In this episode of Any.Talk, we discuss what the elements of Integrated Logistics Support (ILS) are in a defence industry, but also how the principles and practices can be applied outside of defence. We also look at what kind of training people need to succeed as an ILS manager and whether there are enough training opportunities out there for people wanting to work in ILS.
Listen to the full podcast episode below, or stream it on Apple Music, Spotify or wherever else you listen to podcasts.
Any.Talk Episode #14: Integrated Logistics Support (ILS)
Annie-Mei: Hello and welcome to another episode of Any.Talk. I’m Annie-Mei Forster and today on the show we’re going to be talking about Integrated Logistics Support (ILS). So our first guests on the show today are Principal Consultants Peter Winter and Tom Dalton. Hello Tom and Peter.
Peter: Hello, Annie-Mei.
Tom: Hey, Annie-Mei.
Annie-Mei: Also we have General Manager Steve Kouloumendas. Good morning, Steve.
Steve: Good morning, Annie-Mei. Thanks for having me back.
Annie-Mei: Alright, so if I start with Steve. Can you briefly outline what Integrated Logistics Support is?
Steve: Sure, Annie-Mei.
Integrated Logistics Support for me, as a non-ILS or ILS Specialist, it’s a bit of a dark art at times. It’s the people and the function that are responsible for maintaining a bit of kit. So after you buy a capability it’s the function that is responsible for making sure it operates and is available when required.
So think of a vehicle for example. Making sure it goes through all of its strict maintenance regimes. Making sure it’s got all the right support in terms of documentation, the users and it can fulfill the benefits that the capability is providing with all the stuff that occurs in the background. So that’s anything from repair, maintenance and ongoing support to make sure the capability fulfills its intended benefits.
Tom: Steve, following on from that, ILS has got its different functions too. It’s got its acquisition phase, the sustainment phase, it’s got the above the line, the below the line and they’re all different. So if you’re working above the line, the experience that you get there is completely different to the experience that you’d get below the line. And the same as being in a sustainment organisation or in a project in the acquisition phase.
Annie-Mei: Okay, and Peter can you tell us what the nine elements of ILS are?
Peter: Oh dear, you’ve put me on the hook.
Engineer support, supply support, maintenance support, computer support, package storing and handling, personnel and people, facilities, disposal, training and training support.
On that, we say nine or 10 elements. Some domains, I think the US Air Force has 12. So it can be a little bit variable.
Annie-Mei: Okay, why are there sometimes more?
Peter: I suppose they subdivide things. What we would class as one element, they would maybe break it down into two or three just for granularity and more depth. And I suspect it’s also because of airframes on aircraft, there’d be more room to do or the need to do that.
Tom: I guess disposal is included in some and isn’t included in others. It’s a sub-able, right? So it can either be an element or it can be part of all of them.
Steve: I might just add quickly there as I didn’t quite mention at the start. ILS, we’re talking about it right now in the defence context and defence industry, but it is a skill set of principles and practices that can be applied to, certainly more than just defence. Some of the other industries would perhaps refer to this as asset management but the philosophies and principles remain the same. It’s about getting the most out of your kit and equipment that you’ve spent a fair bit of money on to make sure that it can fulfill its intended role.
Sometimes the names and the nomenclature can change, but the outcomes are very much the same. We’ve seen it applied in defence firsthand and in defence industry, transport, rail and other sectors as well.
Tom: Yeah, it’s a good point you make Steve. Within the name it’s got ‘logistics’, where logistics is usually getting something from ‘A’ to ‘B’, but within integrated logistics support it has nothing to do with getting things from ‘A’ to ‘B’. Logistics is the whole nine elements.
Peter: Yeah what we’re looking at there is effective and efficient. Getting something in a place, at the right time, the right quantity, in the right state as cheaply and efficiently as possible. We don’t want to just blow all our dough. Organise things so that it can be done effectively and efficiently.
Going slightly off course but ILS also encompasses health (which we don’t cover) and spirituality, and those sorts of things. So that the whole compass of ILS covers the whole gamut of keeping a force in the field. We’re just concentrating here on the equipment side of things. That’s what we mean by ILS is equipment ILS, not the whole thing where we’re including the personnel, hospitals, tentage, food, mortuaries and all the rest of it.
Annie-Mei: Okay, Peter so what training and experience do you think someone needs in order to be a good ILS expert?
Peter: Well, first of all you’ve got to do a three- or four-year apprenticeship. And then you have five to 10 years of actually working in the field. And then you get yourself into a variety of different maintenance locations from right in the unit all the way to base workshops. But also, in the course of all that is training. So you’re going away to do your reliability training or life cycle cost training or other engineering topics.
In my opinion, you don’t become an ILS person, unless you’ve got at least 15 to 20 years under your belt of hands-on in various aspects of your trades. Either as a hands-on maintainer or as a manager of a workshop.
Tom: That’s the thing about ILS, Annie-Mei is there’s a whole proliferation of short courses. There's an introduction into ILS. There are the logistics support analysis courses from Formica RCM. There’s also a Masters in ILS. You can do the Masters, but that doesn’t make you an analyst in being able to perform ILS. Like Peter was saying, it takes a long time to get to a point where you can be confident at being able to do more than one part of ILS.
And it’s really hard. There is no – you start at ‘A’ and you finish at ‘Z’. Do you know what I mean? There’s no pathway. There’s no real curriculum that says you can do this and know where to start. You don’t have to do that trade to become a really good ILS person, in my opinion.
You could be an operator and then find your way into a job on a project. Say landing a helicopter on a dock, or something like that and before you know it, you become an ILS manager. But there’s no actual way of just getting into the ILS domain and working your way into being an ILS manager or a sustainment manager.
Peter: So you’re saying it’s by osmosis then, Tom? You absorb it. Well, that’s true. You’re bouncing off people and you’re learning things as you go along. You never stop learning and sometimes you’ve got to forget because those lessons are wrong.
And just case by case depends on what it is and how it is and how many of them there are. I mean there’s no point building up a whole beautiful ILS support system if you’ve only got two of them in existence. On the other hand, you want a bit more if you’ve got hundreds and thousands of them scattered all over the globe. So, horses for courses.
Steve: I actually have a question for both Tom and yourself, Peter. You’ve both performed ILS management roles in large, multimillion dollar acquisition projects and also done so from below the line trying to deliver to acquisition projects. What does a typical day look like for an ILS manager or is there no such thing as a typical day?
Peter: I think every day is different. Sometimes it’s the same shit, different depth. But no, it depends. Sometimes emergencies will crop up or ‘Oh my god, we’ve forgotten this’ or ‘What are you doing that for, that’s not inside the scope. We haven’t got enough money to do that. Go back and think’. You can argue your case, but this is fundamental. This is what the OCD said we had to do.
Because ILS is one of the first things to get cut on any major acquisition project. Then you can go inside the ILS elements to cut down the various ones in those. Usually it’s training, and then it’s spares and then documentation. They’re the sort of, the lines that things get cut out to save money because we’ve underestimated or somebody else has splurged the money when they shouldn’t have done.
Tom: Totally agree, Pete. As an ILS manager working below the line or above the line. My daily tasks, we’re putting spot fires out, always justifying the resourcing and allocation of training. And especially training.
They always want to cut training first because the engineering phase goes before the ILS phase and they always (well, won’t say always), their budget doesn’t quite cover what they want to do. So, because ILS is slightly behind, and ILS still has a fair bit of budget left, they try to take ILS budget all the time.
Peter: See, one of the things that comes out is, when you have a new capability coming is trying to get everything into place: the documentation, the users trained, the maintainers trained, the spares, the tooling in place before anything is rolled out into the field. And that’s a great resistance because everybody wants the new shiny toys as fast as possible.
An example I can give you is when we got the first ASLANs, the 15 that Mr Beazley bought. We got them here and the GOC of Log Command said I don’t want them. You’ve got no documentation, you’ve got no spares, you’ve got no tools and you’ve got nobody trained. So where I was IN DCPM, a warrant officer dedicated to looking after these 14 vehicles while they went through their trials or their acceptance testing.
Annie-Mei: So Tom, you mentioned the fact that training is always the first thing that gets cut when it comes to cutting costs. So how does that affect the current state of ILS?
Tom: Thanks, Annie-Mei. So when I was talking about training that was the budget for training the operators, the maintainers and the capability management group on the equipment that’s been bought or sustained.
But with regards to training the ILS capability within defence, there have been some courses that have been put through CASG. They’re both the acquisition group and the sustainment group and I think the acquisition group does the sustainment part of the course and the sustainment group does the acquisition to get more of a rounded knowledge on ILS. But there is no formal ILS training or career pathway that I know of.
Peter: Back a long time ago, when they had material divisions, we had a five-week managers’ ILS course, which is written by a guy called Keith Gascoigne. But he used to get his people who came to do the course were the actual people who wrote the manuals, the actual 1388 Manuals. Bloke called James V. Jones who was a Colonel in the US Army and the other one was Ken Blanchard who was a doctor.
And they used to come out and give us lectures. All these people on this course were all either people like myself, ex-warrant officers or engineering officers of all the free services. And we were in there for five weeks and we’d do lots and lots of syndicate work of hypothetical equipment acquisition.
And then we’d go back to our material divisions because we knew we were in multimillion dollar projects in those days. So that’s the days when Defence used to spend money to train people on ILS.
As Tom was saying before we had all the incidental courses like life cycle costing, ease of maintenance, reliability and to write a user manual, etc.
Steve: I know one of the requests we seem to get is businesses that are delivering to defence, everyone seems to be looking for ILS people. So is ILS starting to become a dying art? There seem to be less and less of these people that Peter you’d describe from your cohort.
Defence used to grow ILS people due to the training and experiences that you would collect on your way in Defence and then you’d be able to share all that knowledge and experience on what makes a good ILS person and it doesn’t seem to be occurring like that anymore. So is it a dying art and what can we do to help?
Tom: That’s an awesome question, Steve and I think there’s a lot of people out there that can spell ILS, but to get the experience that’s required to be a properly broad experience within the domain, it’s really hard these days to get that.
They need to have those quite large acquisition projects, not just a LAND 400 but one where we’re doing some of the manufacturing and that kind of stuff like Peter was saying to get into those weeds so you can learn more about the levels of repair and all the other things that need to be learned within ILS.
Peter: Yeah, I mean that’s right Tom and I remember when I was in uniform, I took leave without pay to work for a company up in Queanbeyan called EOS. While I was there, I did all the reliability on this piece of equipment that they were designing. Plus, also ease of maintenance.
Another friend of mine, we wrote the training manuals, and we wrote the maintenance manuals. So it was a small company at the time, but we brought our experience from Defence into them. They were trying to flog this stuff into Defence. And we learned an awful lot from just going down to the basics and right down to the start of the problems.
Trying to advise the designers, you’ve got to change this because we can’t remove this board here. You’ve got to change the fasteners, so they’re uniform. So they’ve all got slots or Allen key, just make it easy to open and close. Those sorts of things and it’s great having hands-on and being able to do that, but those opportunities don’t come around that very often unfortunately. But it’d be great if we could mock that up somehow.
It’s going to take time and money and you might be able to do it on paper, but it’d be better if you had a mix of paper and practical experience of doing it, but it’s going to be expensive and take time.
Steve: Indeed. Just to add to your point, Peter, I think it’s all about investment. So investing in people’s time and creating opportunities for experience. I think that has to be the number one point to get strong ILS folk that are well-rounded and have experience. On the flipside of that is also exposure to, like you just said there the designers.
I recall my past being an engineer, running design teams responsible for creating different designs. In particular I’m thinking of designs that we integrate into navy ships and this was one of the things that I learned very early when I was learning - what is ILS and why is it important?
I fell into those traps very early. So part of getting an appreciation for ILS was realising that it actually needs to start all the way with the design. And I need to get an ILS person into this design team as soon as possible to help us design something that is supportable and easily maintainable later on. Otherwise, we hand over something that cannot be maintained, cannot be supported and fundamentally it can’t be used or it’s going to cost a lot of money.
And to that end, the work that you guys have done recently in developing our own inhouse training course for (I call people like myself) non-ILS specialists that help create awareness. This one-day training course I think it’s been really fantastic in helping the rest of our organisation gain an appreciation for what ILS is and having that filter through to everyone because I think the awareness part is a big factor in making sure we, as a collective industry don’t lose this skillset and continue to reap the benefits.
Annie-Mei: I was just going to ask, going back to what you were talking about before Peter when you were saying you were working at EOS, what would the consequences have been if there hadn’t been an ILS team involved in that project?
Peter: The thing wouldn’t be supportable. Their argument was that the client would send the whole thing back to us for repair. I said: ‘No, no one’s going to take this frontline piece of equipment that’s fitted onto a weapon, if it goes ‘boom’.’
They want to be able to fix it inside an hour or two hours maximum, to get it back online so they can use it to kill people. They’re not going to send it from overseas, back to Queanbeyan for you guys to repair it. So that’s why we’ve got to have this ease of maintenance so that you can have favoured technicians or crew can get in and diagnose the faults and pull out the circuit boards and replace them and get it back online.
That brings on another problem. Getting the diagnostics correct so that you diagnose the faults. Whether you have built-in test equipment or whether you have some sheets where you go through faults. So you can identify the fault and reasonably accurately assume that you’re going to fix it by changing over a part.
But as it eventuated this piece of equipment was blocked by the government. We couldn’t sell it overseas because the country we were trying to sell it to wasn't very friendly to us. But we still went ahead and did it. Today EOS is a big company in Queanbeyan and over in the States.
Annie-Mei: Do you have any suggestions on how defence industry organisations can tackle this skills shortage issue?
Peter: Apprenticeships. You’ve got to start off. As soon as they can leave school, get them in and get them onto basic trade skills, make their lives interesting and then give them some money. Rather than going to uni. Not everybody’s got the ability to go to university and not everyone wants to go to university. But you’ve got to make it more attractive going into some kind of engineering.
Not mechanical or electrical or electronic but just engineering for the first year so they can get the exposure to doing things and then give them little problems. Make it interesting. Everybody likes puzzles. So make it these ILS tasks or problems that you can solve on paper or come up with different means of what you think could be a solution to whatever the perceived problems are.
Tom: Totally agree Pete. And establish a proper career progression path which includes both below the line, above the line, sustainment and acquisition phases. They get to work in the whole proliferation of ILS, which would be great. And then at the end they can choose what they want to do.
Maybe they want to work in the sustainment organisation or what they refer to in the outside world as asset management. Or do they find where Pete and I more entertaining is the acquisition phase.
Peter: It’s very difficult to get people to move up from below the line to above the line unless employers (both government and defence industry) are willing to let their people cross the boundaries for experience. That creates all sorts of problems on insurance and liabilities, etc. But it’s worthwhile thinking about.
We’ve got to do something because if something doesn’t happen shortly, ILS as we know it will totally die on the vine and we’ll be left with systems engineers.
Annie-Mei: So how do we make ILS more appealing? You guys talked about offering apprenticeships and offering younger people opportunities and offering them a career path. How would we get them to enter that sort of career path?
Peter: You’ve got to make it so that – you can make a difference. And you can save millions of dollars over the lifetime of a project. You personally can do that. As part of a team as well, but you can make a difference. You can save somebody’s life. You can save equipment from being wrecked.
Annie-Mei: Alright, well we’ll wrap it up there so thank you Tom, Peter and Steve for talking today about Integrated Logistics Support.
Peter: It was a pleasure. I’m almost thinking about coming out of retirement.
Tom: Thank you, Annie-Mei. And that was really just skimming the surface. We really could’ve gone on all day.
Steve: Thank you, Annie-Mei. We might need to get Tom and Peter back for the second part of ILS.
Peter: When I’m retired Steve, it’ll cost ya.