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Research Questions

  1. How can the Air Force best manage the transition from its current set of automatic test systems, many of which are specific to a weapon system and rapidly approaching hardware and software obsolescence, to a much smaller set of modern, common testing systems?
  2. Which component test and repair activities should be rehosted to use resources most efficiently while maintaining repair capabilities?

Nearly all Air Force electronics are tested and repaired using automatic test systems, each of which consists of a set of automated test equipment and a suite of software designed to test and facilitate repair of specific units. Most of these testers were designed and built for specific weapon systems, many of which are aging. These test systems are beset by increasing hardware and software obsolescence, which is compounded by the number and variety of legacy tester types. Moreover, current Department of Defense policy is to use families of common test systems. The Air Force is thus planning to modernize its component repair capabilities accordingly. This report focuses on the economic aspect of the rehosting decision, i.e., which component repairs should be rehosted to use resources most efficiently while maintaining repair capabilities. The authors developed a methodology for formulating rehosting decisions for each legacy tester for each associated unit under test. They found rewriting software to run on the new systems to be the major cost driver. In some situations, an incremental rehosting strategy may be justified. In other cases, an entire workload may need to be rehosted because so few testers of a particular type are available. Finally, the long-term benefits of modern, common testing equipment make a strong case for making common families be the foundation of automatic test system acquisition for future platforms.

Key Findings

The Major Rehosting Cost Driver Is Rewriting the Software for Each Unit Under Test to Run on Its New Test System

  • The current cost estimate is $300,000 to 1 million, depending on the level of complexity.
  • Good candidates for rehosting should thus have very high and increasing maintenance costs and obsolescence issues and should handle relatively few units.

In Some Situations, the Transition May Need to Be Incremental

  • Rehosting a small number of units may substantially reduce the total annual workload for a particular tester type (the idled systems may be used as spares or a source of compatible components).
  • The need for significant software modifications to support sustainment engineering for a legacy tester may provide an opportunity for transition. In such cases, the software costs are essentially sunk, and rehosting the units on a modern tester may well be cost-effective over its life cycle.


  • The long-term benefits of modernized and common testing equipment make a strong case for making common families be the foundation of ATS acquisition on future platforms. The methodology can be used to calculate a roadmap for rehosting the workloads for current platforms that will be phased out or reduced in the near term (10-20 years).

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    A Roadmap for Modernizing Air Force Automatic Test Systems

  • Chapter Two

    The Rehosting Roadmap Decision Problem

  • Chapter Three

    Methodology and Data for the Roadmap

  • Chapter Four

    Case Study: Selected B-1B Avionics

  • Chapter Five

    Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Appendix A

    MILP Formulation of the ATS Rehosting Problem

  • Appendix B

    UUTs for B-1B Roadmap Case Study

  • Appendix C

    The Web Automatic Test System

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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