Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan would like to benchmark aircraft maintenance performance of the US Air Force against commercial operators conducting similar work.

The idea is part of a larger effort by the Department of Defense to improve readiness of the USAF as the service reemphasizes an expeditionary force structure, which calls for the rapid, flexible deployment of aircraft across the world at short notice.

Jokingly calling the concept R&D, or rip-off and deploy, Shanahan’s proposal was made in a speech at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland on 19 September.

“A custom, federated approach, is a trap,” he says.

Instead, in areas such as engine overhaul, depot throughput and asset utilization the USAF should be looking to copy commercial airline’s maintenance performance.

“Similarities between operating and maintaining aircraft in the military and the commercial world are remarkably high. The similarities in performance are not,” says Shanahan. “We should compare ourselves to commercial analogs in order to guard against insularity.”

The concept worked during World War II, he says, noting the USA put the mass production expertise of manufacturers such as Ford Motor to use building tanks and airplanes.

“Copying industry techniques may not be as simple as going to the hardware store, but it’s faster and cheaper then recreating the wheel,” says Shanahan.