Although the US Air Force wants to retake control of F-22 maintenance, details of the new policy remain unclear.

"The magnitude [of the policy change] is still to be sorted out," says Lockheed Martin executive vice-president Rob Weiss.

But Weiss believes the results will not change as decisions about the F-22's sustainment shift from Lockheed to the USAF over the next two years.

Lockheed now guarantees the availability rate of F-22s under a three-year-old performance-based logistics contract, which is due to expire in 2012. The USAF may retake control over the F-22 supply chain, but the performance guarantees are likely to be retained in some form.

"We will not move away from outcome-based contracting," Weiss said at Aviation Week's Military MRO conference in Phoenix, Arizona on 21 April.

The Department of Defense officially still endorses performance-based logistics deals as a preferred strategy for maintaining weapons systems. But the air force, alone among the services, has responded to calls to "in-source" more work from contractors by targeting the sustainment system.

The USAF is abolishing previously outsourced deals for maintaining Boeing C-17s and F-22s because of two legal requirements, says John Over, executive director of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Centre.

The service is required to retain a "core capability" to organically support its weapons systems, and must keep at least half of all maintenance spending inside government depots. Even as defence budgets stagnate, the US military's depot system still has a lot of room to grow.

"We have a great deal of capacity available for partnerships," Gregg Fogarty, deputy to the assistant deputy undersecretary for maintenance told the conference.

But other speakers presented a more pessimistic outlook.

Hal Chrisman, principal for the AeroStrategy consultancy, forecast that US military spending on maintenance, repair and overhaul services will remain stagnant over the next decade after adjusting for inflation.

However, certain sectors are poised for major growth. Maintaining the military's helicopter fleet will become a booming business as the number of airframes grows over the next decade.

Similarly, spending on maintaining the Bell Boeing V-22 and Lockheed F-35 is also expected to grow by a combined $2.8 billion over the same period.

Source: Flight International