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Naval TACAIR EW procurement: a time for change.

The US Navy TACAIR electronic warfare avionics acquisition process -- from product development to operational test (OT) -- should be modified to improve the final product delivered to the fleet. The Navy has not fielded an operationally effective and suitable radar warning receiver (RWR) or jammer in over a decade. (The AN/ALR-67, flown in an A-6E, failed initial OPEVAL in 1983. The ALR-67 |ECP-510~ successfully passed FOT&E in late 1992 but is a hardware modification to the original ALR-67 to correct deficiencies identified in earlier operational testing. The AN/ALQ-165 Airborne Self-Protection Jammer |ASPJ~ failed OPEVAL in 1992.)

The end result is the customers -- Navy and Marine TACAIR aircrew -- must train or enter combat with an inferior electronic warfare suite. This is unacceptable. Many individuals feel the contractor/Naval Air Systems Command team is at fault, while others perceive the operational test force as the primary problem. The reality is both sides could use a little fine-tuning to improve the acquisition process.

How do we fix this problem? The acquisition process and OT doctrine must be restructured utilizing Total Quality Leadership (TQL) principles to develop a functional acquisition process. This will result in operationally effective and suitable EW components and a combat-effective EW suite.


A review of the current acquisition process is required before we continue. We will then break down the acquisition process into three distinct phases, identify problem areas within each phase and recommend changes based on TQL principles. Figure 1 illustrates the current basic acquisition process.

The birthplace of all TACAIR hardware, including EW, is the Mission Need Statement (MNS). The Operational Requirements Document (ORD) is then formulated reflecting the choice of the OPNAV sponsor which will best meet the fleet requirement identified in the MNS. After the down-select occurs, the winning contractor begins the process of constructing avionics to meet the required thresholds as defined in the Test and Evaluation Master Plan (TEMP). Preproduction systems are constructed and a series of DT and OT phases begin. DT is conducted by the Naval Air Warfare Center (NAWC) with project oversight and OT is conducted by Commander Operational Test and Evaluation Force (COMOPTEVFOR) at Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Four and/or Five (VX-4 and VX-5). The final phase of testing, OPEVAL, commences after a successful Operational Test Readiness Review (OTRR). If the new EW system is determined to be unready for operational test at the OTRR, the new EW system will return to the DT phase. A successful OPEVAL results in an NPDM/DAB and subsequent fleet introduction (IOC). If the EW system fails OPEVAL the program may be terminated, returned to DT status or procured despite failing OPEVAL.


Phase One, defined as the MNS to down-select, has two problem areas.

* Problem 1 -- Navy Procurement Doctrine: The current acquisition strategy of one specific RWR and jammer for all TACAIR aircraft types should be changed. This policy, possibly the result of congressional pressure for commonality during the 1980s, renders installed performance of EW systems inherently unstable due to a myriad of platform-specific integration requirements. Additionally, overall system performance may be degraded due to the installation requirements of one aircraft.

* Solution: Adopt an acquisition policy where new aircraft (F/A-18 E/F, A/F-X) have their own unique EW suites. Program management for software and hardware upgrades would then be the responsibility of the host aircraft program manager (PMA). This policy would eliminate the many variables of multiple aircraft integration, remove performance compromises for the sake of multi-aircraft integration and enhance the EW suite performance throughout the service life of the host aircraft. Additionally, EW integration would be a primary concern of the host aircraft PMA for all avionics software and hardware upgrades.

* Problem 2 -- Poor Translation Between Technical Threshold and Operational Characteristics: EW is an extremely dynamic field. Unless you have had experience in a tactical aircraft, you may never know what the customer (TACAIR aircrew) desires. Consequently, there is often an incomplete translation from operational requirements to contract requirements in the statement of work, contract specification and design implementation.

* Solution: A "Quality Management Board" (QMB) should be formed with representatives from industry, the sponsoring PMA, OPNAV (chief of naval operations) requirements office and COMOPTEVFOR to ensure that the ORD is written in operational terms and the end product will meet the needs of TACAIR aircrew COMOPTEVFOR must be involved at program inception and throughout the life-cycle of the weapon system. In order to increase COMOPTEVFOR participation, its charter must be changed to allow participation as an advisor in the development, submission and definition of operational requirements. Some individuals may argue that OPTEVFOR will lose its independence and become biased from contractor exposure. This will not happen if OPTEVFOR continues testing with respect to operational and technical thresholds established in the TEMP. Finally, contractors must have continuous access to the fleet via VX aircrew. VX-4/5 personnel are fleet-representative aircrew; their contribution in preparing acquisition documentation will ensure engineering terms fully meet the operational requirements. Communication is the key as the system characteristics take form during the design process. The contractor/NAWC team has failed its job if the system cannot satisfy the MNS.


Phase II is defined as prototype development through the OTRR. This phase is critical to successful product development. Application of TQL principles in this phase will yield the greatest benefits to TACAIR EW acquisition.

* Problem 1 -- Communication: The contractor and NAWC do not maintain a continuous dialogue with fleet aircrew (the customer) to ensure the new electronic warfare product will satisfy the operational requirements and needs of the fleet.

* Solution: The contractor/NAWC team must aggressively pursue fleet inputs from design through developmental flight test. Actual system design inputs from the fleet should be taken through the Critical Design Review (CDR). After the CDR, fleet inputs can be used to evaluate performance during DT. If software changes are required during DT to improve system performance, fleet operators should be consulted for possible changes. "Fleet" expertise is defined as VX-4/5, aircraft-type weapon schools, the Naval Strike Warfare Center and the Navy Fighter Weapons School (Top Gun). Specific areas of fleet expertise should include, but are not limited to, human factors, threat prioritization, emitter library content and aircraft integration. These lines of communication must be established early in the development cycle and exercised regularly.

* Problem 2 -- Benign DT Flight Test Scenarios: The contractor-NAWC team does not test EW components in threat-representative scenarios.

* Solution: OPTEVFOR must provide the contractor/NAWC team with threat-representative flight profiles for the last phase of DT flight testing. These scenarios must be flown in an instrumented aircraft and not just simulated in the lab. This will ensure the EW component has demonstrated acceptable performance in a threat-representative environment prior to the OTRR, thereby reducing the chances of the EW component failing in OT. We must remove the "throw it over the fence" strategy within the DT community.

* Problem 3 -- Testing Timelines: The scheduling of separate DT and OT inhibits timely product development.

* Solution: A new testing process should be utilized which emphasizes joint DT/OT periods with a continuous cross-flow of test results. VX-4 and VX-5 operational test directors should fly occasional DT flights early in the DT flight test program. This will give the OT community early exposure to system operation and give the contractor/NAWC team an early quality check on human factors and system performance. When the NAWC/contractor team feels its new avionics are almost ready for OPEVAL, the VX squadrons should begin to fly and test the avionics during a joint DT/OT period. VX test flights during the joint DT/OT phase must have specific objectives and profiles flown in accordance with their test plan.

We must get the new avionics into actual fleet-configured aircraft for flight test prior to the OPEVAL. It is essential to remember that all flight testing up to this point in the procurement process was performed in test aircraft which do not replicate actual fleet configurations. There are three major advantages to this approach:

1) The operational testers become part of the quality control before the final production hardware and software are delivered for OPEVAL, identifying minor anomalies as well as potential show-stoppers that were not detected during DT testing.

2) VX squadrons often have access to test assets unavailable to the NAWC/contractor team. The VX cost per flight hour is also significantly less than their NAWC counterpart's.

3) When a major problem is identified by the NAWC/contractor team or the VX squadron, Process Action Teams can be formed with members from both the DT and OT communities to solve the problem.

To enhance communication during these joint DT/OT periods, a formal process should be developed to ensure the early reporting/discussion of failures and problems among government and industry, DT and OT personnel and program management and procurement decision personnel. The benefits of this new testing structure are numerous. The contractor/NAWC team receives extensive additional test data at little or no cost. Flight test dollars are saved by significantly reducing the probability of a failed OPEVAL. Finally, quality control is elevated to an earlier stage in the acquisition process. It's almost a free OPEVAL! If the new EW system cannot meet operational and technical thresholds defined in the TEMP during the joint DT/OT period, the new EW system should then be considered for termination.


Phase III is defined as OPEVAL through FOT&E. This phase also includes software and hardware updates after IOC.

* Problem 1: The OPEVAL process does not improve the quality of EW products prior to fleet introduction.

* Solution: OPTEVFOR must concentrate its operational flight test efforts in the joint DT/OT phase just prior to OPEVAL. As anomalies and deficiencies are identified, the contractor/NAWC team can make software changes without the new avionics being placed in a deficiency status. Testing can resume after the required improvements have been made. Additionally, OPEVAL should not commence until OPTEVFOR is reasonably sure, based on joint DT/OT flight test data, that the new EW avionics will meet CNO-established TEMP operational criteria. The actual OPEVAL flight test phase should concentrate on overall aircraft system performance with the new EW avionics and tactics development.

* Problem 2: Post-IOC software upgrades are not funded on an annual basis during the life-cycle of EW programs.

* Solution: The program sponsor must include the requirement for periodic software upgrades in the ORD. By definition, the sponsor makes a commitment to provide the requisite funding to execute the program in the ORD. Making EW hardware/software the responsibility of the host aircraft PMA would also eliminate this problem.


We must adjust our acquisition process if we are to successfully effect IOC for new EW avionics. Two basic principles of TQL, communication (between the contractor/NAWC team and the fleet) and early quality control in the manufacturing process, are the key factors in the proposed restructuring of the acquisition process.

Quality control inputs from the customer/fleet aircrew must be elevated to the earliest possible level in the acquisition process. Additionally, we can no longer tolerate an adversarial relationship between the DT and OT communities; we are all on the same team. The sanctity of independent OT can remain during OPEVAL but we must give the contractor/NAWC team every opportunity to field combat-effective EW avionics. The time for change is now.

LCDR John Hatten is an F/A-18 pilot currently attached to VFA-113 at NAS Lemoore, CA. He served as an operational test director at VX-4 from 1989-92. During his tour at VX-4 he was the ALR-67 OTD from 1989-1991, during which time he co-directed the Navy TACAIR EW software upgrades for Operation Desert Storm.
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Title Annotation:tactical aircaft electronic warfare avionics
Author:Hatten, John
Publication:Journal of Electronic Defense
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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