7-year IT acquisition cycle stymies warfighters in the field
A field and evolve approach to new technologies can shorten the IT acquisition process
- By Dennis Moran
- Jul 12, 2010
The Defense Department recently noted that it takes an average of 81 months — almost seven years — to successfully bring new combat-ready information technology to the battlefield. As a result, “systems are four to five generations behind the state-of-the-art upon delivery,” Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn said. At a time of rapidly changing tactical considerations, that lengthy cycle must be shortened.
The challenge for DOD lies in time-consuming acquisition processes that result in decades-long procurements of new equipment, even as mission requirements are evolving in real time. That means that warfighters are left to improvise to meet the ever-changing conditions of battle. Meanwhile, unhampered by such processes, the enemy is free to acquire commercial technology for the fight.
That doesn’t have to be the status quo. The Army pioneered the Rapid Equipping Force approach to acquisition to get equipment into the hands of our troops as quickly as possible, and the secretary of defense has applied it across DOD. Yet REF equipment did not have the need to operate with other systems, nor the ability to grow in capability over time.
DOD can shorten its IT acquisition process by adopting a field and evolve approach to new technologies. With this model, warfighters generate requirements for the solutions they need now, and DOD focuses on getting the latest innovations tested and fielded as quickly as possible. For this approach to succeed as a baseline acquisition model, the equipment must be based on open standards and be modular in design.
We have already seen the success of this approach applied to mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles. The MRAP vehicles have been reinvented several times in a short time as conditions have changed on the ground. The latest version — the M-ATV — was designed to operate in rough terrain environments in Afghanistan and moved to large-scale production levels in a year. DOD recently announced plans for another evolution in the vehicle to serve the specific needs of the Special Operations Command community.
Battlefield communication is emerging as another successful example of field and evolve. With the advent of software-defined radios, today’s battlefield radios operate less like analog telephones and more like smart phones, with the ability to incorporate video, pictures, combat chat and other features. Already in the field in Iraq and Afghanistan, these radios offer sophisticated communications and networking capabilities that meet the majority of warfighter needs. They are also upgradable — without changing hardware — based on the radio’s common software architecture and innovative IT design.
A specific example of that technology is a software-defined multiband manpack radio that Harris makes that provides high-bandwidth voice and data capabilities to forces at the tactical edge. The radio continues to evolve to offer new capabilities based on direct feedback from users, such as the integration of technology that enables the device to receive video feeds from unmanned aerial vehicles.
The idea to add the Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER) waveform for unmanned aerial vehicle information, surveillance and intelligence video came directly from feedback from one of our customers. In just a few months, our engineers created a solution and demonstrated this capability, which is being used in the field today. User feedback also led to the development of radios that can disrupt electronic signals used to detonate explosive devices.
The ability to add these types of mission-critical applications in months — not years — underscores the value of fielding technology that is multipurpose, open and adaptable to meeting an evolving list of needs. Warfighters have the tactical advantage of better situational awareness thanks to someone asking “what if?” — and thanks to flexible, modular designs and processes. Field and evolve acquisition holds the best promise to get soldiers these latest technologies quickly.
Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Dennis Moran is vice president of Government Business Development, Harris RF Communications.