When a collection of Navy vessels and 4,500 sailors left San Diego on May 1 as part of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, they departed with the standard materials and supplies crews need for a scheduled deployment.

But Navy officials are monitoring with a keen eye the ships’ maintenance while at sea.

The amphibious ready group is part of a new pilot program that is “maybe a half-step or quarter-step away from predictive maintenance,” Rear Adm. Christian Becker, the head of Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, said in a May 6 interview with C4ISRNET. He attended the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference at National Harbor in Maryland.

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As part of the service’s growing emphasis on information, the Navy has mined its maintenance and repair databases and tried to determine “where we think single points of failure might occur,” Becker said.

Once the service identified those systems, it “pre-positioned” parts within the ship and within the ready group so Navy teams might accelerate their ability to repair systems most likely to break down, if or when ships run into trouble.

The amphibious ready group marks the first deployment where the pilot program will be in place. Becker said the Navy also plans to extend the experiment to a carrier strike group.

Predictive maintenance is the idea of identifying system failures before they happen and to then repair those systems before they break. The idea has quickly gained traction within the Department of Defense in recent years as a way to save time and money as well as to improve which aircraft, ships or vehicles may be available on any given day. Other services are also considering employing artificial intelligence and machine-learning technology as a way to take advantage the maintenance approach.

For example, the Air Force is working with the Defense Innovation Unit on predictive maintenance for a series of aircraft. If deployed across the entire fleet, leaders say it could save as much as $15 billion annually. DIU also plans to work on a similar program for the Army’s Bradley Fighting Vehicle. In addition, leaders from Army Materiel Command held an industry day in November to lay out its plans for predictive maintenance for aviation, ground and weapon systems.

Becker said the Navy had for years applied predictive maintenance practices within individual programs. For example, the service considered algorithms as early as 2012 to help learn when to repair radars. But officials at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command are working with leaders at Naval Supply Systems Command to adjust how they “provision” for the systems while at sea, Becker said.

“We are shifting our perspective on the strategic value of data,” Becker said. “We were always interested in individual areas of how we use data, but I think now, as we look at our advances to collect, store and process that data, we’re now at an inflection point.”

Mike Gruss served as the editor-in-chief of Sightline Media Group's stable of news outlets, which includes Army Times, Air Force Times, C4ISRNET, Defense News, Federal Times, Marine Corps, Military Times and Navy Times.

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