ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Aug. 31, 2017) -- Army Project Manager Mission Command gave potential developers of the new artillery command and control system more time, more information and more latitude to approach the problem in new ways. In return, the government got more competitive proposals and a more flexible solution that ideally will yield a more user-friendly interface.

Like any complex command-and-control system, the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System has undergone multiple software upgrades and enhancements since its first fielding in 1995. AFATDS provides critical fires command-and-control capability for the Army and Marine Corps, and the upgrades have included automatic processing of fire requests, munition updates, the generation of multiple tactical fire mission solutions, the monitoring of mission execution, and the support, creation and distribution of fire plans. The system's original developer performed all of the upgrades, which posed several problems:

-- Thirty years of development resulted in many software upgrades and solutions being built on after initial fielding, which resulted in a nonmodular code base (the source code for the software) and increased the cost and complexity of sustainment. Nonmodular code is highly interdependent and often affected by long processing times -- problems exacerbated by the added-on upgrades.

-- The previous architecture was not designed to withstand or address cybersecurity threats.

-- The code base includes approximately 16 programming languages, many of which are not currently in wide use across industry. As a result, it's difficult and costly to find personnel with the right experience to work on the system.

-- A complex system with only one graphical user view requires users to filter extensive data to perform required functions -- performing a function with AFATDS requires numerous mouse clicks and opens several browser windows -- as well as 160 hours of new equipment training.

The Army faced the additional challenge of migrating AFATDS to its common operating environment, an initiative that is transitioning stand-alone warfighting capabilities to integrated software applications. To support a more intuitive user-software interface and to enable the migration of AFATDS to the COE, the Army recently executed an innovative competitive contract and procurement approach for the next generation of AFATDS software.

More than 4,000 AFATDS systems have been fielded worldwide. The program is managed by the PM Mission Command, which is assigned to the Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications -- Tactical. Over the past year, PM MC, as well as its Product Manager for Fire Support Command and Control, developed an acquisition strategy with the goal of improving cost, performance and schedule for the next generation of AFATDS, 7.0, which is projected to begin fielding in 2020.

This approach, which mirrors software development best practices, opened up competition for software development and enabled the Army to reduce the training burden associated with AFATDS. It aimed to do so by increasing application usability through a role-based capability with a more intuitive user interface; providing embedded training capabilities; creating a service-oriented architecture that reduces sustainment costs; and incorporating COE services to allow the Army to migrate to a common infrastructure, thereby reducing the need to develop, manage and sustain multiple stand-alone systems.

The strategy included asking industry to develop innovative approaches to modernizing the existing AFATDS cyclical code (which totaled more than 7 million lines), enhancing usability, reducing the training burden and ensuring integration into the COE infrastructure. It also sought sustainment efficiencies as the code had become more difficult and costly to maintain after more than 30 years of add-on development.

The end goal is that AFATDS 7.0 will modernize the code, enhance modularity and incorporate more modern programming languages, resulting in cost avoidances and efficiencies during sustainment. It also will feature a service-oriented architecture that organizes services and functions into layers to reduce the complexity of the code and system architecture.

Additional cost avoidances will be realized by reducing the AFATDS training burden by incorporating TurboTax-like training capabilities and a more user-friendly graphical user interface. For example, a user learning a task can watch a 30-second video showing what steps to perform, request a simulation of the task, or request a detailed 30-minute video. It also provides an avatar trainer that can track movements and progression through training simulations.

These upgrades will capitalize on the COE infrastructure to avoid the duplication of cost associated with a redundant AFATDS-specific infrastructure.

To achieve these goals, PM MC took the somewhat unusual step of releasing source code and all requirements to industry for an extended period of time via a secure means. That step paid off, resulting in the outcome the team was aiming for.

FOSTERING INNOVATION

The AFATDS 7.0 solicitation marks the first time an AFATDS development effort had been competed through full and open competition since its inception in 1981. Therefore, in alignment with DOD's Better Buying Power initiatives, the Army's first step was to maximum competition, as well as to encourage high-quality and innovative proposals.

To accomplish this, PM MC took three additional market research steps, compared with typical solicitations, for AFATDS 7.0. First, the team posted a sources sought notice and then two iterations of requests for information on the Federal Business Opportunities website for eight months before a draft request for proposal was released. In addition, the government publicized the effort with two advanced planning briefings to industry. These extra steps stoked interest among industry and provided detailed information about AFATDS requirements and government goals that better informed innovative proposal development.

With extra time and additional opportunities to learn about the government's needs, industry was able to invest more time and effort in responding to the AFATDS 7.0 RFP, and the government was able to capitalize on industry's pre-award innovation.

CRACKING OPEN THE CODE

PM MC took a significant step to spur industry innovation by releasing the latest version of the government-owned AFATDS source code to all potential offerors with the first RFI. Releasing the code was critical to ensure a level playing field among industry after more than 30 years of a single AFATDS developer.

This release of government intellectual property was a sharp departure from contracting norms. However, it allowed industry to become familiar with the code base it would be charged with modernizing. Further, because the government allowed industry to retain the code for eight months before initial proposals, industry was able to experiment with multiple modernization approaches and define modernization risk. This allowed offerors to weigh modernization approaches and choose the lowest-risk solution based upon their unique capabilities--a significant benefit to the government because it allowed for the identification and the mitigation of risk before actual contract execution.

As the source code was released to potential vendors, PM MC took the unique step of partnering with academia to review the AFATDS code to ensure it could be modernized efficiently. This partnership, with computer science experts at the University of Texas, was initiated because the Army lacked the internal expertise to effectively evaluate whether the source code could be successfully upgraded. PM MC contacted the Army Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, which recommended UT because of an existing relationship with the university. UT experts analyzed the code and outlined viable modernization options given the state of the code and the Army's requirements and goals. Additionally, UT provided a number of risk-mitigation strategies.

Additionally, the senior computer scientist who performed the analysis supported the source selection board during proposal review and has been retained to provide ongoing support as the Army executes the contract. The UT expert provided advisory services on the feasibility of approaches, the current state of the code base and the overarching goals of modernization during the proposal review process. Those contributions ultimately helped the government understand what was technically feasible and gave the government the foundation needed to evaluate industry proposals and determine whether industry innovation successfully balanced cost, schedule and performance risks.

BRINGING IN BEST PRACTICES

Most significantly, the Army adapted best practices from commercial IT and software and put forth a number of innovative methods on how it requested potential solutions from offerors.

First, the Army asked for a capability without directing how to achieve it, releasing a statement of objectives that only outlined the overarching modernization goals. This statement of objectives was in contrast to typical RFPs, in which the government outlines specifically what it wants from proposed solutions via a statement of work or a performance work statement. The underlying goal of the Army's approach was to seek innovation by allowing offerors flexibility to define their own solutions, uninhibited by excessive government direction.

Second, the government performed in-depth research to develop a plan of performance-based incentives and disincentives to move industry in the direction of creative approaches. To ensure those incentives and disincentives were properly targeted at motivating industry, the acquisition team mapped out all possible incentive and disincentive scenarios for cost, performance and schedule--54 in all--as well as every possible fee industry could earn, and it graphically presented that data to demonstrate where industry should target its efforts.

Third, the government gave industry maximum flexibility to determine its own modernization strategies by requiring interested offerors to provide their own performance work statements, integrated master plans and contractor work breakdown structures with their proposals. These documents were the backbone of their proposals and gave the government considerable insight into each offeror's proposed approach as well as a much better understanding of post-award execution and risk mitigation. Together, these activities enabled the government to better validate the soundness of these fairly complex industry proposals.

CONCLUSION

All of these efforts combined resulted in an exemplary AFATDS 7.0 acquisition. Industry seized the opportunity to be innovative, and each had a unique approach to meeting the government's objectives. The investments made by industry exceeded expectations, resulting in unique opportunities to decrease risk in a pre-award environment and realize greater efficiencies post-award. In the end, four offerors submitted proposals and a different company than the incumbent was selected as the contract awardee. The awardee surpassed government's expectation for implementing innovation and flexibility.

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This article will be published in the October-December 2017 Army AL&T magazine.

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The U.S. Army Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical develops, acquires, fields and supports the Army's mission command network to ensure force readiness. This critical Army modernization priority delivers tactical communications so commanders and Soldiers can stay connected and informed at all times, even in the most austere and hostile environments. PEO C3T is delivering the network to regions around the globe, enabling high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications to a user base that includes the Army's joint, coalition and other mission partners.