New Methods, Challenges for Buying Troop Necessities

January 2008
By Rita Boland

 
Future budget priorities for the U.S. Defense Department include replacing aging equipment and purchasing new necessities such as mine resistant ambush protected vehicles. Information technology acquisitions will have to compete with these needs for a portion of the funding.
The U.S. Defense Department looks to industry to lead the way in creating novel technology as tighter funds and shorter refresh rates impact procurements.

With the termination of supplementary funds looming, the U.S. military is bracing for the acquisition environment of the future. Much of the defense budgets in the near term will be allocated to replace critical equipment worn out faster than anticipated by wartime operations. As a result, other programs will have to vie for the funding they require. In the information technology sector, acquisitions experts also are striving to reduce the time required for accepting delivery of new technology so troops can stay ahead of the development curve.

The U.S. Defense Department is moving toward more realistic requirement schedules and cost estimates to avoid cost overruns and other problems it has experienced. “In general, we’re moving to programs of less risk,” explains Tim Harp, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C3ISR) and information technology acquisition. The department is looking more closely at technical readiness levels and other factors as well.

Many of the changes are a result of congressional efforts to improve the acquisition process. In the information technology arena, the legislature’s actions call for a maximum of five years between Milestone A and initial operational capability. The mandate comes in response to the need to change the approach to acquisitions and to move away from extremely long programs. Some acquisitions that began in the 1990s are still ongoing today.

Because of recent legislation and the rapid pace of technology advancement, Harp says, the military may have made its last big information technology acquisition. Technology development time is driving the Defense Department to adopt service-oriented architecture (SOA) acquisitions. Programs will produce functional pieces, thus changing the focus from creating mega systems to creating smaller systems.

“[The Defense Department] can be expected to demand more SOA-type systems than we have in the past,” Harp shares. He describes SOA as an emerging technology, and several military initiatives incorporate the concept, including the Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services, the Distributed Common Ground System and the Navy Embedded Computer System. As new business and data systems are fielded, the military will be in a better position to support SOA.

In terms of communications procurement, the biggest program is the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS). As the JTRS family of systems nears its production phase, each piece will be central to communications acquisitions. Another important factor in communications procurement is increased emphasis on information assurance across the Global Information Grid (GIG). One such program that relies on improved information assurance is the U.S. Army’s Warfighter Information Network–Tactical, a backbone communications network with high-speed, on-the-move capabilities that will link soldiers on the ground with commanders and with the GIG.

Harp emphasizes that as the Defense Department proceeds with acquisitions, it must make maintaining a healthy competitive base a priority. To accomplish this goal, the military needs realistic cost schedules and requirements. Such efforts will preserve a robust industry and will ensure the most value for taxpayer dollars.

The first priority of the Defense Department, as far as emerging information technologies are concerned, is addressing the burgeoning cyberthreat to networks. As the military becomes more network centric and more dependent on networks, it becomes more vulnerable to threats as well. In the near term, the department wants to increase the proportion of its investment in information assurance and defense of the network. However, officials will not know the exact division of the budget until Congress completes its appropriations work.

The department’s most pressing need overall is the recapitalization of forces. The conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere are wearing out equipment faster than the military anticipated when it purchased the supplies. Items such as tanks, aircraft and ships are being exposed to more use in harsh combat environments, so resources the military expected to benefit from for 10 years are being used up in three or four years instead. “We have to reset the forces in general,” Harp states. “That’s the department challenge on the large level.” Those replacement needs will put overall pressure on the budget for information technology as officials in that field compete with the larger needs of the overall military.

The biggest change in procurements will be the trend to reduce the acquisition cycle time significantly. For information technology, this is especially important because the refresh rates of the technology are shorter than the military’s acquisition cycle. The Defense Department is aiming to integrate agile acquisition cycles to reduce the time to market for emerging technologies. In the past, military programs have been large, departmentwide development efforts. In the future, Harp expects to move to smaller, shorter development efforts that will draw from different sources. The change is both mandated by Congress and a natural result of the way technology is moving.

 
Jerry Fitzmorris, Raytheon program manager, shows computer systems to Senior Chief Electronics Technician Scott Kelley, USN (l), and Lt. William Swinford, USN, during a conference at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Virginia. The Defense Department is looking to industry to lead the military in technology development—especially in information technology advances.
Though development actions will be carried out on a smaller scale, services still will be implemented across the Defense Department. Development will not revert to service-unique or stovepipe methods. Instead, the military is adopting a new approach that uses a series of smaller, single-function applications as opposed to many functions integrated into one system. “We’re separating data from applications,” Harp explains.

By transferring to SOA, developers can build applications that are smaller and can be created independently and implemented as they become available, instead of waiting for an entire system to reach maturity. For example, rather than adopt a defense travel application that incorporates everything including vouchers, reservations, identification validation and account updating, each of those pieces would be independent services. The individual services can be refreshed according to their own schedules.

Another major change facing acquisitions across the Defense Department in the near future is the reduction of supplemental funding that has existed for the past few years. These large injections of budget have been used to address the problem of replacing worn equipment and buying new supplies such as Kevlar and mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles. The Defense Department recently ordered an additional 2,400 Category 1 and Category 2 MRAPs from three private firms. The Category 1 vehicles have four wheels and carry two crew and four passengers. The six-wheeled Category 2 MRAPs also carry a crew of two but can accommodate eight passengers. Even as the funding begins to dissipate, the Defense Department will continue to feel the pressure to replace worn-out equipment.

Whether the scarcity of resources and tighter budgets occur in 2008, 2009 or beyond, sooner or later the military will have to address the decrease in funding. The results will ripple through acquisitions. “That will be a belt tightening for the department whenever that happens,” Harp says.

The affect on information technology will depend on a spectrum of priorities. Some aspects of the field are easy to defer; others need immediate attention; and some have a strong business case for immediate action. Issues such as defending the network will be a high priority, but in general, the information technology community has a nature that says it can make do. Harp describes this as a “we can live with legacy one more year” attitude.

Although information technology professionals may strive to work with what they have, Defense Department technology officials want to keep up with Moore’s Law and the rapid acceleration of the technology refresh rate. The military needs to depend on industry because defense systems are becoming increasingly dependent on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)-type applications. Harp uses the example of subsurface vessels, stating that submarine command and control systems are mainly COTS with a few pieces integrated to make them classified. As the military embraces the new open architecture and SOA models that are emerging, the department wants industry to help it become more agile. Industry also can assist the military as it makes the transition to emerging technology trends. According to Harp, both industry and government will benefit from the new business methods.

As the Defense Department transitions to SOA, the individual services will be more commercial based, and the military will look to buy even more tools off the shelf. Harp explains that the department is looking to industry to continue its independent research and development (IR&D) so the military can take advantage of maturing technologies as they become available. According to the assistant secretary, it is critical that industry lead the military in technology, especially in information technology. Private organizations have more capability in-house than the military does to develop the necessary tools and systems. The most pressing areas for industry to address are cybersecurity and the emerging cyberthreat.

The trend to separate data and services enables industry to step up in the development field. Services become more generic, and only the data are Defense Department-specific. “What makes them unique to [the Defense Department] is the data we use the services for,” Harp explains. The military wants a healthy industry that maintains the services that defense personnel need to enter into their architecture.

Although the Defense Department is calling on industry to increase its development efforts, Harp says the private sector is not filling a void left by the public sector. Rather, industry has a significant pool of IR&D money that needs to be directed where industry experts believe it will have the most impact. When the military invested large amounts of research and development (R&D) funds, it was working on writing code to integrate data with applications. The integration made the process difficult. While less R&D takes place now, the problem has been simplified by the separation of data and applications.

Harp describes this period of moving away from legacy systems to SOA and a more agile acquisition process as an invigorating time for everyone. The information technology world is becoming more and more integrated with the warfighter and further integrated with industry to provide necessary services. Although information technology resources are anticipated to be cut by 10 percent in the Defense Department, Harp believes that requirements are down more than that because of the new way of doing business. “I think there are going to be adequate resources available to accomplish what we need,” he shares.

The goal for the military as it moves to its new era of acquisitions is to manage time constraints, schedules and cost estimates to deliver programs at cost and on time. All of the efforts by industry contribute to that. “It’s going to be an exciting couple of years here,” Harp says.

Web Resources
Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics: www.acq.osd.mil
Joint Tactical Radio System: http://jitc.fhu.disa.mil/jtrs
Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles: www.defenselink.mil/home/features/2007/mrap
Warfighter Information Network–Tactical: http://peoc3t.monmouth.army.mil/win_t/win_t.html