In the complex world of military preparedness and sustainment, metrics are integral to strategic decision-making, resource allocation and fleet health assessments. Traditional readiness measures have always been the bedrock of informing a commander about the readiness level of a unit. But do these metrics adequately serve the needs of the sustainer to assess a fleet’s health?

The sustainment community would benefit more from a proactive focus on established Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System key performance parameters, or KPPs — materiel availability and operational availability (AO) rather than retroactively responding to readiness measures. My hypothesis is that an increased focus on materiel availability, operational availability and other sustainment health measures offers a proactive approach that integrates the expected engineered performance with the realities of the sustainment phase to better understand fleet performance over time. Additionally, it postures the sustainment community to integrate artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities as well as improve decision-making.

Today’s readiness metrics assess a unit’s capability to perform its designated missions. It is based on the availability of personnel, the training they have received, the on-hand availability of equipment and/or the serviceability of equipment; and it gravitates toward the diagnosis of resource deficits, culminating in a comprehensive unit readiness report presented as capability ratings. However, as comprehensive as they might be for commanders, they are fundamentally reactive, and designed to highlight problems and needed response rather than predict and prevent them.

A paradigm shift toward a more data-centric, proactive and cost-conscious framework is well underway within the Defense Department’s sustainment community but requires metrics that enable the sustainer to anticipate challenges versus react to condition. This change will bridge the commander’s view of combat capability (readiness) with the sustainer’s view (fleet health) to enable better root-cause analysis, inventory accuracy and maintenance posture.

As we differentiate between the traditional operational and tactical view of readiness, it must be noted traditional approaches are largely pull-based and dependent on a demand signal — usually a failure or a near failure — to instigate action. Such an approach results in inherent delays and misses strategic opportunities for more efficient, proactive sustainment.

A focus on holistic fleet availability will allow:

  • The strategic echelon to better understand resource consumption challenges and push solutions in advance of commanders’ requests to ameliorate issues.
  • Better isolation of the assets contributing the least to readiness.
  • For the effectiveness of maintenance echelons above the unit level .

This provides the sustainment community with a rich data set from which to draw fleet-level conclusions; drive resource prioritization; and streamline maintenance schedules, supply chain performance and optimization at every echelon.

Three categories of availability provide the essential tools to transition from traditional readiness measures of unit combat capability to fleet health. As part of establishing a framework for data-informed sustainment, the Office of the Secretary of Defense has established a series of sustainment health measures to measure fleet performance. These metrics are used to isolate strategic sustainment challenges at the fleet level for resource consideration. One of them, materiel availability, captures the entirety of the total active inventory. It underscores the availability of weapon systems, ensuring assets are not just present but in a state of operational readiness.

  1. Another, operational availability, reflects the actual availability of primary mission active inventory systems within operational units. This provides visibility of ground-level units and their equipping levels and serviceability rates.
  2. Finally, cost per day of availability ties the operational effectiveness to the cost and allows visibility of the cost incurred for each day of availability generated. It helps identify those assets within fleets that deliver the least in terms of availability but cost the services the most to operate.

By pivoting to these sustainment health measures, we can transition from a solely reactive readiness-based approach to one that emphasizes fleet health, supply chain performance, cost and return on investment in the form of availability.

This doesn’t replace readiness; it enhances it. Availability is the bedrock for ensuring the serviceability requirements are met at the unit level and that the depot echelon of maintenance is performing as required and expected. By proactively managing the fleet’s health, we can anticipate and address issues before they escalate into mission-critical problems.

Christopher Lowman is the U.S. assistant secretary of defense for sustainment.

More In Opinion