Keeping the Armed Forces Up and Running

MRO challenges include volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity

Lt Gen Dr. Anil Kapoor

Armies of the world are expected to be always ready for any eventuality. But to keep army hardware well oiled, up and running, it takes lots of hard work behind the scene. The underlying thought process has been that most of the equipment in peacetime is not exploited and hence, units have to be prepared for any operational eventuality, which calls for periodic and preventive maintenance (PPM).

Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) have existed as a necessity for enhancing reliability and availability of equipment with periodic and preventive maintenance (PPM) being a best practice, especially in the Armed Forces.

The moot question: Is Periodic Preventive Maintenance an optimum MRO practice?

The question, in fact, is the maintenance professional’s paradox.

Humans can express and hence, medical interventions are condition based and symptomatic. The equipment is mute and hence, undergoes over maintenance based on policies which can be questioned – why should a piece of equipment which has turned 15 years with 2000 km be given the same treatment as the one 15 years with 5000 km?

Hence, condition-based monitoring and maintenance.

MRO: The Journey So Far

The Armed Forces of the world have at least three generations of equipment – Gen X (1965 -80), Y (1981-94) which are near obsolete, and Gen Z (1996-2010) and Gen Alpha (2011-25).

The new technology stack comprises the Internet of Things (IoT), smart sensors, decentralized control systems (DCS), supervised control and data acquisition systems (SCADA), AR, VR, wearables, big data analytics, AI, 5G, etc. based ICT systems are part of the Gen Z and Alpha systems.

4Ds – Data, Digitization, Digitalization, and Disruption are now the buzzword in the world of the defense sector. This has propelled us into a tenacious spiral of digital transformation, which in the continuum of time is revolutionizing our lives at an unprecedented pace.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the digital revolution that has been occurring since Y2K. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

We are packaging a lot of technology in too little a space like they say multiple techs into micros making equipment a flotilla of technologies and maintenance and repair a challenging proposition.

CBMM: The Need of the Hour

Condition-based monitoring and maintenance (CBMM) are the Next Gen Predictive Maintenance. Technology evolution has been the game changer in equipment management through generations of equipment.

The CBMM is a modern, real-time data-driven approach to ensuring weapon readiness based on KPI analytics. Data is collected from the array of sensors every millisecond, more or less, based on the sensor characteristics.

The technology stack augmented by IoT, AI, cloud computing, cyber, and big data analytics has become a part of every system today. There is the convergence of ICT, sensors miniaturized embedded hardware, application software, and cyber defense as an operational technology is gaining traction. Platform as a service (PaaS), infrastructure as a service (IaaS), software as a service (SaaS), cloud-native desktop as a service (DaaS), ERP solutions both bespoke and customized through enterprise as a service (EaaS), etc. have configured an info system of systems which operate within the equipment, link the equipment to equipment and connect the edge to a central info system.

As an example, a commercial SUV today has over 200 data points to monitor, record, process, store the data, selectively display, as per user requirement, and transmit data appropriately to central OEM service centers to manage the complete vehicle system based on real-time data.

These sensor Data Base Management Systems (DBMS) help in better visibility and take informed decisions in real-time, help the user build confidence in the equipment, avoid over maintenance or otherwise, reduce downtimes, ensure high readiness and reliability, building maintenance and repair schedules based on reliability data.

These systems give insights, assess equipment health, reduce failure rates, extend useful life, control the end user, give visibility to the maintenance agencies or OEMs, amplified MRO agility and flexibility, and facilitated CBMM on a just-in-time (JIT) model thereby eliminating the just in case PPM.

In all, CBMM builds user confidence, facilitates planning and optimizing maintenance plans, enhances performance, and ensures the systems remain fully mission capable by timely interventions at reduced operational expenditure and revenue expenditures.

Managing Legacy Equipment

MRO is a challenge characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) on the battlefield.

The legacy equipment is being managed through periodic, preventive, and breakdown maintenance be they armored fighting vehicles, armament, aircraft, ships, and submarines with the attendant downtimes and high maintenance costs.

A recent study on Feedback of Repair, Workshop Activity, and Reliability Data (FORWARD) found a case to identify sensor based add systems to enhance systemic visibility and facilitate real-time DBMS for MRO decision support systems for legacy equipment.

The intent is to transcend from a probabilistic model of maintenance to a deterministic SMART predictive maintenance model through condition-based monitoring and maintenance system.

Improving legacy equipment reliability requires sensors, and instrumentation to capture near real-time equipment performance info with monitoring systems to derive data trends, and a system of recording, display, and storing. Torsion Vibration sensors, magnetic sensors, and pressure and temperature sensors among a host of others are available to get real-time data for highly critical rotating equipment and assets.

Tryst with CBMM

There is a need to transition from the present practice of planned PPM to CBMM in all plants and equipment because:

  • Only 18 percent of failures can be avoided by following a PPM schedule
  • Technology is available to address the balance vital 82 percent of failures
  • Timely corrective action reduces the extent of repairs increasing uptime and operational efficiency of plants and equipment
  • Monitoring the real-time health of equipment facilitates deployment advantage
  • Extension of running hours enhances productivity by eliminating breakdowns
  • Enhanced reliability
  • Minor repairs on the field possible – A stitch in time saves nine
  • Trending and estimation of residual life is a great advantage in the estimation of RAMD
  • Cost savings of up to 50 percent on spares and manpower
  • Simplified logistics


CBMM is an idea whose time has now come. In fact, we stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter not only business processes but also business practices. The scale, scope, and complexity of this digital disruption and transformation will be unprecedented and never experienced. With AI, IoT, MEMS, sensors, and communication technologies, the transition to predictive precise maintenance is the new normal.

CBMM is disrupting MRO practices in almost every industry globally. The breadth and depth of the technological value addition towards condition monitoring herald the transformation of entire systems of design, development, production, life cycle sustainment, and system engineering management.

(Lt Gen Anil Kapoor, AVSM, VSM superannuated from the Indian Army as Director General Electronics and Mechanical Engineering (DGEME) and Director General Information Systems (DGIS).  He is an expert in Radars, Guided Missiles, MRO asset management, and condition-based monitoring of assets.)


Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times 

Images courtesy of (Image Courtesy: U.S. Army) and Provided

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