Early field feedback during early deployment of a weapon system is critical in evaluating the hardware in an operational environment so that expeditious corrective action can be provided.
Many past attempts to provide contractor support have resulted in maintenance-oriented contractual arrangements, which often result in field repairs made to meet operational requirements. As a result, problems which do not appear to have a severe maintenance impact may go unreported and therefore uncorrected by the manufacturer.
Major systems contracts should include provisions for onsite engineering teams during early deployment, not only at the contractor's facility (initial training/test sites), but at remote sites used during initial military use. Subcontractors of critical items should also be included. These teams foster positive reliability trends early in the deployment phase, and a corresponding decrease in spares consumption throughout the life cycle.
When government repair activities are used to make repairs during field operations, data on failures experienced, repairs accomplished, and changes made are not normally communicated to the prime or responsible subcontractor. This severely hampers traceability and maintenance of configuration control disciplines necessary for reliability improvement.
Engineering analysis of early deployment problems enhances early solution, and can provide the opportunity to identify potential problems and those that might otherwise go unreported. Should the analysis prove to be too complex for the field, technical inputs can be made to the prime and/ or related subcontractor, avoiding delays and identifying the tasks so it may be appropriately dispositioned. Field representatives should be retained after initial operation to improve the accuracy and quantity of failure reports and corrective actions.
An efficient reporting and corrective action system needs to be established as soon as field operation commences. As a minimum, it should specify procedures for the control and handling of returned/ failed hardware, and for the investigation of complaints concerning deficiencies, warranty claims, and associated reports received from the customer.
Field service reports by contractors should not be limited to failures and discrepancies. They should include incorporated improvement changes, alternative maintenance techniques applied, customer comments, and other field environments and stresses, that are not readily known to the contractor or the military acquisition manager. They should also evaluate how well the system works in the field, and to determine what problems justify corrective actions.