Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson established the Air Force Rapid Sustainment Office as a two-year test programme to reduce sustainment costs of the service’s aging aircraft fleet.

The new office was announced on 25 July and is focused on rapid sustainment processes that could significantly drive down costs and deliver faster solutions to the field, the USAF says. If the office demonstrates positive return on investment over time the service says it will consider making the office permanent.

“We will no longer pay premiums for things we can manufacture on our own,” Wilson says. “We will leverage agile manufacturing and reform legacy sustainment processes to drive down costs and at meet warfighter needs rapidly.”

Focus areas for the rapid sustainment office include predictive maintenance and agile manufacturing techniques, such as additive manufacturing and cold spray repair technologies. Other focus areas include robotics and automation, corrosion detection and repair, nondestructive inspection and advanced composite repair technologies.

Ideas for solving aircraft sustainment problems at a lower cost that come out of the Rapid Sustainment Office will be given higher priority by the USAF, and will be quickly tried and spread across the service.

Runaway sustainment costs have been a long term headache for the USAF. For example, aircraft operating and support costs grew at an average rate of 6.5% per year between fiscal years 1996 and 2011 despite a reduction of more than 1,000 aircraft in the Air Force fleet and minimal increases in total flying activity, according to a report by RAND.

And, an internal analysis by the USAF reportedly said in March 2018 that if the service does not reduce overall operating and support costs of the F-35 by as much as 38% over a decade, it would have to reduce its purchases of the aircraft from Lockheed Martin by one-third. Such a measure would eliminate 590 of the stealth fighters from the 1,763 the USAF planned to order.