligent engineering analysis software tools could provide system engineers the capability to monitor and correct operational sustainment problems, such as technology obsolescence, aging systems, reliability performance degradation, and maintenance engineering management. System effectiveness management practices are used to automate and monitor sustainment technical performance measures for rapid problem identification and resolution to minimize cost and mission readiness impacts. The third structure, the MRO structure, provides spares and material support to the war fighter. The MRO organization structure will include inventory management and supply chain management responsibilities, which is why it directly connects to the Supply Chain structure in Figure 2. The MRO structure could perform remanufacturing services using new lean production concepts, such as Just In Time (JIT), single piece flow, and Kanban-based pull production systems. Many institutions have observed significant cycle time reduction and increased service level performance using these lean concepts, including the Lean Aerospace Initiative [2001]. In terms of inventory management, the traditional military logistics infrastructure designates the Inventory Control Point (ICP) organization to perform inventory and asset management. The Designated Stock Point (DSP) organization performs warehousing and transportation coordination services for the ICP. Consolidating these services in the new MRO structure minimizes cost and streamlines asset movement. Most commercial MROs routinely co-locate these responsibilities.


Reduced DoD budgets are forcing the military to rethink how to manage the life cycle of the military systems. Initiatives such as the U.S. Army's Modernization Through Spares program, the U.S. Air Force's Agile Combat Support, MIT's Lean Aerospace Initiative, the USAF/industry/MIT Lean Sustainment Initiative, and Flexible Sustainment present potential solutions to these budget problems, but they focus on individual elements of the sustainment system, not the whole enterprise.

To take maximum advantage of the fundamental principles of being lean, a change in the military organizational structure is necessary. The change calls for the integration of the In-Service Engineering process, the Inventory Control Points, and the maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) functions to ensure that a total systems engineering approach is used effectively in solving all parts of the problem. That is, the synergistic effects of one solution can be magnified by other solutions in the chain.

In utilizing a private industry type of approach, the authors have developed a Lean Sustainment Enterprise Model. The model provides the necessary framework for conducting research into developing this whole system approach to lean sustainment for military systems.


1. Agripino, Mario; Cathcart, Timothy; Mathaisel, Dennis F.X., "A Lean Sustainment Enterprise Model for Military Systems," Working paper submitted to Acquisition Review Quarterly, August 2002.

2. Cordesman, Anthony H., "Trends in US Defense Spending: The Size of Funding, Procurement, and Readiness Problems," Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC, October 2000.

3. Gansler, Jacques S., Office of the Secretary of Defense, Acquisition & Technology, U.S. Department of Defense, USD (A&T), "Acquisition Reform Update," January 1999.

4. Liker, Jeffrey, Becoming Lean, Productivity Press, Portland, Oregon, 1997.