Business as usual -- in terms of supplying innovative hardware solutions to address aviation and missile war fighter capabilities -- is going on today at the Prototype Integration Facility thanks to a new five-year, $4.6 billion contract signed April 23.

The contract signing between the Army and Redstone Defense Systems represents nearly five years of work to obtain high-level Department of Defense and Office of the Secretary of Defense endorsement for the mission of the Prototype Integration Facility, said Danny Featherston, program manager for the Prototype Integration Facility, which is managed by the Engineering Directorate of the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center.

"It's been nearly a five-year process from the development and approval of the acquisition strategy to awarding the contract," Featherston said.

So, it was a day of celebration April 23 when AMRDEC and Army Contracting Command-Redstone officials joined with officials from Redstone Defense Systems to sign the new PIF contract, a three-year base contract with two additional renewable years.

"A contract is executed within minutes by the simple stroke of a pen. However, it takes inordinate amounts of time and effort on the part of government personnel and contractor personnel to reach this very critical stage in the acquisition cycle," said ACC-Redstone contracting officer Leslie Lancaster, who oversees the PIF contract.

"I was fortunate to have the honor of signing such an important contract and I consider this action one of the most important actions I have been associated with in my nearly 30-year career in contracting. I would have never been able to reach the point of signing this contract without the tireless dedication and professional endeavors of a very large cast of players. This contract award is a tribute to all of those individuals who worked tirelessly to reach this point and to whom I respectfully and endearingly refer to as my very closest friends."

The team approach to the new contract is indicative of the team approach that has made the PIF successful in finding hardware solutions for its customers, said Cathy Dickens, ACC-Redstone executive director/principal assistant responsible for contracting.

"This shows it does take a team to really make things happen and that's true for performance also," she said.

AMRDEC's PIF was established in 2002 to fulfill an Army need for rapid response hardware solutions to challenges faced by the war fighter in theater.

"We've achieved great success here at the PIF," Featherston said. "We've been in operation for 10 years. We started out small and grew with demand."

Today, the PIF provides solutions for hardware issues to all branches of the military and homeland security organizations. At any given time, the PIF is managing more than 200 projects involving hardware improvements, from developing new technology capabilities for helicopters to designing hand protection gear for operating machine guns in cold temperature environments.

"A lot of the requirements that come into us aren't even forecasted," Featherston said. "We address immediate needs that arise from new threats in the field, or new conditions and challenges experienced by the war fighter. We provide a solution in days or weeks or months, rather than years. We integrate new technology on existing systems or change technologies to meet new uses by the war fighter."

The PIF has become a model for other AMRDEC operations throughout the U.S., which are part of the Army's Research Development and Engineering Command. It is funded 100 percent by government customers, and works with more than 2,000 companies that participate as PIF team members as required to develop hardware solutions. The PIF includes about 120 government workers and 900 contractors located at the Arsenal headquarters facility as well as other facilities on the Arsenal, at the Jetplex and Madison County Executive Airport and the contractor's location.

"We do everything from large complex system level hardware development to engineering piece parts," Featherston said. "Because of our wide range of capabilities and projects, we need to have access to a lot of subcontractors who can add their expertise to what we are doing."

The new contract took effect immediately, although work started under the previous contract will continue for up to 18 months with the previous contractor, JVYS or Joint Venture Yulista/SESI. Redstone Defense Systems assumed contractor responsibility for all new projects that began on or after April 23. It is one of the most significant contracts signed in this fiscal year by the Army.

"This is a huge contract, not only in size but also in the impact it has on our war fighters and our nation," Lancaster said.

While the PIF focuses primarily on developing hardware solutions for aviation and missile systems, its reputation has led to its involvement in work for other branches as well as the Department of Homeland Security and foreign military sales.

"We provide economical solutions and we are concentrated on rapid delivery of quality solutions," Featherston said. "It's all about effectiveness and efficiencies for the war fighter. As long as we continue to do that, we will build on our capabilities for the future."