Electronics testing needs greater flexibility, Army official says

Current rules thwart battlefield innovation

Military testing ensures that equipment such as electronics and communications gear can perform in harsh environments. But as an ever increasing operational tempo presses commanders to move new gear to units as quickly as possible, the testing process itself can become an obstacle.

Speaking Jan. 25 at the Network Enabled Operations conference in Arlington, Va., Maj. Gen. Mark Bowman, the Army's acting deputy CIO, expressed his frustration with the Defense Department’s testing methodology, which he describes as a very rigid process. While emphasizing that testing continues to be an important process for clearing equipment to troops, he said that current testing methods are not flexible enough to allow commanders to use electronics that may not meet military specifications.  

One example is the Tri-Band satellite terminal, Bowman said. The terminals failed evaluation tests, but a general accepted the use of six terminals. The terminals were vital to supporting Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan. He noted that commercial Gateway servers just out of the box work well in the Afghan desert and if they fail, they are inexpensive and easily replaced. He said that the Army needs to buy “good enough” technology which can be thrown away when it’s not needed any more.

Even if a system fails testing, Bowman maintained that operational commanders should be allowed to take a chance and field the equipment. “I don’t care if it doesn’t work at 65 degrees below zero. Let the operational commander take the risk,” he said.

Bowman praised the Apps for the Army program, which enables service members to write applications for Android smartphones. He said that he would like to open the program up to industry, but there are  legal issues that need to be worked out. For example, if Lockheed Martin Corp. develops an application, it is unclear who gets the code, who owns it and pays for it, he said.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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