As stewards of constrained and precious resources, Army project managers are continuously challenged to think strategically to provide the most affordable, value-added military capability to the warfighter. In 2010, Ash Carter, then undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, codified a set of fundamental acquisition principles, titled "Better Buying Power," intended to achieve greater efficiencies through affordability, cost control, elimination of unproductive processes and bureaucracy, and promotion of competition. Using these principles is not the sole responsibility of the project manager; rather, all stakeholders with bearing on the execution and eventual outcome of a major defense acquisition program should be considering their potential role in implementing these best practices.
A particularly important stakeholder in this endeavor is the industry partner. Given its alternate perspective, industry input early in a program life cycle provides an opportunity to consider methods to implement the better buying power principles that might not be considered from a solely government perspective. Moreover, transparent discussions with industry on emerging operational requirements allow government representatives to make more informed decisions on the state of critical technology maturity and the marginal costs associated with using these technologies to meet these emerging system requirements. Transparent discussions also facilitate opportunities for shared investment. The earlier these discussions begin in the program planning process, the greater the opportunity to benefit from industry involvement.
As a "new start" developmental program--one receiving funding for the first time--the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program is perfectly suited to garner the maximum benefit from this deliberate and transparent interaction with industry partners.
WHAT IS FUTURE VERTICAL LIFT?
In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, Congress directed DOD to "outline a joint approach of the development of vertical lift aircraft for all the military services." In response, the secretary of defense established the DOD FVL initiative to address vertical lift capability requirements, focus technology development and determine feasible and affordable solutions in support of the joint warfighter beyond 2030. FVL is envisioned as a family of vertical lift aircraft that is subdivided into multiple payload classes with significant overlap and commonality of software and hardware components. Each class of aircraft will have the potential for service-unique or mission-specific variants.
The dedicated and talented service representatives who execute the mission of the FVL initiative are organized into four integrated product teams: requirements (RIPT), science and technology (SIPT), acquisition (AIPT) and common systems, each focused on coordinating and synchronizing service activities in their respective area of expertise. (See Figure below.)
Since inception, these groups have executed a number of efforts to develop governing documents for the FVL programs of record. These efforts include:
-- 2009 FVL Capabilities-Based Assessment and Science and Technology Plan.
-- 2012 FVL Strategic Plan (signed by the deputy secretary of defense).
-- 2013 Initial Capabilities Document for FVL Family of Systems (approved by the Joint Staff).
-- 2014 FVL Concept of Operations (approved by the Joint Staff).
-- 2016 Initial Capability Refinement Document for the first FVL program of record (approved by the Joint Staff).
The FVL programs focus on meeting the requirements associated with the existing fleet of aircraft identified in the FVL initial capabilities document, thereby providing a strategic advantage to the joint warfighter community through significant improvements in vertical lift capability. Elements of the FVL strategy include: a joint service, departmentwide, portfolio approach to a family of systems; common systems and open architecture; enhanced science and technology (S&T) investment to mature critical technologies; setting conditions for successful transition to program(s) of record; and most pertinent to this article, industry and academia partnership or interaction early in the program life cycle.
INDUSTRY'S EARLY PARTICIPATION
Industry partnerships in FVL and related activities have been numerous, multifaceted and critical to the many successes to date. Although it's impossible to capture all efforts succinctly in this article, one of the significant contributions is worth discussing in some detail. To take advantage of industry expertise and experience to inform requirements, develop strategies and assess technological maturity, the Vertical Lift Consortium (VLC) was established in the early years of the FVL initiative.
Formed in 2009, the VLC has partnered with the government to conduct research and development efforts for emerging aviation technologies. Its 67 member organizations represent large and small businesses, research universities and innovative, nontraditional technology firms. The VLC vision is to be a cohesive national resource that government customers can efficiently access for innovative technologies to fulfill critical DOD vertical lift needs. This invigorates the U.S. industrial base, drives innovation and achieves an international competitive edge. The VLC has worked closely with the government in several ways during the past year, some of which are noted below.
Achieving affordable programs: At the request of the FVL Joint Council of Colonels, the VLC undertook an effort to study FVL requirements, acquisition and commonality. Through meetings, workshops and focused team efforts, the VLC produced recommendations for more efficient and affordable development and delivery of an FVL family of systems.
Transparency in emerging requirements: The VLC hosted two FVL concept of operations workshops for the FVL RIPT, with more than 40 VLC member organizations participating. A third workshop with the FVL AIPT focused on the business case analysis for FVL. These workshops garnered industry perspective on the viability and affordability of pursuing specific combinations of operational requirements.
Rotorcraft cost modeling collaboration: VLC members collaborated on cost modeling software to estimate design costs of future helicopters. An existing government standard cost model was expanded and calibrated using data from Bell Helicopter, Sikorsky and Boeing for the drive system from each of three rotorcraft (the UH-1Y Venom, the UH-60M Black Hawk and the CH-47 Chinook). The model will be expanded further as more data become available. VLC also provided recommendations to the Army for improving existing cost models for estimating research and development costs of new concepts.
Joint common architecture: A key to the early success of the FVL effort is an enhanced and coordinated S&T program dedicated to maturing critical technologies identified by the FVL SIPT. Led by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC), the Army's Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR-TD) is the flagship program anchoring the Army Aviation S&T portfolio. The VLC collaborated with the JMR-TD project office to continue the development of version 1.0 of the joint common architecture reference architecture. This development effort defined the fundamental concepts and components of an aircraft software architecture and their relationships to guide the development of solution architectures.
Subject matter experts representing 10 VLC organizations provided direct support to this development effort, and review and comment was provided from the broader VLC membership. These efforts have set the stage to pursue what is potentially the greatest opportunity for life cycle cost reduction across the FVL family of systems through software reuse, improved efficiency and flexibility in software integration and quicker and more efficient certification of software modifications.
Program efficiency: VLC also has been working to establish its other transaction agreement (OTA), a dedicated contracting vehicle that provides flexibility to government organizations in selecting competitive research and development projects to mature technology and to initiate studies and analysis efforts associated with FVL and related activities. [For more on the value of using other transaction authority with high-tech consortiums, see "In the Shark Tank," Page 82, in the January -- March 2016 issue of Army AL&T.] To date, VLC has hosted multiple competitions to develop FVL technologies and has implemented streamlined processes and single-point contracting to facilitate the rapid development of innovative technologies. (See Figure below.)
OTA successes include the transition of the National Rotorcraft Technology Center (NRTC) FY15 contracting efforts to the OTA, providing more efficient government program oversight and expanding industry participation. Under the OTA, the NRTC experienced an average cycle time of seven months from proposal receipt to contract award for nine projects in the following technical areas:
-- Extreme reliability and structural integrity, and zero-maintenance aircraft systems.
-- Airworthiness and rapid certification of complex systems.
-- Advanced component design and analysis tools.
-- Rotorcraft drive technology.
-- Aeromechanics modeling, design and analysis.
On another VLC project, the U.S. Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate is developing and testing a vibration damping system. Initiated as a proof of concept, the project recently transitioned to a prototype demonstration. It is being performed by a small nontraditional contractor, D-Strut of Scottsdale, Arizona, and is demonstrating how the OTA can reduce acquisition lead time in a competitive environment and shorten the timeline from research and development to fielding.
Shared investment: Perhaps the single greatest contribution industry has made early in the FVL program is shared investment. In 2013, AMRDEC awarded four JMR-TD air vehicle technology investment agreements to begin initial design of four objective vehicle concepts that meet notional FVL system specifications. Army and industry partners have invested about $1 billion in this endeavor, with industry providing nearly two-thirds of the investment resources.
FVL PATH FORWARD
Beginning in FY16, the FVL initiative began transitioning to a program of record that will develop an aircraft to meet the requirement of the initial FVL capability set. As the lead service, the Army established a project management office under the Program Executive Office (PEO) for Aviation to lead this development and shepherd the joint participation program through the acquisition process. (See Figure below.)
Key milestones for the first FVL acquisition program are:
-- Materiel development decision by the defense acquisition executive in October 2017.
-- First flight of JMR-TD in 2017.
-- Release request for proposals for technology maturation and risk reduction contracts in 2019.
-- Milestone A to enter technology maturation and risk reduction in 2021.
-- Milestone B to enter engineering and manufacturing development in 2025.
-- Low-rate initial production for the first capability set in 2030.
The DOD FVL initiative established the foundation in requirements development, identification of critical technology needs and acquisition planning. This foundation serves as the basis for successful transition to service-led programs of record to develop and acquire the necessary platforms and architecture to field a fleet of next-generation rotary wing aircraft. Early success of the FVL initiative and related technology development efforts is in no small part the result of deliberate, consistent and enthusiastic involvement of industry. This key element of the FVL initiative strategy will continue in Army and other service-led FVL programs of record to ensure the broadest set of perspectives in identifying innovative and creative ways to achieve affordable programs.
For more information, contact the Improved Turbine Engine/Future Vertical Lift Project Office at 256-313-2020.
This article was originally published in the July -- September 2016 issue of Army AL&T magazine.