By: Jeff Martin, Defense News

GRAPEVINE, Texas — The KC-135 refueling tanker and the C-130J airlifter will be the next two aircraft to be part of the U.S. Air Force’s predictive maintenance program — an effort by the service to meet maintenance needs before aircraft break down — according to Air Mobility Command’s logistics director.

The program is also meant to improve aircraft mission capability and availability.

“The bottom line is to get to where we are scheduling all of our maintenance, rather than reacting to the maintenance,” Brig. Gen. Steven Blaymaier, who oversees Air Mobility Command’s logistics, engineering and force protection, said in an interview at the 2018 Airlift Tanker Association symposium outside Dallas, Texas. “We want our units to achieve their mission-capable rates on a sustained basis.”

According to the latest available data, from fiscal 2017, the KC-135 fleet had, on average, a 74 percent mission-capable rate, and the C-130J fleet had a 77 percent mission-capable rate.

As for the rest of the mobility fleet, by that same data, the C-5M fleet stood at 60 percent, the C-130H fleet was at 73 percent and the C-17 fleet was at 84 percent mission capable.

The concept, known as conditions-based maintenance, has already rolled out to the C-5 fleet within AMC and to the B-1 fleet in Global Strike Command. The program uses algorithms based on reams of data to create models that predict when a part might break, rather than waiting for it to fail. It’s a standard practice in the commercial aviation industry that is now making its way into the Air Force.

Blaymaier said the KC-135 fleet will join the program in spring of 2019, and the C-130J fleet will follow in the summer. He added that the other aircraft in AMC’s fleet, such as the C-17 and KC-10, will eventually join the program.

“They’re all in work at their program offices right now,” he said. “What we learn from C-5 will be incorporated into the other aircraft.”

Blaymaier noted that the Air Force is modeling its effort after Delta Air Lines’ TechOps division’s procedures, and that the service was at the beginning, or “crawl stage,” of the process. He also said that Delta Air Lines took eight years to achieve the results it wanted, something the Air Force is working toward.

In September, Lt. Gen. Robert McMurray, commander of the Air Force Sustainment Center, told Defense News that the conditions-based maintenance program was critical to increasing the readiness of the Air Force’s aircraft.

“Given the aging fleet situation that we have, we probably need to be using data better to take care of it — which is a drive toward what most everyone right now is saying is the right way to manage fleet sustainment, which is through condition-based maintenance and data analytics,” he said at the time.

Another benefit Blaymaier described was that the service will be able to track maintenance needs by individual aircraft, rather than by a general fleetwide standard. That could reduce time in depots and increase mission-capable rates, a top priority of senior Pentagon leaders.

“As we move forward with conditions-based maintenance plus, [or CBM+], and predictive analytics, we’ll be able to know by tail number which parts are going to fail on certain aircraft,” he said. “It’ll be much more surgical [and] operational.”

Blaymaier added that while the transition to conditions-based maintenance might be a long journey, it would lead to huge benefits for the Air Force.

“Ultimately we want to achieve those aircraft availability standards that we established for each of our fleets that are required to meet our wartime taskings,” he said.