Demystifying Big Data

Rob Wedertz – Director, Navy Programs

Rob Wedertz – Director, Navy Programs

We live in a data-rich world.  It’s been that way for a while now.  “Big Data” is now the moniker that permeates every industry.  For the sake of eliciting a point from the ensuing paragraphs, consider the following:

FA-18 / Extension / Expenditure / Life / Depot / Operations / Hours / Fatigue

Taken independently, the words above mean very little.  However, if placed in context, and with the proper connections applied, we can adequately frame one of the most significant challenges confronting Naval Aviation:

A higher than anticipated demand for flight operations of the FA-18 aircraft has resulted in an increased number of flight hours being flown per aircraft.  This has necessitated additional depot maintenance events to remedy fatigue life expenditure issues in order to achieve an extension of life cycles for legacy FA-18 aircraft.

120613-N-VO377-095  ARABIAN GULF (June 13, 2012) An F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the Blue Blasters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 34 launches from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). Lincoln is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and combat flight operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan P. Idle/Released)

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan P. Idle/Released)

The point here is that it is simply not enough to aggregate data for the sake of aggregation.  The true value in harnessing data is knowing which data are important, which are not, and how to tie the data together.  Often times subscribing to the “big data” school of thought has the potential of distraction and misdirection.  I would argue that any exercise in “data” must first begin with a methodical approach to answering the following questions:

“What challenge are we trying to overcome?”

“What are the top 3 causes of the challenge?”

“Which factors are in my control and which ones are not?”

“Do I have access to the data that affect the questions above?”

“How can I use the data to address the challenge?”

weeds sept 2015 blog graphic

While simply a starting point, the above questions will typically allow us to frame the issue, understand the causal effects of the issue, and most importantly facilitate the process of honing in on the data that are important and systematically ignore the data that are not.

To apply a real-world example of the methodology outlined above, consider the software application ProModel has provided to the U.S. Navy – the Naval Synchronization Toolset (NST).

“What challenge are we trying to overcome?”

Since 2001, the U.S. Navy has participated in overseas contingency operations (Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom) and the legacy FA-18 aircraft (A-D) has consumed more its life expectancy at a higher rate.  Coupled with the delay in Initial Operating Capability (IOC) of the F-35C aircraft, the U.S. Navy has been required to develop and sustain a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) to extend the life of legacy FA-18 aircraft well beyond their six thousand hour life expectancy and schedule and perform high flight hour inspections and major airframe rework maintenance events.  The challenge is: “how does the Navy effectively manage the strike fighter inventory (FA-18) via planned and unplanned maintenance, to ensure strike fighter squadrons are adequately sourced with the right number of FA-18s at the right time?”

“What are the top 3 causes of the challenge?”

  • Delay in IOC of the F-35C
  • Higher flight hour (utilization) and fatigue life expenditure
  • Fixed number of legacy FA-18 in the inventory

“Which factors are in my control and which ones are not?”

 In:

  • High flight hour inspection maintenance events
  • Airframe rework (depot events)

Out:

  • Delay in IOC of the F-35C
  • Fixed number of legacy FA-18 in the inventory

“Do I have access to the data that affect the questions above?”

Yes.  The planned IOC of the F-35C, flight hour utilization of FA-18 aircraft, and projected depot capacity and requirements are all data that is available and injected into the NST application.

“How can I use the data to address the challenge?”

Using the forecasted operational schedules of units users can proactively source FA-18 aircraft to the right squadron at the right time; balanced against maintenance events, depot rework requirements, and overall service life of each aircraft.

Now that the challenge has been framed, the constraints have been identified, and the data identified, the real work can begin.  This is not to say that there is one answer to a tough question or even that there is a big red “Easy” button available.  Moreover, it has allowed us to ensure that we do not fall victim to fretting over an issue that is beyond our control or spend countless hours wading through data that may not be germane.

NST was designed and developed with the points made above in mind.  The FA-18 is a data-rich aircraft.  However, for the sake of the users, NST was architecturally designed to be mindful of only the key fatigue life expenditure issues that ultimately affect whether the aircraft continues its service life or becomes a museum piece.  In the end, NST’s users are charged with providing strike fighter aircraft to units charged with carrying out our national security strategy.  By leveraging the right data, applying rigor to the identification of issues in and out of their control, and harnessing the technology of computational engines, they do precisely that.

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