Surface Warfare Magazine
Sharing stories and news from Sailors across the U.S. Navy’s Surface Forces
Reliability Centered Maintenance:
Documenting the Source of Maintenance Requirements

Why do we do maintenance? To keep our Work Center Supervisor and Division Chief happy? So we can make liberty call and go home? Good answers but not quite what we’re looking for. Simply put, maintenance is done to ensure equipment performs when it is needed.

Photo by MC3 Kaleb Staples

So we know why it is done, but how should we be doing it? The equipment life-cycle can be met or extended by using corrective maintenance or preventive maintenance. Corrective maintenance is just like it sounds. If a system breaks, it gets fixed. Preventive maintenance is all about keeping equipment from breaking down or at least holding off a failure as long as possible. On the surface it would seem like Preventive is always the way to go. Not so fast! As we’ll see, some things are best when left to run to failure. So, what kind of maintenance should we do, and how often should we do it?

“The Navy’s approach is to perform maintenance only when there is evidence of actual or predictable equipment failure, while ensuring operational readiness, safety, and equipment reliability,” says Capt. Jerry Prendergast, the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) assistant deputy commander for maintenance, modernization, environment, and safety.

“This strategy, known as Condition Based Maintenance, has proven to be cost effective, and has been used successfully for decades, not only in the Navy, but in commercial industry as well,” he said.

To determine the most effective maintenance approach, Preventive or Corrective, for a given equipment item, there are rules that need to be followed.


Reliability Centered Maintenance (RCM) is the strategy that provides these rules and guidelines. RCM analysis tells us what maintenance should be performed and when, based on a number of factors including Sailor operational experience, operational data, equipment performance, and engineering expertise. Following the 12 phase process contained in MIL STD 3034A, RCM ensures we do preventive maintenance to properly manage safety, environmental and regulatory risks. When such risk factors don’t exist, RCM makes sure that doing preventive maintenance is cost effective by evaluating the benefits of preventing failure versus the cost and mission impacts if failure were allowed to happen.

The purely corrective maintenance strategy, also known as fix-when-fail, is appropriate for many systems and equipment. For a handful of critical systems, it is imperative to prevent failures; but for most equipment, a balance between preventive and corrective maintenance procedures is optimum.


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Naval Sea Systems Command trains and certifies everyone involved with developing maintenance to ensure all abide by the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) instruction 4700.7L. Those who review and improve existing maintenance strategies use the “Backfit RCM” methodology and receive 12 hours of training every three years. The Backfit approach is appropriate when we have operational data and experience, allowing us to incrementally improve maintenance. Those who develop maintenance from scratch using the “Classic RCM” methodology receive one week of intense training. The classic approach is used for new systems or systems used in new environments where there is no operational experience. Additionally, it is used when equipment reliability is not satisfactory.

When new ships, systems, or components are delivered, the program office ensures an RCM-developed maintenance plan is included. Subsequent Classic and Backfit reviews happen when needed based on operating experience, failure data, cost issues, Type Commander interest, and time since the last RCM review. Continuous improvement of our maintenance strategy is key to the CNO’s policy.

As the figure shows, doing too much preventive maintenance can be as bad as not doing enough. It is necessary to find the most effective balance and RCM helps in this process.

Because the Navy has been inconsistent in the way it collects and stores RCM information, we don’t always know the “pedigree” of some existing preventive maintenance (O-, I-, and D-level). This will change with the Future of PMS (FoPMS). FoPMS is a project whose goal is to modernize the Navy’s Planned Maintenance System. For every maintenance requirement, FoPMS will make it clear to everyone with PMS access that they know its RCM pedigree, the failure mode the maintenance is designed to prevent, and when it was last reviewed. Requirements without a pedigree will be prioritized for RCM validation to eliminate maintenance that crept into the maintenance plan without the prerequisite RCM analysis. If, as a work center supervisor, you feel preventive maintenance is performed too often, not often enough, or is missing the point, you will be able to see its history and make recommendations based on your operating experience.

By knowing underlying RCM information for maintenance requirements, Sailors, system engineers, and program offices can focus maintenance improvement efforts where they are most needed. This will allow us to achieve the CNO’s goal of most effectively performing maintenance based upon objective evidence of need. Surface Warfare Magazine

To learn more about the Future of PMS initiative, please visit or email
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