The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 2/20/20

 In Weekly Wire

Lessons to Learn from Embracing Digitalization

Alix Leboulanger, Research Associate

Predictive maintenance is one of the most sought-after outcomes targeted by intelligent systems to improve aircraft fleet awareness, optimize platform maintenance costs, and availability rates. Use cases from commercial aviation, such as Skywise from Airbus and Palantir or GE Aviation digital solutions, have paved the way for this technology to be adopted into military aviation. In this regard, Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) is a pioneer of its kind. For the first time with ALIS, a military aircraft would run auto-diagnostics to detect faulty parts or specific support requirements. It would be quite unique as military aircraft have highly different operational and performance targets compared to commercial aviation.

Lockheed Martin recently announced that it will change the F-35 ALIS software to a new program called Operational Data Integrated Network (ODIN). This decision highlights how ALIS was a transformational idea, though it continued to exhibit significant development issues even when it entered service. In April 2019, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that, “One Air Force unit estimated that it is spending the equivalent of more than 45,000 hours per year performing additional tasks and manual workarounds, including for supply-related functions, because ALIS is not functioning as intended.” This also had a substantial financial impact on aircraft costs. The GAO reported that between FY2016 and FY2018, the US Department of Defense (DoD) spent “at least $1.9 billion on spare parts.”

ODIN is expected to be a cloud-based predictive maintenance algorithm as well, further embracing artificial intelligence (AI) developments as announced during Congressional hearings in January 2020. While ODIN will undoubtedly take time to mature and enter into service, assuming all the technical challenges will be surmounted, there are other obstacles to successful customer use of this kind of data and the subsequent implementation of predictive maintenance concepts within the DoD and other militaries.

Setting aside the inevitable hiccups around implementation and maturing the platform, the real questions focus on data – from collection to processing and then dissemination. Data dissemination and usage are both the cornerstone, but also the biggest tripwires of digitalization. There is a huge gap between gathering data for analysis to actionable intelligence. Data validity, veracity, and volume are hidden obstacles to any military operators, taking time to check, assess, and implement. Unfortunately, people still need to adapt to and work with increasingly complex and opaque AI. Training ground personnel to minimize these disruptions and to improve readiness will be imperative.

Furthermore, data dissemination is adding further complexity in any implementation of a new smart system, especially in the military. In the case of ALIS, maintenance data are being automatically sent to Lockheed Martin’s servers in Fort Worth, TX, which F-35 partner nations have voiced their concern about sharing aircraft utilization data with the US. But the issue about centralizing and sharing the data is not specific to the F-35. Any industrial and military planner working on next generation warfighter technology such as the Future Combat Air System (France, Germany, and Spain) or Tempest (UK, Italy, and Sweden) will face the same challenge if they integrate a similar system. This will also be the case if NATO allies use a combat cloud system where data would automatically be shared and centralized. Yet, centralizing and pooling data together is the nexus of digitalization in order to provide full situational awareness and further scrutinize existing patterns.

The spectrum of challenges being brought by digitalization is widening, from efficient predictive systems delivering ready to use value to the military, to data centralization that still respects confidentiality and sovereignty standards amongst users. If digitalization is meant to be a technology catapult and a significant booster to joint programs, the resulting flow of data, property rights, and sharing protocols could be its biggest disabler. On the one side, handling and sharing sovereign operations and maintenance data between different countries has not been thoroughly thought out, while on the other side, sharing data between OEMs and defense ministries is generating a dilemma around classified information and intellectual property rights. Furthermore, the digital footprint of new systems and additional ones to protect data exchanges increases platform vulnerability when operating in hostile environments, triggering cyber concerns.

A quantum leap is occurring among military forces worldwide when it comes to researching and adopting digital platforms. Each armed force is looking at building blocks to improve efficiency and alleviate recurring maintenance challenges. Artificial intelligence, cloud computing, big data analytics, quantum computing, and the internet of the battlefield things are perceived as the guardians of the future military, but presently they are new tools whose use must be balanced against existing, proven substitutes, and whose risks carry downside that did not exist for previous platforms and systems.


The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract has returned to the news in the past week as Amazon Web Service’s lawsuit against the JEDI cloud contract to Microsoft was awarded a preliminary injunction. Microsoft was previously awarded the contract in October 2019. While not alleging a Sith conspiracy to overthrow the Republic, the lawsuit argues that its bid was unfairly biased against due to comments made by President Trump against Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his apparent trade federation of “the Amazon Washington Post.” Other issues pointed out by Amazon include Microsoft’s ability to host classified data at Impact Level 6, as laid out in the Department of Defense’s Cloud Connection Process Guide. While it is uncertain how the rest of the case will play out, one thing is certain, this is not the last of the JEDI news.


On February 13, Naval Group announced a signed cooperation strategy with the Hellenic Navy for the potential acquisition of two Belhara-class frigates. In addition to the long-term cooperation, a total of eight Greek companies also signed a letter of intent to work with Naval Group’s supply chain. There’s been some uncertainty in the past regarding Greece’s intentions for acquiring new frigates. In 2018, Greece had announced that it was going lease two FREMM frigates from France, however French officials at the time denied that any agreement had been signed. In June 2019, Greece had signed a letter of intent for two Belhara-class frigates though two other countries have expressed interest in selling frigates to the Hellenic Navy. In 2019, Australia was potentially looking to sell its Adelaide-class FFG frigates while the US was also looking to sell four Multi-Mission Surface Combatants with the weapon systems and missiles expected to cost less than $2 billion.


On February 14, Singapore’s Chief of Air Force, Major General Kelvin Khong, announced that Singapore will probably not seek to procure new airlift or maritime patrol aircraft any time soon. Singapore currently uses a fleet of Fokker 50 Enforcer II aircraft for maritime patrol operations, and a combination of C-130B and C-130H aircraft for airlift. The Fokker 50s had a mid-life extension in 2017, but the C-130s are all between 40-60 years old. Despite this, Major General Khong says that they will continue to use these aircraft for as long as they are able to perform their core missions. However, Singapore will continue to explore emerging capabilities – as the C-130s will likely need to be replaced in the next few years.

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