Vidal Nuno, work leader for the fuel cells installation shop in Building 94, opens a storage cage where ready-for-issue fuel cell parts are stored for legacy F/A-18 Hornets. A joint project by NAVAIR and FRCSW using blockchain technology will improve the efficiency of the distribution system for all parts within the naval aviation community. (U.S. Navy photo)

FRCSW and NAVAIR Exploring Blockchain Technology

Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) is exploring the use of “blockchain” technology to help track aviation parts at maintenance facilities across the country.

Tracking parts from their origin and understanding the history of    flight-critical aircraft parts is a resource consuming process that drives up the cost to operate military aircraft.

To increase efficiency and save money, the Navy is working to change the way it tracks the lineage of parts.

Currently, when parts are delivered they are tracked with pen and paper on scheduled removal component cards that get manually entered into a database.

Through the use of permissioned blockchain technology, the Naval Aviation Enterprise is working toward a 21st century solution to aircraft maintenance logistics.

Indiana Technology and Manufacturing Company (ITAMCO) are the developers of a blockchain product called “SIMBA Chain”.

SIMBA is a result of a Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) Small Business Innovation project that looked into tracking secure messages using blockchain technology.

A Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) allows Fleet Readiness Center Southwest’s (FRCSW) Advanced Technology and Innovation Team to partner with ITAMCO and bring this technological innovation to the Navy.

Additionally, the agreement with ITAMCO allows the Navy to gain access to cutting edge chain code as well as innovative protocols that can quickly and securely recall data; setting the stage for the Navy to use blockchain technology to deliver large amounts of data securely. The technology will be a useful tool set among Navy, DoD and external industry partners.

In addition to assisting the Navy in the use of these software tools, ITAMCO will gain an understanding of various facets of the Navy, as well as a better understanding of how the supply chain operates.

The goal of the CRADA is to develop a conceptual architecture for what a connected and transparent supply chain could look like.

A major hurdle to successful implementation is information assurance (IA). IA is the practice of assuring the safety of information and managing risks related to the use, processing, storage and transmission of data.

Using ITAMCOs accreditation for a distributed information system is a sizable departure from the centrally-controlled database design the DoD currently operates. 

Though the ability to manage large data sets is not inherent to blockchain, the Navy plans to combine file access tracking and blockchain into a technology bundle that will provide the capability to manage critical aircraft part life events and allow for custody of these events on a distributed ledger electronically. This will permit the Navy to reap the benefits of a more efficient system.

When all of the nodes supporting a supply chain become connected it increases potential vulnerability, so special consideration must be given to cyber-security.

Bringing experts together early in the development phase provides a better understanding of the risks and rewards of a connected distribution system. This will allow for sound decision making in an effort to ensure any data transmitted is well protected.

The Navy already has a trusted network, so blockchain technology would loosely resemble public blockchains. Public blockchains start with zero trust and rely on computation power in the "proof of work" consensus method.

The Navy model will be a permissioned chain with a consensus mechanism requiring less computing power. Conceptually developing consensus methods that maintain the integrity of the data while providing for all stake holders will be a collaborative effort. 

FRCSW is excited to be in the middle of this collaboration. As a Maintenance Repair and Overhaul facility that currently manages relationships with much of the Naval Aviation Enterprise, the command is well positioned to assist the Navy in reducing costs and increasing efficiencies for maintenance programs across the country and around the world.

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