US Department of Defense looks to predictive maintenance


In its efforts to make greater use of commercial technologies, the US Department of Defense (DoD) has expanded its predictive maintenance effort designed to keep front-line aircraft ready for duty.

The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) at the Pentagon, created in 2015 to link the military with technology vendors, recently awarded a five-year, US$95 million (approximately £73.6 million) contract to to boost aircraft readiness.

The company has said it will provide an artificial intelligence (AI)-based software application that uses machine learning algorithms to monitor aircraft systems. The goal is to spot critical subsystem failures before they occur and help predict the parts and maintenance required to keep aircraft flying.

The artificial intelligence platform would also serve as a logistics tool, identifying the type of part required to fix an airborne system and where that part can be acquired from the Department of Defense’s far-flung logistics network. The ability to anticipate parts failures is seen as a way of saving time and money associated with unscheduled maintenance.

With front-line fighter aircraft such as the F-35A costing around US$80 million (approximately £62 million) a copy, operations and maintenance (O&M) spending continues to soar. As a result, the Pentagon Comptroller recently estimated annual operation and maintenance costs of US$292 billion (approximately £226 billion).

“Given these numbers, even a fractional increase in aircraft mission capability can save billions,” said Ed Abbo‚’s President and CTO, in announcing the Defense Innovation Unit contract.

The company’s aircraft maintenance application runs on its artificial intelligence suite, designed to allow users to deploy and scale applications on public or private clouds.

The flight readiness effort would allow maintenance crews to combine large volumes of siloed data. Those datasets could then be used by machine learning algorithms to improve maintenance operations.

While the system will initially be used by the Department of Defense for predictive maintenance, has said that its platform could also be used for applications ranging from data fusion to improved logistics.

The US Air Force has used the company’s artificial intelligence platform to boost the readiness of the F-35 fighter along with E-3 Sentry (AWACS) surveillance aircraft. The Defense Innovation Unit contract would expand the predictive maintenance effort to all three military services.

The Defense Innovation Unit selected in November 2017 to demonstrate its artificial intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT) platform to provide predictive maintenance for the Air Force’s AWACS and F-16 aircraft. The Department of Defense-wide contract announced last month represents an effort to scale artificial intelligence technologies across the US military.

This initiative parallels the expansion of artificial intelligence initiatives in the civil aviation sector. For example, Delta Air Lines recently announced an expanded predictive maintenance application that will incorporate machine learning and modelling. The carrier claims that its Skywise predictive maintenance application helped reduce maintenance-related cancellations to just 55 in 2018.

Based in Silicon Valley, Defense Innovation Unit’s goal is to prototype and field new military capabilities based on commercial technologies within 36 months.