Paul Monticciolo

COMMENTARY

Open systems vital to new defense era

Open-systems architectures enable straightforward integration of new capabilities

It’s undeniable. Defense acquisition reform has ushered in a new reality for prime contractors. Firm-fixed price contract awards, shorter timelines, emerging open-system architectures, the demand for greater value — these are just a few of the game-changing challenges now facing prime contractors. However, these challenges also can create unique opportunities for the well-positioned defense contractor. To gain that competitive advantage, prime contractors need to change their business models and embrace open systems, new partnering philosophies and the practice of concurrent engineering.

The use of open-system architectures addresses the vital need to deploy new technology faster and the pressing demand to work within shrinking budgets. Open, standards-based systems deliver equally high performance, open the door to increased functionality and scalability, enable the use of best-of-breed technology subsystems, and ensure plug-and-play capabilities. As the Defense Department seeks to reduce the number of new, major programs and focus on more frequent technology refreshes, open-systems architectures will enable straightforward integration of new capabilities.


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Prime contractors must set clear criteria for partner selection and focus only on those that can deliver business value – not just components. To maximize success, prime contractors must seek out partners with experience in working with commercial technologies, standards and open architectures. They should expect these partners to bring expertise in systems engineering and design, optimization for size, weight and power (SWaP), thermal management techniques, and validation and qualification services–all at the subsystem level. In addition, partners should demonstrate experience in providing subsystems on a fixed-price basis, enabling prime contractors to require firm, fixed pricing on their partners’ deliverables, essentially moving the risk to the responsible parties.

Prime contractors should engage early, as the strategy to win a program is being developed, and then leverage their partners’ expertise to provide complete subsystems. Many subcontractors design, build and deliver thousands of subsystems annually using proven technology and quick reaction capabilities efforts that help speed time-to-market. These capabilities along with specific domain expertise enable prime contractors to embrace a concurrent engineering strategy that can jump start design efforts and help meet challenging 12-month programs. In a concurrent engineering environment, the application software development is decoupled from the hardware implementation. The prime contractor takes responsibility for the overall application and engages partners to deliver subsystems that can be plugged into the larger system on delivery.

Mercury supports this strategy with application-ready subsystems (ARS), customizable configurations that are created with a best-of-breed building block design, optimized for both performance and to meet SWaP constraints, and ready for the addition of a customer’s application software. An ARS includes the hardware configuration as well as all the necessary system software and middleware, supporting scalable and portable applications.

By moving to this type of new, more advanced partnering paradigm, prime contractors can realize the benefits of:

  • Reducing risk (technical, programmatic and business).
  • Maintaining or improving margins under firm-fixed contract awards.
  • Compressing development and deployment cycles.

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