Army Tests Option to Buy Tech Data Rights Upfront
To increase readiness, CECOM is piloting an intellectual property rights escrow concept.
To ensure greater supply availability of certain technologies, the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command is pursuing a concept not widely used in the military, reports Maj. Gen. Randy Taylor, USA, commander of the organization and senior commander of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. The command has started a pilot program that will allow the service to option intellectual property rights in specific hardware and software contracts, Gen. Taylor says.
CECOM, as the command is known, is responsible for the preparation of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities for the Army across the technological life cycle. The new escrow tool for intellectual property rights will provide flexibility in the long-term fielding of these capabilities as well as improve the Army’s overall readiness, Gen. Taylor says. The provision will enable the Army to purchase such rights—also referred to as “tech data”—if needed at a future time for a prearranged price.
“We are establishing a framework for escrow holdings of intellectual property,” Gen. Taylor says. “And basically the concept for that is, from the start, we create an arrangement with a vendor so that we don’t buy their intellectual property outright because that would be a waste of money, as we may never need it. But if the day ever comes that the government might need it, or a piece of it, we’ve already agreed that the intellectual property [will be] held in the hands of a neutral third party in escrow. Then, based on the terms of our agreement, when we need access to some or all of it, we can go to that third party and get what we need at a price that we have determined.”
While industry commonly includes accessibility options for technical data in contracts, until now the service has not really considered this, the commander adds. “I think this is brand-new territory for [the Defense Department],” Gen. Taylor says. “This is a big change.”
Given that the command is in the early stages of the effort, the general cannot provide exact details, except to say that CECOM is “in negotiations” to apply the concept to “very specific” programs and contracts. “We’ve got a couple of pilots going on now,” he notes.
Having the ability to option the tech data would improve sustainment by lowering future costs and better positioning the service to field long-term capabilities, the general says. “I think that this [escrow concept] creates a win-win for everybody,” he observes. “It doesn’t put the creator of that property at risk or diminish its value; it’s just there to insure all of this.”
Often, when the Army needed intellectual property rights years after a contract was issued, the service found it quite expensive and cumbersome to purchase the rights after the fact or to try to remanufacture a technology, Gen. Taylor attests. “If the government hasn’t worked out some intellectual property rights early on, it is incredibly expensive when you realize you need it. Before, [if] we didn’t have the rights to it, the options were kind of artificially binary. That is, you either paid a lot of money for intellectual property, which program managers tend not to do because it eats into their other programmatic expenses, or you couldn’t afford it, so you just didn’t buy it upfront. You only bought it when you were desperate, once a crisis had occurred,” he explains.
Moreover, if the intellectual property rights were too expensive or unavailable, “the Army had to spend a lot of money on re-engineering and remanufacturing something from scratch because you are at step zero with the intellectual property,” Gen. Taylor laments.
Because the Army sometimes can keep technologies around a lot longer than planned, the escrow tool’s ability to improve sustainment takes on further importance, especially when sustainment efforts can account for up to 55 to 70 percent of the service’s budget as well as time, the general notes. “It is not a headline-grabbing subject for the average person or for a soldier in a fight somewhere until you don’t have the part you need, when you need it,” the general says. “And so this escrow notion, I really think it’s going to work. It is something that we are going to test and prove out. And I think this might create some great best practices for all of DOD.”
In addition to the escrow pilot program, CECOM has strengthened the readiness status of Army prepositioned stocks of C4ISR-related equipment, Gen. Taylor continues. “That’s been a big shift across the board,” he says. Until now, all the C4ISR equipment—radios, force tracking and other mission command systems—had been co-located in a warehouse.
Instead, the systems are being configured, installed and readied, “like the right map data for that fight, the right version of software for those units,” the general explains. “Basically, the Army has these brigade sets of equipment at key places around the globe—different sets that are kind of maintained at a ‘warm status.’ So that if we have to get to a place in a hurry—in Europe, in the Pacific or in Southwest Asia—you can just fly in troops, and they fall in on this equipment and go out and fight. What we have done recently with those Army prepositioned stocks is that we have taken it another step higher for the sake of readiness. We’ve actually installed all of the C4ISR systems [onto the equipment] and are keeping them in a ‘hot status.’ This is pretty unusual.”
Related to those efforts are the command’s rebalancing steps to do more forward-level depot repairs. “We’ve stood up local capabilities in Germany and South Korea,” Gen. Taylor shares. “We’ve kind of had capabilities for a while in Southwest Asia during the war years to be close to the fight. But we’ve increased our forward-level depot capabilities in Germany and South Korea, and now we are expanding that, establishing depot capabilities at Fort Bragg, [Fort] Hood and Joint Base Lewis-McChord. It is amazing what it has done for readiness. It costs us more to decentralize and put these teams forward, but it has decreased the turnaround time and made the priority theaters more ready.” Those theaters include the Pacific Command; Central Command; Army Forces Command; within the Forces Command, the Global Response Force; and European Command.
In addition, CECOM is helping to inform the Army’s new Futures Command on holistic sustainment decisions, the general states. The Futures Command, the establishment of which this summer is the most significant Army reorganization effort since 1973, according to the service, is overseeing the Army’s modernization efforts. Here, CECOM is working with the command as well as with the C4ISR-related cross-functional teams (CFTs) that are implementing modernization efforts to “inform them about the entire sustainment life cycle,” Gen. Taylor stresses. “The decisions you make about sustainment early on either make the Army more ready because you approach this in an effective way or less ready because you just haven’t considered sustainment.”
The move to Aberdeen of the CFT that focuses on network modernization also will pay off, he shares. “To have the CFT co-located with the C4ISR team across the entire life cycle, from Science and Technology, research and development, test and evaluation, to fielding and sustainment, will be an improvement,” the general says.
On the software side, CECOM has worked to adopt industry best practices. The command’s Software Engineering Center, directed by Jennifer Zbozny, “is really developing a DevOps [development operations] culture, automating how we test software before we field it to the Army,” Gen. Taylor explains. The service also is performing more of its own software sustainment, rather than always relying on vendors. “A lot of what is changing to defray the costs or reduce the costs is becoming more organic in our government’s capabilities on the software side,” he says.
Lastly, the general shares that CECOM’s preparations for the battlefield of the future are meant to support more dispersed, smaller Army units. “When we look to the next fight, commanders aren’t asking for more capacity, which is kind of interesting,” Gen. Taylor says. “In my whole career in signal, commanders have been asking for more, more, more. Normally it’s, ‘Give me more bandwidth. Give me more capacity. Give me more devices.’ That has all changed in the last few years. They are now saying, ‘We need it to be simple, so make it less complex. And we need it to be expeditionary,’ meaning ready to go on short notice, and with low SWAP [size, weight and power].”