The concept of outsourcing maintenance and support of some aircraft types was first tested in Australia on Royal Australian Air Force training aircraft more than 10 years ago.
Since then the approach has successfully been applied across a range of Australian Defence Force aircraft, with local companies including Australian Aerospace, BAE Systems Australia, Boeing Australia, Qantas Defence Services and Tenix among the beneficiaries.
"Outsourcing non-core functions was introduced as a result of a change in government policy," says the Australian Department of Defence.
"The benefits to defence are that military personnel can be focused on operational duties and outsourcing some non-core functions was deemed to be cost beneficial.
Outsourcing also utilises the best aspects of commercial business knowledge and practices to reduce the cost of ownership of the aircraft to the commonwealth," it adds.
The RAAF started outsourcing maintenance in the mid-1990s. The practice has since grown and is set to continue with new types coming on line.
Deeper maintenance on the Lockheed Martin C-130H and C-130J Hercules, for example, is outsourced to Qantas Defence Services, while Raytheon Australia is responsible for all avionics maintenance on the types. C-130J engine maintenance, meanwhile, is the responsibility of Standard Aero.
For the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet fleet the RAAF uses a combination of in-house and contractor support for deeper maintenance, with work performed by the ADF and Boeing Australia.
Upgrade modifications are outsourced to Boeing, BAE Systems and L3 MAS. The General Dynamics F-111s are maintained under contract by Boeing, Raytheon and Tasman Aviation Enterprises, while all deeper maintenance on the BAE Systems Hawk 127 lead-in fighter trainer is contracted to BAE Systems. Operational level maintenance for the three types is conducted in-house by the ADF.
For the RAAF's Boeing C-17 fleet scheduled and unscheduled line maintenance is performed in-house by 36 Sqn at RAAF Amberley, while the Defence Materiel Organisation is responsible for the through-life sustainment.
All other deeper maintenance and logistics support is provided via a foreign military sales agreement with the US government. Under this agreement, the DMO accesses and leverages off the significant engineering, spares and maintenance support capabilities already established within the US Air Force and its contractors to support the "C-17 Virtual Fleet" comprising the C-17 fleets of Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA.
The benefits of this approach for Australia's relatively small four-aircraft C-17 fleet is a significantly reduced cost of ownership, access to an established global network of C-17 infrastructure and support capabilities and interoperability with Canadian, UK and US forces.
"This C-17 Virtual Fleet concept approach requires effective integration between DMO and USAF C-17 management processes to fully represent the DMO's specific requirements and interests," says the RAAF.
A similar approach is likely to be considered for the acquisition and sustainment of future ADF aircraft that are also operated by Australia's allies, it adds.
Deeper maintenance of the Lockheed P-3 Orion is largely outsourced to industry, with Australian Aerospace, Qantas Defence Services, Raytheon Australia and Tenix defence among those holding contracts.
De Havilland Canada DCH-4 Caribou airframe and aircraft systems through life support has been outsourced to Australian Aerospace, while propulsion system maintenance is the responsibility of Qantas Defence Services. Engine and repairable item maintenance on the RAAF's Pilatus PC-9A basic trainers are outsourced to Airflite.
A similar mixed approach is expected for new aircraft on order. Some elements of in-service support for the RAAF's new Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets, the order for which was recently confirmed by the government, will be contracted out to industry, including intermediate level maintenance and training device maintenance, according to the RAAF.
The Super Hornets will have a mix of original equipment manufacturer support through the US Navy and some direct commercial arrangements with industry.
Deep maintenance of Australian Army Black Hawks has been outsourced for more than a decade
"Outsourcing decreases ADF involvement in intermediate and deeper level maintenance, releasing resources for operational level maintenance and other core capability support functions," the service adds.
It also provides an opportunity to improve deeper maintenance performance by establishing performance-based contracts and tapping into industry innovation and its support base, adds the RAAF.
Operational maintenance of the army's CH-47Ds is performed by military personnel
The Australian Army is also employing the practice. All deeper maintenance for its Bell 206B-1 Kiowa, Boeing CH-47 Chinook and Sikorsky S70A Black Hawk helicopters has been outsourced for more than 10 years.
"While operational maintenance for these three aircraft types is performed predominantly by military tradespersons, Australian industry provides operational maintenance support in the Oakey [Army Aviation Training Centre at Oakey, Queensland] training environment," says the DoD.
Boeing Australia was last year certificated as an authorised maintenance organisation (AMO) for the Black Hawk and Kiowa training helicopters at Oakey.
The certification includes on- and off-aircraft deeper maintenance and provides Boeing Australia with the full maintenance authority required to complete maintenance and modification contracts.
The AMO certification was part of the Army Aviation Training and Training Support contract that also sees Boeing Australia providing flight and maintenance helicopter training for army pilots and ground technical staff.
The approach is also being used by the army on new types joining the fleet. In-service management and deeper maintenance of the new NH Industries MRH90 medium lift helicopters, which are being introduced by the army and navy, and the Eurocopter Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopter, has been outsourced to Eurocopter's local subsidiary Australian Aerospace, which is also providing operational maintenance at certain locations.
The first commercial support arrangement for the Australian navy was set up in 1993 for deeper maintenance for the Sikorsky Seahawk. Currently, deeper maintenance on the navy's Westland Sea Kings and Seahawks is conducted by BAE Systems Australia, while Australian Aerospace handles the Eurocopter AS350 Squirrels, and Sikorsky Aircraft Australia maintains repairable items on the Seahawk.
The approach provides numerous benefits, says the DoD. "A positive result of outsourcing has been the relocation of military tradespeople from support areas to the operational squadrons," it says.
"Outsourcing means that there is less in-house ADF maintenance support, which reduces both the numbers of ADF maintenance technicians and the options for respite and retention issues if suitable non-operational employment opportunities are not available for service personnel," it adds.
To develop and maintain military personnel skills to the appropriate level for the demands of operations, some personnel are embedded in industry for short periods, the department adds.