Lockheed Martin's globally networked sustainment solution for the F-35, ALIS (Autonomic Logistics Information System), is having an impact well beyond the program.

Boeing and the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) appear to have been taking notes: the partners have set up a system similar to ALIS which centralizes the analysis of performance data from the U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force Special Operations Command V-22 Osprey tiltrotors. The aspiration is that fleet-wide data analytics will help maintainers anticipate and provision for component failure and thus increase availability while decreasing operating costs.

The VROC (V-22 Readiness Operations Center) was stood up at the Bell-Boeing manufacturing facility in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania, in January 2015. Some 20 company platform and maintenance experts, mathematicians and software engineers work in the physical VROC facility, where vast data sets from the US V-22 fleet are ingested, interpreted and analyzed.

"The capability of data analytics is not so much about collectors and infrastructure," says Shane Openshaw, Boeing's director of Apache programs who previously led the company's vertical-lift sustainment marketing. "The key is being able to take the data that you have, and mining that data for meaningful things that will help you understand fleet conditions and fleet trends. (Operators can) then make decisions on how to improve bad actors, get them out of the fleet, and potentially change maintenance practices."

Those benefits will only be realized if the effort to understand the performance of each aircraft goes as deep as possible. The VROC program is therefore not just looking at selected V-22 characteristics, but is seeking to understand the platforms in great detail. The data sets are vast.

"It's worth noting the amount of data involved with an effort like this," Boeing Global Services and Support director of tiltrotor sustainment, Carolyn Nichols, tells ShowNews. "(VROC has) access to multiple data streams, including but not limited to maintenance, historical supply and aircraft-recorded data. Customer data reports include approximately 1,450 parameters per 1.6 seconds of flight for each Osprey."

Like ALIS, the VROC receives information digitally from various V-22 operating locations. Nichols would not be drawn on the precise model by which data are sent from the users to the company, but confirmed that the VROC has "ongoing and immediate access" to the information. Security appears to be the responsibility of the customer.

"The data (are) centralized and aggregated in Navy systems for access to authorized individuals," Nichols says. "We utilize USN.MIL networks to manage our data and systems, following all of their cybersecurity and information-assurance policies and posture."

Boeing would like to roll out the VROC model to other customers, and other fleets. "Application for international V-22 customers is in development and initial discussions are positive," says Nichols, while Openshaw sees the initiative as really coming into its own when delivered as part of a holistic sustainment package: "It's not just about the data analytics, it's about building a sustainment program in which that data analytics is a piece of it," he says.

But with the VROC barely 18 months old, quantifiable cost savings or fleet availability statistics are not yet available. Once Boeing can produce some hard numbers to back up the concept's obvious potential, further business is likely to follow. At present, the company is finding some reticence from potential customers around two key issues: data security and policy.

The rewards offered by the model come with significant potential risks. An adversary skilled at covert intrusion of digital networks could find the huge data sets a treasure-trove for assessing fleet readiness and performance. And questions arise over network-security policy: at what point in the chain does security pass from the operator's hands to those of the OEM?

"There's varying degrees of acceptance" to the VROC model, Openshaw says. "Not every operator is going to see the problem or the opportunities the same way. Once you get past the processes and the policy, you can start identifying places where you can bring technology to make even more robust the access to that data and what you can do with it."

There is a long way to go, both for users and for Boeing. But the company feels the benefits of real-time data-analytics and prognostics will justify the investment of time, effort and resources, and the rewards will end up being seen as sufficient to justify accepting the levels of risk involved.

"We’re just scratching the surface on how data analytics can benefit customers," Nichols says. "And we are certainly learning as we go."