By Christina BatesMarch 9, 2011
As he accepted the 2009 Lt. Gen. Thomas R. Ferguson, Jr. Systems Engineering Excellence Group Award for the Second Generation Forward Looking Infrared (SGF FLIR) Michael Doney, deputy PdM FLIR, reflected on the vision for the SGF FLIR that was emplaced 15 years earlier. It was that vision, founded in horizontal technology integration (HTI) principles and combined with enduring, diligent execution, that led the National Defense Industrial Association to honor PM FLIR, and its SGF, with the prestigious Lt. Gen. Ferguson Award. The Award, which is competitively selected, is given annually to the product office that clearly demonstrates outstanding achievement in the practical application of systems engineering. "The vision was to employ the very best in HTI and systems engineering practices to provide a common battlefield scene to Armor, Mechanized Infantry, and Reconnaissance forces which would, for the first time in the history of armor, enable Warfighters to see targets further than they could shoot, improving battlefield dominance," Doney explained. Currently, the Army\'s SGF FLIR Program provides the U.S. Soldier with the world's premier night vision capability for the Abrams Tank, Bradley Fighting Vehicle, Stryker Brigade Combat Team and the Long Range Advanced Scout Surveillance System (LRAS3). But this was not always the case. "What began as a vision to produce, field, and sustain the most cost-efficient, horizontally-integrated technologies on ground combat vehicles, has ultimately led to the delivery of 15,000 sensors in theatre -with a major influx of 11,000 systems within the last three years supporting surges in OEF and OIF, " said Lt. Col. William Russell, PdM FLIR. "I think it is fair to say that the vision set in place more than a decade ago, has been realized to the fullest." Explaining the original impetus for what would become the SGF, Doney discussed the lessons gleaned from Operation Desert Storm: "One of the biggest problems the Army found was friendly fire and fratricide. The (Army) recognized the need to upgrade the ability of platforms to understand the target they were about to engage and it turned out that the SGF technology had just become mature enough to enable the implementation of its use for platforms." At the time each platform was looking for its own solution for night vision, but due to the flexibility of SGF and the overall benefits of employing HTI, it was able to serve as a common material solution, saving precious time and reducing overall costs to the Army to provide the necessary night vision capability. In this fashion, the SGF serves as an exemplar of the recent DoD's directive to "do more without more." For example, adherence to the early creation of systems engineering processes for the SGF led to a 320% cost reduction over the life of the Program. Furthermore, cost savings have been realized throughout its lifecycle - - the hardware and software commonality provides reduced acquisition costs by combining procurements, reducing logistics costs, and lowering the long term sustainment costs, meeting one of the key objectives of the SGF Program: to provide technology that is affordable and supportable. Moreover, platforms that are committed to the HTI approach have enjoyed readiness benefits based on the availability and maintainability of interchangeable parts among multiple platforms. Ultimately, the Program has sustained a price curve of 85% while continuing to provide the world's premier night vision capability to the U.S. Army. To realize these myriad efficiencies, while simultaneously providing Warfighters with the very best in night vision technology, the SGF Program employed classic systems engineering principles including gaining a full understanding of the customer's needs and ensuring the requirements in the System Specification were both valid and complete. To produce a system that shared commonalities across multiple platforms (thereby avoiding the traditional stove-piped approach in which each platform would procure its own FLIR system), the SGF Program aggregated the platform unique requirements into a single set of capabilities and technical performance requirements. As part of the requirements analysis, SGF systems engineers worked closely with Platform Managers to capture all of their functional requirements, while working within the design constraints of each platform as well. The result was a common product baseline for the SGF system. Throughout the life of the program, Integrated Product Teams, representing the various SGF stakeholders, ensure program activities are coordinated and understood across functional and regional boundaries. As a result, SGF systems engineers have been able to successfully build a product a single time for multiple platforms, rather than multiple times for individual platforms, thereby realizing synergies and efficiencies throughout. "The SGF has been a resounding success on numerous levels, but we don't rest on our laurels at PM FLIR," Russell explained. "We are now replicating this successful effort, drawing on the lessons learned and successes gleaned over the past 15 years as we embark on a mission to bring a third generation FLIR (3GF) solution into the Army inventory." Leveraging the exceptional systems engineering foundation of the SGF, the 3GF capability will provide simultaneous digital video streams of long-wave and mid-wave infrared imaging. As with the SGF, PM FLIR conducted extensive requirements analyses as part of its systems engineering practices. "These analyses enabled us to identify key capabilities requirements, as well as additional opportunities to implement a common materiel solution that will result in cost efficiencies over the life of the platforms, just as the SGF has realized cost efficiencies," Doney said. The 3GF builds upon the strengths of the SGF, while adding extended identification range performance via mid-wave infrared imaging. Furthermore, the 3GF enables increased sensor design flexibility. For example, when a SGF is upgraded to a 3GF, there are two possible, beneficial results: it will provide either significant range performance in the same sensor package, or it will retain the original SGF performance, but in a smaller and lighter sensor package. "At PM FLIR, we are always looking for ways to improve our support to the Warfighter," said Russell. "With the SGF, we were able to provide the Warfighter with an exceptional, cost-effective capability to sense the enemy beyond the visible. The 3GF will build on that solid foundation and the resulting value to the Warfighter is clear - - increased platform standoff and enhanced survivability and lethality."