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Sustainment Maturity Levels (SML)

ALCL 150


Alternate Definition

SMLs are a life cycle sustainment management tool used to assess the program’s progress in implementing it's Product Support Strategy (PSS), including the design and the resultant Product Support Package. SMLs are also a method that may be used by a Product Support Manager (PSM) to help assess what maturity level the support plan should achieve for each program milestone (MS) and the extent to which a program’s product support implementation efforts are likely to result in the timely delivery of a level of capability to the Warfighter.

The SML concept addresses the full range of support options, from fully organic-based to fully commercial-based product support and every mixture in between. It does not prescribe to a predetermined solution, but instead can be applied across major sub-systems to provide a common, consistent, repeatable means of articulating and understanding a program's level of sustainment maturity.

Alternate Definition Source
General Information


Akin to Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) and Manufacturing Readiness Levels (MRL), SMLs are an important life cycle sustainment management tool. According to Para 3.1 of the DoD PSM Guidebook, developing and fielding the Product Support Package evolves over time. Support packages are dependent on variables such as operating doctrine, changes in technology, as well as commercial and government repair capabilities. As a result, a consistent metric to measure the maturity of the implementation process is useful in conveying the progress across the various communities. 

Achieving sustainment levels along an targetted timeline helps the PSM evolve the program’s product support approach to achieve the best value support solution. Achieving the “up front” targeted goals levels will design in downsteam supportability, which can, in turn, help reduce Total Ownership Cost (TOC)  . Supportability analyses used to design and assess sustainment factors include but are note limited to Failure Mode, Effects and Criticality Analysis (FMECA), Fault Tree Analysis (FTA), Reliability Centered Maintenance Analysis (RCMA), Level of Repair Analysis (LORA), and Maintenance Task Analysis (MTA). Using an SML construct can help ensure that the product support strategies can be continuously improved based on actual data collected both during testing and actual operations phases.

Chapter 5 of the DoD PSM Guidebook, entitled Sustainment in the Life Cycle Phases goes on to identify the SMLs in each programmatic phase, and identifying at what SMLs the program should expect to achieve during that phase.

SML Concept

The SML concept is a method that may be used to determine the maturity levels needed at each MS.  Achieving the levels in an incremental fashion will help ensure the program’s product support approach evolves as it should to achieve the best value support solution. The SMLs provide a uniform way to measure and communicate the expected life cycle sustainment maturity as well as provide the basis for root cause analysis when risks are identified. This discovery process is applied during internal program development and during formal program reviews. Focus is on assessing the sustainment strategy development and implementation status towards achieving Full Operational Capability (FOC) and, where applicable, determining the risk associated with achieving the Sustainment Key Performance Parameter (KPP). The SMLs  provide a standard way of documenting the product support implementation status that can be traced back to life cycle product support policy and guidance without prescribing a specific solution. 

The life cycle logistics community has the challenge of assessing risks associated with achieving and maintaining FOC as programs advance through the design, production, deployment and operating and support (O&S) phases. The SMLs were developed to provide a guidepost for the PSM as the Life Cycle Sustainment Plan (LCSP) is matured. They also assist in assessing sustainment strategy implementation status across programs in a consistent manner. The Product Support Package cannot fully evolve to maturity until the operational environment is defined, the sustainment requirements established and the design is stable. The SML definitions are developed to take into account a nominal level of design stability as a prerequisite for the levels. Consequently, SMLs can be a powerful tool for the PSM in determining the appropriate sustainment concept based on the system’s design stability and the immediacy of the required support.


Appendix G, Table 1 of the PSM Guidebook describes key sustainment outcomes necessary to achieve the requisite criteria for each SML. The description is focused on broad “outcomes” or accomplishments, not intents or plans. The outcomes identified in Table 1 are important because they are critical in achieving the end-state sustainment concept and convincingly demonstrating maturity in the implementation process. Table 1 is not meant to imply the various functional area levels are reached at a specific point in time. However, following the principles spelled out in DoD Instruction (DoDI) 5000.02, Operation of the Adaptive Acquisition Framework, the levels would typically be expected to be achieved in the corresponding life cycle phase and by the indicated events. By the same token, just because a program reaches a specific MS or event does not mean that the specific SML has been reached  or even that it must be. Achievement is based on specific accomplishments at the time as determined appropriate by the PSM and the program's logistic's team. .

During the testing and operations phases, achieving the SMLs will ensure that continual process improvements (CPI) and design changes are made based on actual feedback data. This outcome based approach also makes it easier to articulate risks when various levels are not achieved by specific MS, as well as form the foundation for root cause analysis. In the event they are not reached, understanding and mitigating the associated risks greatly increases the probability of fielding mitigation strategies to provide the Warfighter suitable product support. In addition, by identifying the risk area(s) early, the program can formulate and execute mitigation strategies before risks are realized.

Program Reviews

The SMLs are not intended to create additional work for programs or the DoD Components. Designated review entities will use  program documents identified in the DoDI 5000.02 when assessing product support solution progress at program reviews. These documents include but are not limited to the Analysis of Alternatives (AoA), Systems Engineering Plan (SEP), Test and Evaluation Master Plan (TEMP), Acquisition Strategy (AS), Acquisition Program Baseline (APB), and the LCSP. The Program Manager (PM) / PSM should be able to clearly articulate why the product support solution / sustainment maturity reflected in the LCSP and other program documents is appropriate for their program at that point in time.

Assessing Levels

Rarely does the Product Support Package for a system’s sub-systems or components mature at the same time. For example, the design maturity for a specific sub-system may be lagging the others. Some components may be commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS), standard hardware, or made with well-established materials and processes from reliable suppliers, thus demonstrating a stable, mature design. Other components may incorporate new design elements that move well beyond the proven capabilities of a key technology resulting in a still evolving design. Using a ”weakest link” basis, a system would receive an overall maturity level that reflects the element of the system with the lowest level of maturity. In many instances, this can be effective for the simple system, but for more complex systems this approach could be misleading and give the impression of an overall level of risk greater than the actual situation. Consequently, for assessments of more complex systems, assigning a single SML to an entire system may have little value. It may be more useful to address SML by major sub-systems and then make a determination on the overall maturity of the support solution based on the sum of the sub-system product support development.