By Tim Johnson - January 6th, 2021 | Posted in Article

Whilst reading into a new project, I came across a reference to Mil Handbook 502A “ACQUISITION LOGISTICS”, dated 30th May 1997.

This is a document I have not heard of, or seen before, so I had a look. This may not be news to our fellow Logisticians in the USA, but it was to news to me.

Once I found a copy I was very surprised to find that this document contained so many really pertinent points which may have been forgotten from the current Defence Acquisition Process.

  • Ensuring Supportability as a Performance Requirement
  • Ensuring Optimal Support System Design
  • Systems Engineering Strategy–Supportability Analysis Inputs and
  • How to Develop Measurable and Testable Supportability Requirements

This final subject is close to my heart as all too often a set of ILS/Supportability requirements are rolled out in the System Requirements Document (SRD) and almost all are not Measurable or really testable, and in many cases there is no real acceptance plan apart from there will be a Logistics and Maintainability Demonstration at the end. The customer does not really know what such an event will really prove or how the requirements will be accepted from the evidence generated.

The blanket discarding of the “Old” Standards and handbooks has proved to be a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Not all the standards were prescriptive, they were often very useful descriptive documents providing an insight into the intention of the standard, rather than the rule.

Reading this particular Mil handbook has highlighted that if the guidance was applied today, especially with the increase the available processing power, Supportability analysis could be a lot easier and far better defined.

Going back to the Mil Handbook, Section 6 of the Mil-HDBK-502 states;

“Supportability requirements grow directly from the concept of operations. If a clear line from the operational concept to a specific supportability requirement cannot be traced, that requirement should be regarded with suspicion. The beginning point for each supportability requirement should be found in an operational requirement.”

It seems to be the new Systems Engineering process is to find and replace (Ctrl H) “The System” with “the project name” and produce a set of requirements “the project will provide the Support and Test Equipment….”  there is no way for either the contractor to prove or the customer to accept the such a requirement.

It is known that spares, tools and test equipment, training and documentation are all part of support solution. So it is easy to write a set of supportability requirements, right?

“The project shall provide spares, tools and test equipment, training and documentation”

“The project shall provide tools and test equipment”

“The project shall provide training”

“The project shall provide documentation”

Another area where supportability requirements fail is in the force structure. The army regiment will be XXX personnel, because that is what it is now.

Nowhere is the concept of force structure introduced. I worked on the development of a new destroyer, with a projected compliment of about 180 persons. The class being replaced had a compliment of about 241, the target for the new destroyer was to reduce the manpower to save money and recognise the increase in automation. The actual impact of this reduction in crew was not as expected, The career path for several branches relied on starting on a small ship gaining promotion and moving to a Frigate and then to a Destroyer and then to a Battleship. The career path needed to be modified to enable the progression and promotion without being based on the department size. As the department on a larger lean manned destroyer could be smaller than that on a Frigate.

The MIL-HDBK states “Force structure considerations have two aspects. The first is any changes to the force structure that must be made to support and operate the system. The second is changes in the force structure that can be made because of the system, e.g., reduction in personnel because the system replaces two old systems, or because the new system is easier to maintain.” There seems to be a disconnect that a system could actually reduce the manpower requirements significantly but, this message may not get back to front line command to reduce the number of maintainers, or conversely, if the maintenance policy changes to increase the numbers to provide more capability further forward.

I know that the MIL-HDBK is a USA document, which is probably why I have not seen it before, but, I think it should become mandatory reading for anyone thinking of writing supportability requirements.

I finish with this from the MIL HDBK

“Logisticians must be prepared to defend the logistics support concepts and supportability design requirements that they propose, not only from the logistics community’s point of view, but also from the engineering point of view. They must constantly keep the readiness requirements in mind. The value of teamwork from the earliest stages of a project is that each group has the others’ concerns in mind.”

It may have been written 23 years ago, but how true that paragraph is today.