The quality assurance activities of the Technical Quality Management Center (Zentrum für technisches Qualitätsmanagement – ZtQ) reflect the interests of economical administrative practice as well as the special responsibility of the Bundeswehr as an employer vis-à-vis its servicemen and women to ensure the functional reliability and operational safety of their equipment. Directorate ZtQ is independent of project directorates and contracting branches, and its work is mainly directed at bidders and contractors, meaning external partners as viewed from within the Federal Defence Administration.
The Directorate primarily takes action in those cases in which the contracting authority cannot establish beyond doubt, on the basis of the contractor’s quality management activities, that the contractor’s supplies and services are rendered in conformity with the contract and in a cost-effective way, always considering the relevant context. This includes the quality assurance activities for which the contractors are responsible vis-à-vis subcontractors or suppliers.
This especially applies in the case of risky projects – such as complex, time-critical, expensive, potentially harmful or groundbreaking technological developments, procurements and maintenance.
Activities prior to and after Contract Conclusion
Directorate ZtQ’s work is meant to support, through a risk-based approach, the contractor in rendering the contractually agreed supplies and services, and document this in a manner that is appropriate for revision. It is mandatory to follow a tiered sequence of tests, ranging from audits at irregular intervals to hundred-percent inspections of parts carried out by the public authorities. Notwithstanding the above, a contractor ensuring the contractually agreed properties of a product or a service is always responsible in such cases.
Thus, technical quality assurance touches both on what is called (pre)contractual quality assurance and on quality assurance within individual projects. By the time a contract is concluded, project-internal quality assurance has to ensure that
- within the context of requirements management, unambiguous, weighted, realistic and measurable requirements are determined in a clearer way for both the product and the contractor (cf. pre-qualification); and that
- possible insufficient performance may be sanctioned more systematically.
Directorate ZtQ’s major tasks after contract conclusion are:
- monitoring the contractor’s quality management systems in terms of their effectiveness and, if appropriate and required (risk-based), performing supplementary official inspections,
- legal tasks, such as airworthiness product conformity inspections and reverification, weapon overload firing tests and inspections of hazardous goods packaging,
- operational tasking and performance monitoring of “open-end contracts for maintenance at the contractor’s works”, as well as
- within Germany, handling requests for Government Quality Assurance made by NATO partners and friendly third countries in accordance with STANAG 4107, which regulates the mutual recognition of Government Quality Assurance measures performed in application of the NATO Allied Quality Assurance Publications (AQAP).
Attested Quality Management System
Directorate ZtQ is the only directorate of a higher authority within the area of responsibility of FMoD that employs an attested quality management system, in accordance with ISO 9001:2015 that has been approved and certified by an independent third party. By means of this system, Directorate ZtQ increasingly committed itself to being a “service provider” for the relevant interested parties. These especially include project managers and contract branches of BAAINBw, FMoD and the parliamentary level, employees of Directorate ZtQ and personnel representation bodies.
E-Leadership and E-Administration
The Technical Quality Management Center consists of four divisions. In matters related to technical quality management, especially the operational conduct of Government Quality Assurance measures, Division ZtQ1 has power of direction within the remit of the Federal Ministry of Defence. Through the competent specialist branches, it is particularly involved in the pre-contract phase vis-à-vis the project directorates. The quality assurance teams (QA teams) of the ZtQ2 to ZtQ4 regional divisions, based in Hamburg, Kassel and Manching, perform their work right at the contractors’ sites. They have about 80 field offices that support the project managers in an indirect and decentralised manner in gradually implementing and enforcing contract requirements, also during production. In addition, they independently handle individual maintenance contracts concluded with trade and industry.
Its QA teams are quite far apart from each other, which is why Directorate ZtQ started using assets like electronic information and communications technology, centralised file servers, integrated intelligent database systems (such as in SASPF), webinars and wikis quite early on. One of the current challenges is to reduce the varied quantitative data collections to a degree that is easier to work with. In doing so, it is important to not let this secondary task of the official inspection organisation (“acquisition, plausibility check and documentation of data”) gradually become the dominating core task. This would, on the one hand, allow for an increasingly more detailed (although quasi static) overview of the Bundeswehr’s material status; on the other hand, risks that are not yet fully under control even now would increase to form an even greater obstacle to the performance of original core tasks if the resources were to remain the same, especially in light of the effects of demographic change.
Similar considerations and limits apply to e-leadership.
The fact that Directorate ZtQ’s regional offices are spread out all over Germany required the Directorate from early on to develop progressive ideas as to what good leadership means. One thing is clear: E-leadership calls for different leadership skills and methods than its “face-to-face” counterpart. Thus, an ever-present challenge remains for modern leadership within dynamic working environments. At the same time, all people involved should be aware that “remotely supervising” the employees working from home or in field offices might become a time-consuming activity when a common code of values is to be ensured. In addition, it is recognized that reorganisations designed to make individual jobs more attractive and potentially change the jobs’ range of activities do not necessarily result in the overall success of a company; however, they could have such an effect if they are well-conceived and different perspectives are considered right from the beginning.
The NATO AQAPs are the main basis for Directorate ZtQ to perform Government Quality Assurance during the development, procurement or maintenance of defence material for the Bundeswehr or its partners.
They have the status of standards and are part of the Standardization Agreement (STANAG) 4107:2016 “Mutual Acceptance of Government Quality Assurance and Usage of Allied Quality Assurance Publications”, which has been ratified within NATO.
This is why BAAINBw contracts often contain agreements, in the form of an applicable AQAP regulation, on requirements regarding the contractor’s quality management system or on the right to perform Government Quality Assurance at the contractors’ or respective subcontractors’ sites, all depending on the individual risks identified in the contract.
The latest amendments of ISO 9001 and EN 9100 more rigorously emphasise the contractor’s responsibility for the entire production cycle. Some other major points are risk management, quality management planning, material and supply chain traceability (including subcontractors and suppliers), processing of and procedures for counterfeit parts, handling of nonconformities and corrective actions.
The above-mentioned amendments of international standards resulted in the updating of AQAP. The current status is as follows:
The NATO nations have agreed to perform Government Quality Assurance activities for other partner nations free of charge (as a rule) if a contract on military equipment or services has been concluded with a domestic company and the resource of the domestic GQA service allows for such action. Non-NATO nations are increasingly employing the standardised and internationally harmonised AQAPs and also include them in their contracts. However, as a rule, they cannot make use of supporting activities performed by other Government Quality Assurance Authorities (GQAA) without compensating such authorities for their efforts. In addition, the FMoD’s approval as well as a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) are required.
Changing Government Quality Assurance Procedures for Aeronautical Equipment and Systems
Government Quality Assurance is performed on all aeronautical equipment and systems, as is the case with all other contractually agreed supplies and services for the public purchaser. This is done in order to check their conformity with contract requirements. In order to do so, the Government Quality Assurance measures are supplemented with additional elements derived from statutory requirements. The required military peculiarities pertaining to the Bundeswehr were regulated and promulgated within a Type A1 General Publication, in keeping with the Federal Aviation Act. This General Publication includes legally substantiated additional steps of inspection that go beyond the activities performed within the framework of Government Quality Assurance; it also defines the required level of experience and competences of the official inspection personnel responsible.
The airworthiness inspection process performed by this official personnel mainly consists of product-specific inspections that are conducted independently, recurrent support for industrial inspections and inspections regarding the contractor’s documentation and demonstrations. This sequence of measures must be performed and demonstrated for each aircraft or aeronautical equipment.
Within the national military set of regulations, as defined in Type A1 General Publication A1-1525, it is permitted under specified conditions to have inspections performed by qualified inspection personnel other than the official licensed inspectors, and these can be accepted as airworthiness inspections (by delegation). This inspection by others must be contractually agreed; its implementation will then be monitored by the competent ZtQ regional office as part of Government Quality Assurance.
In recent years, the Bundeswehr has built a foundation that can serve as a unified common basis for Europe-wide defence projects, similar to the civilian EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) standards. An important step in this context is the introduction of an internationalised military set of regulations, called EMAR (European Military Airworthiness Requirements).
In general, further conditions will have to be fulfilled for their implementation, both by official agencies and industry. Airworthiness inspections of aircraft types that are entirely delegated to third parties in accordance with EMAR will be conducted by the relevant aeronautical company, which is fully responsible in this matter. These inspection services are procured (from a commercial contractor, based on a contract) with public funds. For this reason, it is necessary to have ZtQ regional offices check, in relation to each contract, whether the contractor applies the pertinent operating manuals and the QM documentation. However, the focus of official inspections is shifting within the EMAR set of regulations; it is moving away from checks aimed at technical aspects regarding airworthiness towards inspections that build trust in how the contractor fulfils all of his contractual obligations.
Change of Competences
The assets used for the transmission and processing of information are continuously being modernised within the Bundeswehr. This becomes apparent, for example, in the programmes for the digitalisation of land-based operations (D-LBO), the harmonisation of command and control information systems (HaFIS) or, in the future, the German Mission Network (GMN) together with its pertaining subprojects. These modernisation efforts are becoming even more important in the context of the German contribution to the NATO Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF).
Generally speaking, it is true that information technology is increasingly becoming an integral part of military systems. Operational safety as well as IT security must be ensured, which is an example of the demands placed on quality assurance in this regard. In the area of information technology, Government Quality Assurance is faced with:
- an increasing complexity of the overall systems that are meant to be implemented, consisting of older, already fielded parts and modern new ones,
a pertaining large number of interfaces between individual subsystems,
- the need for coordination of Government Quality Assurance between different sites and system components,
- tight time frames and
- the expected fast-paced regeneration of hardware and software.
Apart from supporting development and procurement projects, Government Quality Assurance will increasingly be involved in the maintenance and modification of software. This applies to the different large weapon systems that have been fielded in the Bundeswehr as well as to the multitude of medium-sized or smaller ones, both internally (at the Bundeswehr systems support centers, for example) and externally with regard to the contractors.
Directorate ZtQ answers this trend by expanding its know-how regarding IT inspections.
Improving the Dialogue
The dialogue with (future) contractual partners will focus on the consistent use of harmonised QA standards and their demonstrated application within the entire supply chain. In addition, another goal must be to specifically improve the collection and evaluation of operating and usage data of costly weapon systems and military equipment, as is already common, for the most part, in the field of aviation. This must be achieved in order to be able to incorporate the findings in the in-service process through improvements of parts or assemblies. On-demand repairs may indeed represent a disruptive business model; however, in the context of military operations, they can only serve to supplement reliable, fact-based lifetime predictions for parts and resilient maintenance strategies. This is Directorate ZtQ’s invitation to face the common challenges hand in hand and on the basis of an established dialogue.
Team of authors BAAINBw.