By Mr. Joe Welch, Lt. Col. Jack "Shane" Taylor and Mr. Michael BeeryJuly 12, 2016
For years, the Army pursued communication systems the same way it developed tanks--fielding a "big bang" capability intended to last for decades. But with today's exponential progress in information technology, the Army's network strategy has shifted from revolutionary to evolutionary--continuously building on the latest models with faster, stronger and more powerful capabilities. Think of the latest version of a smartphone, or the most recent model year of a car.
Now that the Army can leverage the latest commercial technology while still executing integration, interoperability and fielding, the emphasis has shifted to competition, whenever and wherever possible.
Taking a nondevelopmental item (NDI) competitive approach, the Army's first prominent application was in tactical radios, which enabled the competitive acquisition of the latest radio technology that met specific requirements and was compatible with government-owned waveforms. (See related article, "To a Network Marketplace," Army AL&T magazine, April-June 2015.)
In essence, the NDI approach opened the radio marketplace.
Now, the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications -- Tactical (PEO C3T), responsible for fielding the Army's tactical network, is expanding that concept across its portfolio. This approach broadens and deepens the PEO's partnership with industry, which is now invested earlier and more often in the process of system development.
EVOLVING THE RADIO MARKETPLACE
The Army continues to advance its next-generation, software-defined radios, which act like minicomputers and enable Soldiers to stay connected even in the most austere and remote locations.
Over the past three years, as more and more radio vendors successfully loaded government-owned waveforms onto their new radio platforms, the Army implemented its radio marketplace acquisition approach, which aims to lower costs and deliver radios more quickly using NDI products. This approach, which was approved by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, relies on industry to provide already developed, mature radios that can meet specific requirements and are compatible with government-owned waveforms.
Using the NDI strategy, radios will be fielded more quickly and at a lower cost, since vendors do not have to create their own waveforms. Instead they will use existing waveforms from the Joint Tactical Networking Center Waveform Information Repository. With government-owned waveforms, vendors can focus on developing their radio hardware and pushing technology forward, and it ensures interoperability across the services, since the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps can use Army-developed waveforms.
Recent examples of successful NDI competitions include the Army's contract awards to multiple vendors to procure the Manpack and Rifleman radios after full and open competition. The Army worked closely with industry to refine requirements by hosting industry days and one-on-one forums, allowing vendors to ask questions and gather information. Meeting with various vendors enabled the Army to learn about new technologies in the commercial environment. It also meant vendors were tied into the development process sooner than ever before.
Now that contracts have been awarded for the Manpack and Rifleman radios, qualified vendors will compete for smaller-quantity delivery orders on a regular basis to fill the hardware requirements, while using existing government-owned waveforms that are maintained in the Waveform Information Repository. This structure enables the Army to choose from numerous technologies and to release a new contract if radio technology changes significantly after the initial contract award.
Vendors whose technologies mature after the initial competition and operational tests can join the competition, and vendors that do not pass qualification testing will be removed. The consistently competitive acquisition strategy is expected to reduce radio procurement costs as the Army continues to modernize the network amid fiscal constraints.
PEO C3T's project manager for tactical radios (PM TR) is employing a similar construct for future procurements. This includes the potential development of a two-channel Rifleman radio and airborne radios.
While the Army procures the next generation of software-defined radios using the radio marketplace, it is also evolving the software waveforms, which provide the link for the radios to communicate. These networking waveforms are integral to continuously improving the Army's tactical communications network by connecting to network infrastructures, such as Warfighter Information �Network -- Tactical (WIN-T).
BUILDING TO A COMMON,PREDICTABLE ENVIRONMENT
Perhaps the best fit for the marketplace concept is with mission command--where stand-alone, hardware-based systems are already beginning to be replaced by software applications.
The process of modernizing mission command systems by transitioning away from a major contract award to a smaller, more agile award strategy comes at the same time the Army is embracing the Common Operating Environment (COE) as a way to drive competition. This "app store" approach to development brings a standardized and open computing environment and is changing the way mission command capabilities are created. Through the command post computing environment (CP CE), part of the COE, software development kits will allow third-party contributors to build to tactical applications, similar to how apps are built for smartphones.
This could improve opportunities for small businesses to participate in competitions. Aimed at attracting innovative software-based solutions, maintaining a reference architecture is key, because it enables vendors to build against a requirement following a set of standards. CP CE is helping to drive common, cross-cutting capabilities across warfighting functions and "widgetizing" the command post with web-based apps.
Leveraging a government-developed infrastructure that is well-known and understood, then defining standards to support that effort, provides a predictable environment so a wider array of developers can deliver products more quickly.
THE APP APPROACH
This shift toward tactical applications, or TacApps, is where industry collaboration and a single architecture environment work together. Currently, commercial, mobile operating systems like iOS and Android have provided software development kits that have enabled nearly anyone to build an application into their marketplace. The acquisition efforts of PEO C3T's project manager for mission command (PM MC) will mirror that environment, enabling companies large and small to develop applications that can run on an established framework.
This approach forces the government to be more disciplined with specifications while allowing for more competition from organizations traditionally outside of the DOD arena.
In essence, it gives PM MC the opportunity to leverage innovation from industry while ensuring competition in future capability development, enabling any business--no matter how large or small--to compete and resulting in cost savings for the Army.
One initiative in support of mission command modernization, under this acquisition model, involves the standard and shareable geospatial foundation. The program office plans to issue a competitive task order (TO) through a blanket purchase agreement for industry to bid on. Vendors will be able to compete at the TO level, allowing the government to award an effort quickly.
In the past, a major award to a single vendor serving as the lead systems integrator would take many months. With the new marketplace model, PM MC has reduced the time frame by 80 percent, from several months to weeks. This method also injects much-needed flexibility into the contracting process.
Work packages assigned to project managers are mapped to a task or delivery order and integration is done on-site in laboratories or in the Defense Intelligence Information Environment, the online collaborative environment for industry partners to execute TOs.
Project managers will now be responsible for managing integration of a capability coming from different vendors. But with government serving as part of the technology solutions, product managers can start to drive toward an open architecture and set themselves up early in the process to understand transitions in sustainment and how they'll handle security requirements.
MOVING BEYOND THE RADIO MARKETPLACE
Realizing that the NDI concept could be applied across the PEO C3T portfolio, project managers began to look at other innovative acquisition models for their portfolios. Nowhere was this a better fit than with its on-the-move tactical network, WIN-T.
WIN-T enables commanders and Soldiers to pass critical voice, video and data across the formation and while on the move. WIN-T is made up of many parts; by applying the marketplace concept, the Army can maximize the benefits of emerging technology by inserting competition in new ways.
One way to leverage competition from the commercial marketplace is through the use of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts. The Army recently awarded a contract to GATR Technologies for its inflatable antenna system to satisfy the early-entry satellite communications (SATCOM) system known as the Transportable Tactical Command Communications (T2C2), part of the WIN-T system. This new duo of lightweight, portable satellite terminals will provide early-entry units in air-to-land missions, as well as follow-on units at the tactical edge, with a light and heavy variant of high-bandwidth, deployable satellite dishes to keep Soldiers and commanders connected to the network and well-informed.
The SBIR program's three-phase competitive process allows proposals to be submitted in response to DOD's emerging requirements. SBIR significantly reduces risk through reusing testing and logistics data from other services. It also creates an environment that allows the quick adaptation of commercial hardware and software while opening up new markets to small businesses.
In a separate effort, the PM for WIN-T is able to apply innovative solutions by using the DOD-wide Global Tactical Advanced Communication Systems (GTACS) contract, which it manages. (See "Innovation Through Competition.") The GTACS contract was used recently to improve the marketplace for the Army's new and developing Pseudolites program. This program enables the continued operation of positioning, navigation and timing-enabled systems such as Blue Force Tracker, the Army's premier friendly force positioning system, in electronically or physically challenged environments. Pseudolites provide a terrestrial radio navigation similar to satellite GPS for GPS-denied environments.
Under the GTACS contract, the Army competed a limited-rate production for pseudolites, choosing two vendors that are going head-to-head to develop the most innovative, cost-effective solution to fill this unique requirement. The victor will conduct the full-rate production.
To keep pace with today's rapid evolution in technology, the Army is growing the cadre of tools it can use to get new capabilities into the hands of Soldiers. This new network marketplace concept builds on lessons learned while instilling an atmosphere that encourages trying new approaches in acquisition and embraces competition as never before.
For more information, go to PEO C3T's website: http://peoc3t.army.mil/c3t/.