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Acquisition

Soldiers Shake Up NIE

May 1, 2013
By Rita Boland

Moving forward through sequester, next fiscal year's evaluations include new contracts and contacts.

As the U.S. Army prepares its network of the future, it plans to make some changes to the way it approaches working with government and private partners. The moves will increase interoperability downrange while attempting to shorten the ever-frustrating acquisition cycle that keeps the military behind the curve in implementing cutting-edge technologies.

Soldiers are starting to lay the groundwork for, and intend on inviting, airmen and Marines to participate in Network Integration Evaluations (NIEs) 14.1 and 14.2, scheduled for fall 2013 and spring 2014 respectively. They also are preparing to expand live, virtual and constructive (LVC) features, which will facilitate bringing in the new participants, because they may be able to exercise from remote locations. In a previous iteration, the Army had one of its own brigades carry out its parts through a simulation. Brig. Gen. Randal Dragon, USA, commanding general of the Army’s Brigade Modernization Command, explains that planners are shooting to find the LVC balance in 14.1 that will help them understand what they need to do to accommodate the joint network in 14.2. “We’re still in very, very early preliminary design stages,” he states. Before connecting a major joint, coalition or interagency partner to the network, the Army has to determine how to reduce risks and costs. Officials are attempting to find the right mix to enable the joint requirements while maintaining the momentum of systems of evaluation.

Does the Joint Information Environment 
Help or Hinder Coalition Interoperability?

May 1, 2013
By Kent R. Schneider

Coalition interoperability has received a good deal of focus during the past few years. The Afghan Mission Network (AMN) has given many hope that a repeatable solution for coalition operations could be developed that would allow rapid deployment of a coalition-compatible network for future conflicts. The Future Mission Network (FMN) is envisioned to allow coalition partners to plug into a standards-compliant network with the functionality and security needed to support complex operations.

Recently, in discussions on the U.S. Defense Department initiative to develop a common operating environment referred to as the Joint Information Environment, or JIE, I began to consider whether the creation of such a common environment for the department would help move toward agile and effective coalition information sharing, or would put more distance between the U.S. military and its partners.

The conclusion I have reached is that the JIE could help or hinder coalition efforts, depending on how the JIE architecture is coordinated and whether it is kept on a path parallel to the FMN. It is important to remember that coalition information sharing today is more than just how the United States works with its foreign allies. Anywhere on the mission spectrum, the Defense Department must work with a wide range of U.S. federal agencies, industry partners and, sometimes, state, local and tribal agencies, as well as with international partners.

This means the legacy architectures, direction and needs of this extremely diverse set of players must be considered at every step of the development of the JIE. And, it is imperative to keep the development of the JIE and the development of the FMN coordinated every step of the way. Failure to do this will make it more difficult, not easier, to work with interagency partners and coalition partners.

Forward Deployed 3-D Printers Might 
Be the Next Warfighter Innovation

May 1, 2013
By Lt. Ben Kohlmann, USN

Additive manufacturing, more commonly understood in the technology world as 3-D printing, is here to stay. Integrating this technology into our fleet and logistical supply chains now could provide incredible benefits, even though the technology still is relatively nascent. The Economist calls this “the third industrial revolution,” and, indeed, these techniques could transform the way we supply materiel in the wars we fight.

Imagine you are a supply officer on a minesweeper and a relatively simple plastic gas cap disappears. Or as the commanding officer of an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, you discover that a small part of your close-in weapon system breaks and the supply chain has no more. As a submariner, you are on station for three months of deployment only to discover a malfunctioning inexpensive butterfly valve may necessitate aborting the whole mission. What do you do?

These are all true stories. In the first, the Navy spent $400 to ship that $7 gas cap halfway around the world. The destroyer’s commanding officer was forced to complete his deployment without a key defensive system. For the submarine, some enterprising machinist mates found solid copper and banged out a replacement in a matter of minutes that lasted through the end of deployment. All these situations had solutions, but none of them was ideal.

What if each of these vessels had easy access to a 3-D printer or an additive manufacturing capability organic to the ship? What if, instead of waiting six months or more for a high-fail, high-demand plastic part, a replacement could be printed instantaneously, tested and then implemented immediately?

Guest Blog: Lowering Walls and Blurring Lines

April 12, 2013
By Dr. Louis S. Metzger

The latest Incoming column from Lt. Ben Kohlmann, USN, titled “Link Warfighters to Technologists at the Lowest Possible Level” (SIGNAL Magazine, April 2013), resonated with observations I’ve made and conclusions I’ve reached over the years. I’ve been involved with the research and development and acquisition communities for a long time, including serving as the Air Force chief scientist from 1999 to 2001. Perhaps my adding to Lt. Kohlmann’s advice will help it gain additional traction, and stimulate further discussion and activity.

Leveraging technology to provide our military with improved capability requires diverse insights, multiple skills and varied roles. The insights cover current understanding of user needs, the operational environment, and the potential of existing and emerging technology. The skills span science and engineering, contracting, testing and training. And the roles include requirements developer, laboratory investigator, acquirer and support provider. The realities of specialization demand that multiple communities come together to provide all these ingredients. Unfortunately, interpretation of rules, processes and culture have built walls, and suspicion between different communities to the extent that the teamwork and collaboration needed to expeditiously develop and field new capabilities often islacking.

The Continuing Journey to Fully Effective IT Acquisition and Management

April 1, 2013
By Kent R. Schneider

Those of us who have been involved with government information technology (IT) for some time clearly remember the many efforts to improve IT acquisition. All certainly remember Vivek Kundra’s IT Management Reform Program, the 25-point plan. Most would agree that progress has been made, but some would argue—correctly I believe—that work remains to be done.

The U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), posted a draft federal IT acquisition reform act on its website last fall. As part of the review and revision process for this bill, the committee invited comments from a broad set of sources. It asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study progress and issues related to IT acquisition and management, and it also held several hearings. Testimony at the most recent hearing, held February 27, revealed progress and disappointments.

The GAO report, delivered to the House committee on January 22, argues that billions of dollars are being wasted in execution of the nearly $80 billion annual unclassified federal IT budget. Most of this waste comes either from unneeded duplication in federal programs, systems and infrastructure, or from failed or ineffective federal IT programs.

While many reasons may exist for the duplications and failures, lack of effective communication seems to be at the heart of the problems. Government managers are not talking to each other, which results in stovepipes along organizational or functional lines. Government and industry are not communicating effectively, resulting in suboptimum outcomes and, often, yesterday’s solution. Do you remember the “Myth Busting Campaign” that Dan Gordon set up when he was administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy? That was all about separating the real obstacles to effective procurements from those imagined by the legal and other communities. The GAO report separates some of that fact from fiction.

Link Warfighters to Technologists at the Lowest Possible Level

April 1, 2013
By Lt. Ben Kohlmann, USN

As conflicts become more complex and uncertain in the 21st century, quick pivots to new technologies will become increasingly important. The starting point for this rapid fielding must begin with more frequent, and more relational, lower level warfighter-technologist interaction.

The current system does this nominally, but the relationships usually are far removed from the waterfront or the front lines where many user-generated solutions could be discovered. Science advisers, often from places such as the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory or the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), are stationed regularly at critical commands throughout the services. They provide a useful link between incredibly intelligent technologists and seasoned veterans.

Unfortunately, many of the interactions are only with senior officers and not the muddy boot or deckplate warriors who know best what is giving them day-to-day headaches. Additionally, many of the officers dedicated to acquisition programs are years removed from being actual operators. With the accelerating pace of technological change, even a year away from operational status can leave noticeable knowledge gaps.

Experience certainly is valuable, but after spending a long period of time in the same profession, a person’s creativity sometimes is lost. Even known innovators can get stuck in ruts when not exposed to different views of the world over sustained periods of time. Furthermore, as technology evolves, the quickest adopters usually are the younger generations. They often have better insights into how to integrate emerging, generationally ubiquitous trends to their professions than do their seniors who relied on legacy systems.

Budgetary Concerns
 Dominate
 Pacific Pivot

April 1, 2013
By Robert K. Ackerman

Declining defense funds and the rise of China may hinder strategic rebalancing efforts.

Whatever the threat; wherever the conflict; whatever the mission; the future U.S. military largely will be defined by forced budget constraints. The ongoing fiscal crisis, haunted by the twin specters of sequestration and continuing resolution, will have a greater say in shaping the future force than either adversaries or advances in weapon technologies.

Even resolution of the thorniest sequestration issues would not change the overall trend of declining financial resources for the defense community. The effects of budget cuts could be severe and might prevent forces from carrying out their missions. In terms of materiel, acquisitions will be slowed and new program starts largely could disappear. Operation and maintenance will be reduced, deployments will be cut back and support resources will be reduced—all as the United States rebalances its strategic emphasis toward the Asia-Pacific region.

These were among the lead topics discussed at West 2013, the annual conference and exposition hosted by AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute January 29-31 in San Diego. While the three-day event had the theme of “Pivot to the Pacific: What Are the Global Implications,” discussions largely focused on the dire consequences of the looming fiscal cliff. Audiences that were aware of the impending budget crisis were surprised by the bluntness of the assessments offered by high-ranking Defense Department civilian and military leaders.

One stark assessment came from the event’s first speaker, Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., USN, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Speaking to a packed house at a morning keynote address, Adm. Winnefeld described the looming financial crisis as a “wolf,” adding that it is becoming “increasingly apparent that this wolf is going to catch us.”

DISA Lays Groundwork for Commercial Cloud Computing Contract

March 26, 2013
By Max Cacas

One of the U.S. Defense Department’s top information technology officials says work is beginning on a multiaward contract for commercial cloud computing services, but the official says he has no timeline or total value for the business.

Guest Blog: Budget Impact on Developing COTS Systems

March 25, 2013
By Michael Carter

The current driving force in the military and defense environment is to keep legacy systems operating longer, or the replacement of legacy systems with new systems that emulate one or more legacy systems with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology. However, there is insufficient budget to fund development of these COTS systems, and the burden of development falls upon private industry. The current sequestration environment adds another burden on industry to perform to the needs of the military, but without the benefit of nonrecurring engineering (NRE) costs being reimbursed. Programs although already funded (but not the NRE, as it is not initially funded) are being put on hold, cancelled, or are in a state of non-deterministic outcome.

Military and defense program managers and private industry face an uphill battle to find the intersection of needs, available resources and the expenditure of development costs. Small companies are at a distinct disadvantage when they develop technology to support the replacement of legacy systems when they are forced to use their own development resources without compensation and are not awarded a contract for production.

Whether a fixed-price, cost-plus, or IDIQ contract, the above scenario is increasingly commonplace in the face of budget constraints and sequestration. The burden on small companies doesn’t stop there; military program managers are also demanding engineering support without compensation for engineering-sustaining efforts, again without the presence of a production contract.

Although many systems are characterized as COTS, there are demands on the developer to perform military environment qualification testing, again without funding and no guarantee of a production contract.

University Fills Procurement Education Gap

March 14, 2013

Old Dominion University (ODU) now offers a graduate-level procurement program that focuses on how to support cost savings, improve efficiencies and determine other strategic goals for public-sector organizations.

 

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