A U..S. Air Force cargo plane is loaded with equipment and pallets on a tarmac
By Rychee Brown | July 02, 2020

Maintaining Military Air Power with Rugged Mobility on the Ground

Readiness requires real-time intelligence – and a secure mobile computer that can reliably deliver that intel.

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 front-line combat units, but for troops responsible for asset readiness.

That’s why mobile computing 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.

Military aviation is in a time of transition, especially in the United States. As evidenced by a 2017 U.S. Air Force budget plan, extensive efforts have been made in recent years 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.” Thousands of retired Air Force pilots were even recalled 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 to keep the full fleet of 40-year-old A-10 Thunderbolts – a fleet that should be reaching retirement – in the air almost another 20 years. (That’s a whole career for Airmen entering the force today.)

Speaking of careers: 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 consumer or general business mobile computing platforms and introducing more rugged scalable solutions that are still commercial off-the-shelf, 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.

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 designed to be used in Hazardous Locations, vibration and shock proof, and resistant to corrosive elements – including oils and fuels.
  • Field-serviceable devices with long life cycles and long battery life
  • Secure data transmissions to and from the field/flight line and command

Compromise on any of the above to achieve the perceived “cost savings” of a business-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.

Based on what we’ve heard from military leaders, many of the general business solutions that have tested to date have resulted in spending overtures and the stalling of future technology buys as re-evaluations are conducted on mobility’s return on investment (ROI).

The advice we give when we hear this: if you want to protect your troops, and your spend, make these cost considerations when computing spend-to-savings ratios of business class 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 total cost of ownership (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 business class devices fail and new form factors or brands are introduced?

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


Editor’s Note:

Curious how rugged tablets can empower your unit to…

  • Support more missions, even at 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?

Contact Zebra’s Government team today.

Public Sector,
Rychee Brown
Rychee Brown

Rychee Brown is currently the Federal Account Manager at Zebra Technologies where she is responsible for growing the federal market and supporting federal end users.

Rychee has more than 20 of experience within the AIDC and software industries and holds a position with the Infragarad organization, which is dedicated to protecting national security and the United States’ critical infrastructure.  Previously, she served as Channel Manager at Honeywell and in various product management and marketing positions within the RFID space.  

Rychee holds a Master’s degree in global enterprise management from Jones International. 

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