ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (September 17, 2014) - When shopping for electronics, many consumers choose refurbished devices so they can get the same features and warranties as brand new products -- but at a much lower price.
Now the Army is applying this same concept to reuse many components within the popular Command Post of the Future (CPOF) system to achieve significant cost avoidance without sacrificing system performance for Soldiers.
"When our budgets started decreasing, we knew we had to find a way to do more with less," said Angel Acevedo, former assistant program manager for Tactical Mission Command (TMC), assigned to Project Manager Mission Command. "We ultimately identified a plan to retain all of CPOF's capabilities with about a 25 percent decrease per client in cost."
The approach, called the Service Life Extension Plan (SLEP), takes advantage of the Army's common hardware provider and the organic industrial base to deliver streamlined technology upgrades for CPOF, enabling the Army to field the system more broadly at a reduced cost.
CPOF is the commander's collaborative and situational awareness system that processes and displays combat information from other Army systems, allowing leaders to make decisions based on a complete and up-to-date common operating picture. The CPOF client is made up of multiple components, including the laptop, monitor, keyboard, mouse, headset, cables and carrying case. Prior to SLEP, CPOF was under a five-year refresh program to account for technology updates.
"We do refreshes because the software often becomes too powerful for the hardware; we can't field the latest capabilities to our Soldiers if the hardware cannot support them," said Dave Meickle, product support manager for TMC.
A complete refresh required a unit to ship the obsolete clients to the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office (DRMO) for destruction. Looking for efficiencies, last year Acevedo and his team began researching the feasibility of SLEP. They conducted an analysis and determined that most of the components, except the laptop, could be tested and reused.
"The most expensive part of the system is the laptop, which is also the part that becomes quickly obsolete," said Acevedo, who is now product support manager for Fire Support Command and Control (FSC2), assigned to PM MC.
TMC purchased new laptops through the Product Director Common Hardware Systems (CHS), assigned to Project Director Network Enablers (PdD Net E). Both PM MC and PD Net E are part of the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T). CHS hardware includes a five-year warranty, meaning that Soldiers never have to worry about their laptops becoming unusable.
"I just kept going back to my own experiences," Acevedo said. "I bought a refurbished Mac for $800 that normally sold for $2,000 and it not only works fine, it has the same warranty."
To implement SLEP, TMC sends the entire existing CPOF client package, along with the brand new CHS Dell M6700 laptop, to Tobyhanna Army Depot (TYAD) in Pennsylvania, the prime provider of logistics and maintenance services for Army communications and electronic systems.
Depot workers then inventory and test each component, and replace items if required (e.g., a keyboard). They test the carrying case and, if required, modify or replace the foam insert. They then attach all of the components to the new Dell laptop and test it as a complete client. Once it passes all tests, the computer receives a new serial number and the entire package is shipped to the TMC team at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Md.
At APG, technicians load the latest version of CPOF software onto the laptops, attach the required safety labels, and ship the systems out for either new fieldings or as a refresh to an obsolete client.
Cost is not the only savings realized with SLEP; it reduces the need for hazardous waste disposal as well. Even the obsolete laptops are recycled, as TYAD takes all laptops or other components that are not working to use for spares or out-of-warranty repairs or losses.
"While our top priority is to field state-of-the-art situational awareness and collaborative capabilities, we're always seeking to provide it in the most efficient means possible in support of the DoD's better buying power 2.0 initiatives," said Lt. Col. Shane Taylor, Product Manager for TMC. "SLEP does just that, providing that same capability with significant savings."
PM MC staff continue to identify CPOF client efficiencies, including reducing the number of cables required to run the system.
"Every additional component in any system introduces an extra maintenance risk," said Rodney Malone, logistics operations support manager, PM MC Readiness Management Division. "By streamlining our components, we reduce this risk, and most importantly, we simplify the setup process for the user."
Since SLEP decreases the cost of each CPOF client, more clients can be created with existing funding. The initial plan is to recover 1,500 clients in the 2nd quarter of Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, with projected cost avoidance of $1.7 million in FY 2014 and $3.3M million in FY 2015. As the program matures, more CPOF funding will go towards the purchase of laptops rather than full systems, so by FY 2016 SLEP cost avoidance is projected to be $4.4 million.
An increase in CPOF inventory will benefit all units that were not slated to receive new equipment due to budget constraints, including the National Guard and Army Reserves. The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command schools will also be able to make use of the refurbished systems.
"This is what I did for 23 years," said Acevedo, who retired as a chief maintenance warrant officer four (CW4/915E) at the APG Ordnance Center. "When I was managing a brigade I had a budget and I had to figure out how to stretch it, so I fixed as much as I could rather than throw things away."