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New system to improve the way military services perform maintenance

A combination of human engineers, computer software and hardware and communications gear will help technicians and mechanics around the world keep warfighting equipment up and running with a minimum amount of downtime.

Image of Marine mechanicBy Army Sgt. Jon Cupp
USJFCOM Public Affairs

(NORFOLK, Va. -- May 13, 2004) - U.S. Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM)'s work on a new concept will increase efficiency for the military services on the battlefields of the future by shortening equipment downtime.

Focusing on improving the way all U.S. military services perform maintenance in the field, USJFCOM personnel working on the Joint Distance Support and Response (JDSR) capability plan on establishing a common and interoperable tele-maintenance and training environment.

This environment will reduce the burden on maintenance and training systems through lower infrastructure costs and smaller logistics footprints as well as reducing the maintainer workload and personnel requirements, according to officials working on JDSR.

In addition, the JDSR, one of USJFCOM's many Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrations (ACTD) initiatives, promises to enhance operational unit readiness by providing maintenance options for low density, high demand assets such as major pieces of equipment to include Apache (AH-64D) helicopters, tanks, and other mission-essential hardware.

ACTDs, such as JDSR, provide new and transformational operational capabilities designed to benefit the joint warfighter.

ACTDs are sponsored by the deputy undersecretary of defense for advanced systems and concepts and are sponsored by all combatant commanders. USJFCOM has 14 ACTDs in which the command refines requirements, develops joint employment concepts of operation, and assesses the transformational capabilities in a variety of relevant operational venues.

Those involved in the JDSR said the capability can bring the benefit of intermediate or depot level maintenance support to the organizational level in a virtual fashion. For instance, Marines using Army Bradley Fighting vehicles can be mentored through a maintenance procedure even if they only have a basic understanding of the system. Army Apache helicopters can be repaired by Navy technicians with the JDSR tool suite.

“What we're attempting to do is to give the maintainer --whether the Marine working on a light armored vehicle (LAV), the sailor on deck plates, the airman on a flight line or the soldier in the field-the ability to reach back to a subject-matter expert if he has a maintenance problem,” said Doug Kelsey, JDSR deputy operational manager.

“It's (the JDSR is) a software and hardware system that allows the maintainer to get assistance on his maintenance problem by reaching back to whatever echelon he needs which means he can go all the way back to the manufacturer if necessary.”

“Using a combination of ruggedized laptops, personal digital assistants (PDA) and using video cameras, a maintainer can actually show his problem to a subject matter expert even if he's halfway across the world,” added Kelsey.

“He can say, 'here's my problem,' put a video camera on it and the subject matter expert can look at the problem and then using voice chat, text chat and streaming video provide a diagnosis and solution to the problem. The subject matter expert can also see the diagnostic readings that the maintainer might be pulling up.”

The JDSR works through a Web-based network and provides a collaborative environment that includes information profiling, wireless connectivity, 3D visualization and other capabilities.

Maintainers are linked to JDSR through a local maintenance network server with landlines that can tie into the JDSRs distribution gateway-a system of three separate servers at three different remote sites. SATCOM satellites also link maintainers into JDSR.

“With this joint system, each of the services have their own way to link to JDSR through a local maintenance network,” said Kelsey. “A Navy frigate may use satellite. You may have Army and Marine Corps personnel using SATCOM or they might be using a telephone line/system so they can reach back using a number of different ways.”

“We try to be redundant, because one system or mode of communication may be down. Even if one system is down, the maintainer can still reach back another way,” added Kelsey.

Besides PDAs, digital cameras and laptops, other JDSR elements include wireless cards, SME directories and portable servers.

According to Kelsey the JDSR was designed to repair maintenance problems that are not typical everyday repairs and is something that will be vital for service members who are currently deploying in support of the Global War on Terror (GWOT).

“This guides maintainers through the hard and unusual problems; this is not to help a lance corporal change the fuel filter on a five ton truck,” said Kelsey. “JDSR eases the maintainer workload and eases the personnel requirement so it's important for a lot of different reasons and of course this is for the high demand, low density items.

“Our intent is to deploy this with several units that will be operating in theater very shortly,” said Kelsey. “So instead of evacuating a vehicle or piece of equipment and saying 'it's dead and there's nothing we can do about it, we have to leave it here until some other smart guy can fix it,' they can wire back with JDSR, get the diagnosis and get that thing back up and running for the joint task force commander.”

JDSR began as an ACTD in late 2002. The first operational demonstration for the capability took place in July of 2003 with the second operational demonstration currently underway on a Norfolk-based frigate.

Personnel working on the JDSR have evaluated and demonstrated the ACTD to U.S. military units throughout the world including an Army National Guard helicopter unit in Nevada, Marines at 29 Palms, a Navy frigate in Mayport, Fla. and with U.S. Air Force units in Europe to evaluate and demonstrate the ACTD's capabilities.

The JDSR capability has been demonstrated for maintainers of LAVs, helicopters, fighter and attack aircraft and the Air Force's air traffic control and land (radar) system (ATCLS), as well as other critical assets.

JDSR's third operational demonstration will take place in August or September of 2004.

“We train the users and then have their units help us to evaluate the system using real-world problems or simulated problems as realistically as we can,” said Kelsey. “We obviously don't want to go out and break equipment just so we can fix it.”

“We want to push this out to the frontlines and it's up to the services to see if they want to pursue this,” added Kelsey. “But the indications are that the military services do want this and they have seen what it can do for their maintainers.”

USJFCOM personnel working with JDSR plan to have the capability transitioned and in the hands of the warfighter by fiscal year 2005. “We're working on our second operational demonstration and we're pretty close to the 80 percent solution now,” said Kelsey. “We see this after a third operational demonstration going into the extended user evaluation where units out there will be using this on a daily basis probably in the October (2004) timeframe.”

According to JFCOM's ACTD program managers, new applications for JDSR are being investigated at this time.

JDSR may have utility for tele-medicine on the battlefield. Possible new applications include a combat medic's ability to reach back to a medical facility for diagnosis and even be talked through a complicated procedure right there on the battlefield.

There are also applications for tele-explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) support. EOD personnel working with unfamiliar devices can reach back to databases or speak to other experts live while they are disabling the device.

Kelsey said he understands the importance of having a capability that assists maintainers with difficult maintenance problems in the field. “I was on that side of the fence once before, I served 20 years in the Army and I've had my headaches with broken equipment and wondered why can't we fix this a little faster and a little better,” said Kelsey.

“So having been there makes me feel good that I can still provide some support to the warfighter."