A blueprint for lowering acquisition costs

Open architectures offer way to cope with drastic spending reductions

In an era of declining defense budgets, the Defense Department and industry are looking at affordability and closely examining factors that could lead to lower total ownership costs (TOC) — with a goal of quickly delivering greater capabilities to warfighters.

Cost avoidance and affordability, along with streamlined operations and enhanced services, are a program goal in several system development acquisitions, such as the Navy’s Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services.

So we must add another C to the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equation: cost. The cost factor entails rigorous evaluation and predictive management. Contractors, suppliers and government — confronting drastic defense spending reductions — must recognize the value of open-systems architectures and other fundamental efficiencies as they never have before.

Meanwhile, as far as open architectures have evolved, much remains to be done. There has been success in implementing first and second generations of open architecture, but changes are needed to fully realize the benefits throughout the entire program life cycle.

Government and industry need to focus on enduring architectures. An enduring architecture is not only truly open and interoperable now — allowing components to be easily added, reused, upgraded and changed — but also prevents any particular vendor or integrator from locking in exclusive access for future system changes and enhancements.

The government also needs more capable, effective techniques and models to better evaluate open-architecture implementation. Every request for proposals calls for TOC reduction, but a model for evaluating is absent or at least underdeveloped. We need to include evaluation factors for open architecture in technical and past performance subfactors.

A central component in this new acquisition equation is TOC, which requires a breakdown of the financial effect of deploying an IT product throughout its life cycle.

The decisions that determine TOC during the life cycle of a major program — starting with customer-driven, vendor-neutral specifications — should be required in evaluation criteria for future C4ISR system solicitations for:

  • Initial hardware and software acquisition.
  • Installation and deployment.
  • System maintenance.
  • Qualification and requalification of racks, system and security.
  • Training and maintenance.

To maximize efficiencies, we must encourage increased competition at the component-supplier and system-integrator levels, which are enabled by an enduring architecture.

We must strive to further minimize TOC, including analysis of lessons learned about vendor and integrator reliance, standards, and open-source strategies and models. An important part of the process is integrating TOC models into systems engineering design trades.

Where substantial differences between competitors still exist, critical areas can provide valuable means for evaluation of TOC inherent in proposed system designs. For more than a decade, Northrop Grumman has used a TOC process with the Naval Sea Systems Command and Navy Cost Analysis Improvement Group on Nimitz-class carriers. The Navy and contractor have developed sufficient confidence in this process for the carrier vessel nuclear program’s use in pivotal design decisions.

Northrop Grumman has employed its Modular Open Systems Approach-Competitive (MOSA-C) model to minimize TOC and improve interoperability on several defense programs, including the CANES contract.

MOSA-C is a strategic business and engineering process that realizes the life cycle benefits of open-systems architecture and commercial components and software. Applying MOSA-C, the company has been able to verify plug-and-play modularity through extensive testing and demonstrated the ability of multiple commercial and open-source products to meet CANES' existing and future requirements.

The fundamental element of this model is an enduring architecture based on open-standard design and verification so that commercial, open-source and third-party products can be plugged in without costly software and interface work. That guarantees that development and production costs are minimized through continuous competition. In addition, another key advantage of an enduring architecture is to accommodate opportunities to deal with future requirements and integrate new technologies.

The ultimate benefit of open, enduring architectures is the rapid delivery of capabilities to our warfighters throughout a program’s life cycle.

About the Author

Mike Twyman is vice president for Integrated C3I Systems at Northrop Grumman Corp.

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