How We Keep Air Force Planes Flying

19 March 2022
Michael Sander, RSO Chief Logistics Officer
What is sustainment? And why is it important?

Nearly everyone is familiar with the legendary B-52 Stratofortress. This marvel of Air Force aviation has been flying and protecting freedom worldwide since 1954, and is projected to operate through 2050. Nearly 100 years of continuous operation for this bomber will be an astounding feat. And you may be asking yourself, “How is this possible? How does this monster aircraft continue to fly, mission after successful mission?” The answer is simple:  sustainment.

Sustainment is the unsung hero of the United States Air Force. When a new aircraft, such as the F-35, makes its debut, aviation enthusiasts and the general public alike gape in awe at its amazing new features and engineering advancements. But once the “new aircraft smell” settles and this  plane  has a critical job to do, the Air Force entrusts technicians at the organizational, intermediate and depot-levels to keep the aircraft flight-ready, focusing on the safety and success of future missions.

The Defense Acquisition University states that life cycle sustainment “translates force provider capability and performance requirements into tailored product support to achieve specified and evolving life cycle product support availability, reliability, and affordability parameters.” Often, Air Force sustainment is commonly regarded simply as aircraft maintenance, but its reach goes much further into supply, transportation, sustaining engineering, data management, human systems, and safety considerations.  

Sustainment is multi-faceted and complex with two primary, and often competing, goals of increasing equipment availability while reducing operations and sustainment (O&S;) costs. In fact, 70 percent of the cost of an Air Force weapon system is expended to sustain its operation, so it is vital to seek and develop novel technologies and processes for sustainment that drive down costs. 

Every day, worldwide threats to our nation’s safety increase, and our ability to ensure our Air Force is ready to meet these threats is very real. The Air Force Sustainment Strategy Framework establishes four lines of effort to meet operational objectives: 1) enhance mission generation, 2) improve enterprise materiel support, 3) expand enterprise repair networks, and 4) capitalize on new data analytics and methods. 

To actively address these objectives, the RSO focuses on rapidly identifying promising technologies and sustainment process improvements, prototyping and verifying their utility and application, and deploying those that demonstrate the ability to increase readiness across the Air Force enterprise. Additionally, all of the projects that the RSO invests in are evaluated by asking, “Does this technology have the potential to drive down cost and save dollars?”. Bottom line – the RSO increases mission readiness, reduces costs, and saves time at an accelerating speed.

Fleet readiness is paramount to the security of the United States and its interests, and the RSO is dedicated to its mission of rapidly providing revolutionary sustainment technologies that ensure the Air Force fleet is always prepared.