Allied Technology Requirements Call for Streamlining Acquisition

June 2000
By Dr. Herbert K. Fallin, Jr., and Dipl.-Ing. Walter H.P. Schmidt

Evolutionary procurement allows military customers to participate in designing systems to meet their needs.

The armed forces in many countries are examining the methods they use to acquire information technology systems. In a coalition environment, procuring communications equipment that will be employed by several nations during cooperative operations is more complicated than point and click. The new trend for allied nations is to begin further back in the supply chain, scrutinizing the processes that influence the development of products.

Rather than going to the shelf—or the Internet—to choose the best technologies to meet coalition operation communications requirements, evolutionary procurement is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO’s) preferred method for developing and acquiring software-intensive military systems. The principle of this approach is to provide early and continually increasing operational capability. It has been used by the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency (NC3A) to develop powerful command and control capabilities in operational prototypes that have already benefited military operations conducted by the alliance.

One such prototype, the agency’s major contribution to NATO air command and control, is the integrated command and control (ICC) system, formerly called the initial combined air operations center capability. ICC system development began in the early 1990s in preparation for the air command and control system (ACCS). An initial version of the ICC system was first tested in the NC3A command and control laboratory. Subsequent experiments validated results, refined and prioritized requirements, and enhanced the operational community’s understanding of automated command and control applications. After successful trials were completed in the field during major NATO exercises, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe declared the ICC system operational. It is currently installed in more than 120 locations throughout NATO and national air operations centers.

Cronos is another important evolving NATO system. It is the organization’s backbone secure digital communications network system that brings continuous improvement to operational capability in accordance with the needs of Allied Command Europe (ACE). Cronos consists of a core system that includes e-mail and messaging, office automation and a classified intranet. It is also made up of components that support a number of functional areas such as the joint operations and intelligence information system, the recognized air picture and the geographical information system. Most of the components were developed and continue to evolve in the NC3A’s laboratories.

A testbed that ensures that all components are fully compatible with the network supports the Cronos network. It has expanded from three nodes in 1995 to about 100 in January 2000, including 20 in the Balkan theater of operations and the new NATO, accommodating approximately 14,000 users.

Cronos evolved from a simple e-mail system to a full-fledged classified intranet. Over the next few years, Cronos will grow into the ACE automated command and control information system (ACCIS) through a series of contracts with industry.

The allied deployment and movement system (ADAMS) is a third operational capability developed through evolutionary procurement. It is now a mature prototype system used by all NATO nations and the Western European Union. The NC3A accelerated the development of ADAMS to provide operational support to the allied force campaign in planning complex multinational force movements. Presently, the system is being stabilized in preparation for the operations and maintenance phase. With support from industry, ADAMS will continue to evolve to become the logistics functional area subsystem.

The use of evolutionary procurement in the development of the ICC system, Cronos and ADAMS has resulted in successful operational prototypes. However, to date none of these has obtained its ultimate intended industry-supported version. The necessary lead times for acquisition and fielding remain excessive, and the relationship of industry to NATO agencies is neither clearly delineated nor fully understood, experts say.

However, the NC3A wants to improve the processes underpinning evolutionary procurement. The goal is to synchronize procurement decisions and actions with fast-evolving military requirements and rapidly advancing information and communications technologies. To this end the agency is hosting a symposium titled “Evolutionary Procurement of Information Systems,” (EPIS 2000) at the Netherlands Congress Centre, The Hague, in September. This is a sequel to the EPIS ’90 symposium, which helped provide the foundation for evolutionary procurement as the alliance’s approach to procurement of software-intensive military systems.

EPIS 2000’s goal is to further NATO implementation of evolutionary procurement by providing an international forum for presentation of studies, experiences and analyses related to streamlining the process. The objective is to enhance the ability of NATO and the nations to improve overall effectiveness and efficiency in developing and acquiring military information systems.

EPIS ’90 was held during a period of dramatic political change in Europe. At that time, the prevailing attitude included appreciation of the important role that information systems played in ending the Cold War and the demise of the Warsaw Pact as an effective integrated military organization. Referring to the coup attempt on Mikhail Gorbachev’s government, the Christian Science Monitor reported that Soviet Bloc leaders failed to grasp the significance of the revolution in telecommunications. Even in the Soviet Union, faxes, e-mail and cable television had opened the floodgates of information. People had a sense of what was going on, and leaders did nothing to control the use of basic technology such as the telephone. It is recognized today that for NATO to remain an effective instrument of peace, it must continue to capitalize on the information-technology revolution. The challenge remains to adapt the NATO procurement cycle to the information-technology life cycle. Evolutionary procurement provides the framework, but the process needs to be streamlined to be effective.

EPIS ’90 was the culmination of several activities undertaken by NATO in response to a request by the Supreme Allied Commander Europe for assistance to speed the fielding of NATO systems. The NATO industrial advisory group conducted studies, and an ad hoc working group was formed under the leadership of the NATO international staff.

The team made several recommendations. It called for establishing a user group for each project to allow early and ongoing interaction; developing realistic requirements in an evolutionary fashion using testbeds and prototypes; and funding in the form of larger, multiyear, multitype projects organized in incremental phases. These projects would be conducted without interim review of technical aspects unless a major change in scope develops. In addition, the group recommended that incremental contracting be undertaken only for the first step of the evolutionary process, with satisfactory completion of this first increment being a prerequisite to proceeding to the next stage. Other recommendations included strong project management through thorough planning, resource forecasting, assessment at each milestone, and implementation of matrix management to ensure that project teams have adequate representation from technical, contractual and support groups. One proposed cultural change involved improving the organizations’ attitudes about efficiency in accomplishing tasks.

Experts believe that these recommendations are still valid today, yet the alliance has not been able to fully implement them. For example, incremental contracting, incremental funding and cultural change are not yet realized, and the hand-over of operational prototypes to industry is often slow and inefficient. The latter suggests the need for earlier industry involvement in the procurement process. Some precepts have emerged from national experiences with procurement approaches. Examples of new approaches include smart procurement, the dynamic systems development method, and use of integrated project teams and simulation-based acquisition.

During the last decade, NATO was called on to fill a new role in conducting non-Article-V peace-support operations in conjunction with non-NATO forces. The related missions, which are affected by factors such as NATO enlargement and Partnership for Peace relationships, require completely new approaches to the acquisition process. These entail increasing demands for more timely delivery of capabilities that already exist as prototypes and of systems directly available on the market.

The objectives of EPIS 2000 are to acquaint participants with the challenges that gave rise to the evolutionary procurement concept, provide an interactive forum for reviewing NATO and national case studies, obtain industry views, and develop recommendations on implementation procedures for streamlining evolutionary acquisition.


Dr. Herbert K. Fallin, Jr., is chief, operations research division, NC3A. Dipl.-Ing. Walter H.P. Schmidt leads the headquarters information systems branch, NC3A.

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