Boeing Starts Adapting PBL Deals For Contested Logistics Era


Credit: Boeing

RAF FAIRFORD, England—A series of long-term sustainment contracts for military aircraft that guarantee rates of availability may need to be changed as defense leaders prepare for a new era of contested logistic systems in future conflicts, a top Boeing official said on July 14.

Boeing has started a series negotiations with U.S. military officials to address the “tough” problem of providing guaranteed fleet availability in an era when airlift fleets are being called upon to serve as weapon systems and face being targeted by enemy air defenses. 

“It’s tough. But there’s a demand now that is causing in the U.S. very different engagements that we’re having with the Navy and the Air Force, as well as with the Army, about how we’re going to do it. And I’ll be shocked if others don’t follow suit,” said Turbo Sjogren, Boeing’s vice president and general manager for government services, speaking to reporters at the Royal International Air Tattoo here. 

The talks involve the future of several performance-based logistics (PBL) contracts between Boeing and military services. The deals guarantee the availability of fleets such as C-17s, P-8s and AH-64s over a period of several years. Contractors tend to lose money or break even in the first years of such arrangements, then make above average profits during the latter years of each multiyear term for a standard PBL. 

But in recent years military officials are considering a new operational posture, as the risk of a conflict rises with a peer state such as China. Operational plans now consider the possibility that the mobility fleet could be targeted by an enemy’s missiles en route to the target. The Air Force, meanwhile, is experimenting with a concept that could allow some mobility aircraft to launch long-range missiles. And the pace of operations during a conflict could dramatically exceed the usage rates for aircraft envisioned when the PBLs were signed. 

“Now, we’re having our customers come to us and say, we were at this level, but we need to be able to surge to this level,” Sjogren said. “So what is it going to be able to take to deploy in a contested logistics environment?”

Boeing has been investing in new tools that help the company anticipate needs for maintenance and spare parts during surges in operations. Sjogren cited the example of the ongoing Exercise Mobility Guardian in the Pacific, which will include a long-range sortie by a formation of 16 C-17s.

“A lot of these investments we’ve made, frankly, are in many cases not only driving readiness, but are also going to allow us to perform some of that readiness even in the contested logistics environments. So it’s big deal,” Sjogren said. 

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.