Readiness Rests on Army COTS.
In recent years the world has seen, scrabbling out of the shadow of the Cold War, a cacophony of small aggrieved nations and murderous factions. These splinters had been held together only by the power politics of East-West confrontation. This sea change has made largely obsolete how the US had developed and fielded weapons and support systems in preparation for "The Big One."
As JED discussed in "The DARPA Way" (April 2001. p. 45), traditional military R&D and procurement has been characterized by a proscribed set of rather ponderous characteristics. It is top down, requirement bound, manpower heavy, schedule driven, and biennially funded. Participants are frequently run down and crushed by speeding glaciers. It is highly formalized, with multiple assistant deputy vice undersecretaries for drawing charts -- not a nimble, risk-taking venture.
COTS Aren't for Sleeping
Coincidental with the rise of the New World Order of many troublesome, well-armed nations and groups -- each with axes to grind -- has been the maturing of advanced modular commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies. JED has reported regularly over the past several years how the availability of COTS technology -- combined with the realization that the armed forces must put in place a far more flexible and responsive acquisition system -- has produced a number of successes in the post-Cold War world. Looking into the future of electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) decoy development, for example, several engineers envision an open engineering architecture/COTS-based manufacturing that will allow mission-by-mission systems configuration. This COTS-based technology wouldn't be transparent "just to the electrons," but to the operators and maintainers as well.
JED has also reported on the double-edged nature of COTS technology. As emerging EW technologies are ever more dependent upon "COTS warfare," COTS technology has become an increasingly popular way for anyone to acquire competency in a hurry. Not unexpectedly, the merits of COTS gear have not gone unnoticed by adversaries. There is in play a compression effect, whereby a potential foe can catch up in a hurry, without going through the development fits and starts -- and inevitable failures -- while avoiding excessive costs. The vision of an unfriendly agent being able to acquire high-level imagery, positioning, and connectivity capabilities essentially from a mail order catalog and, more importantly, how to mitigate the consequences is bound to cause long nights at the Pentagon and elsewhere (see "From Dream to Nightmare," JED, April 2001, p. 53). In the same vein, JED recently found that highly accurate handheld and panel-mounted DGPS units priced from $3,500 to $5,000 are readily available to any US address by mail order from no less than 32 companies. Combined with the inertially guided CSS-7 missile technology possessed by the People's Republic of China, this COTS technology would provide a strike accuracy against the Republic of China (Taiwan) of between one and five meters ("GPS May Heighten CSS-7 Threat," JED, June 2001, p. 24). Thus, one of the big considerations in using COTS technology is technological security ("COTS Versus GOTS: Risk Management is the Key," JED, January 1999, p. 51). You either use COTS -- with its attendant risks -- or watch your adversaries become a greater threat.
Upside or downside, today's US military needs every available option in acquiring in the short term what it needs for the hot spot of the moment. Said John Gresham, US Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) Deputy Program Manager for Night Vision, Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition (NVRSTA), "To meet quick-need acquisition requirements there are several programs, including the Soldier Enhancement Program (SEP) at Ft. Belvoir, SEP identifies potential improvements to soldiers' capabilities through the use of COTS technology, with very quick buy authority and at modest cost." The SEP can deliver an item like a helmet visor to many (say, at the battalion level) or a specialized item like a custom signal analyzer to just a few.
Specific to night-vision requirements, NVRSTA routinely develops "a whole basket" of NV improvements much more quickly than the traditional military way of slow, ponderous laboratory development with an equally slow transition to manufacturing and fielding. NVRSTA has moved far away from using a "how-to spec," and instead, creates a "best value" specification. This spec may cover some physical requirements, and does list immediate, essential requirements, but concentrates upon what is wanted, not how to build it.
"For, say, an IR rifle scope, the spec would list weight and range and battery life and how it mounts," explained Gresham, "but we don't drive the vendor toward any particular design or technology." This allows NVRSTA, according to Gresham, to grab technology out of a DOD lab, if it's at a stage where it can fill the immediate bill, to quickly go out through a best-value solicitation to get an idea from industry if they're either ready to go into production, or to enter a very quick R&D process and then perhaps into low-rate initial production. Procurement planning focuses at three levels: for legacy systems, for interim systems, and for leapfrog technologies for introduction no later than 2008 to meet the Army's transformation goal. "We also will visit the labs and grab working prototypes when we need something that meets specific requirements, and if it's okay, immediately crank out as many as needed," said Gresham. "Special Ops aren't the only ones with such requirements. We've grabbed and sent working pr ototypes to Kosovo on a continuing basis. This is a big departure from how things were done in the past."
Bob Doto, Director, Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate (12WD) of the Research Development Engineering Center, described his organization's Ouick Reaction Response Capability. "We have units deploying all the time," he said. "Say they become interested in a certain class of EM [electromagnetic] signal but don't have the capability of handling it as they wish. So they come to me and ask if I can build them a one of-a-kind quick-reaction system in a few weeks or months and ship it for them or enable them to deploy with it."
12WD maintains a warehouse of equipment that can be used to build whatever is needed. It works largely because a big part of their inventory is COTS products, including software and antennae. "We might also borrow something, or buy it, or steal it from some other project," explained Doto. "While we may build a unique antenna or antenna driver, most of the stuff is basically plugged together." The devices become the property of the units that ask for them to be built, If they pay the whole bill, they own it. If they can't afford to pay for all of it, it goes back into the warehouse. "We're kind of tailored here to meet the field's requirements, which usually run from several weeks to several months," continued Doto. "We have our own machine shops and test labs and areas -- we're a self-contained small business. This work allows us to keep up to date in the very fast-moving world of communications-technology development. The old-fashioned way of acquiring communications gear puts you five generations behind."
William Porter, Chief, Products Branch, CECOM Information Operations Support Division, explained further, "Typically, [fast turnaround project] requirements are identified, validated, and systems are designed, integrated, tested and fielded in 30-150 days." For short-duration or quick fix needs, COTS equipment is commonly procured by two means: (1) a government credit card is used if the cost is within allowable limits, or (2) contracts through the CECOM Acquisition Center are in place and are utilized to acquire equipment. A key element in the selection of these contractors is their ability to procure equipment rapidly as it is identified. Typically purchase orders are in place within hours to one day of the time the required items are identified. "While these contractors are required to abide by the FAR [Federal Acquisition Regulation], the same as government procurement offices," noted Porter, "this approach enables us to design and purchase equipment in a seamless team effort and rapidly respond to chang ing requirements without the delays that are common in a typical acquisition."
"The challenge in best employing COTS technology regarding sensors, terminals, and comm gear is selecting the best COTS to support the required configuration," continued Porter. COTS is used to the maximum extent possible. 12WD is developing a catalog of suppliers that includes capability, lead times, costs and reliability data. This will be the "go-to" point for starting the development of a new system.
Another element of the program that helps ensure success is anticipating short-fused requirements. 12WD tries to remain aware of the items that will be needed to satisfy any typical requirement. These include antennas, antenna masts, receivers, monitors, and other generic equipment that may have long lead times. These items are purchased and "stocked on our shelves" for incorporation into systems as requirements arise. Also, a database was developed to track equipment that is stocked, in use by systems that have been deployed, and owned by other organizations. This allows us to determine status regarding availability, location, and the owner.
The issue of COTS suitability to the rigors of the battlefield is one addressed directly. "COTS equipment -- including workstations, terminals, and related computer equipment -- has been very reliable in support of these short-term missions, so specific ruggedization has not been an issue," Porter said. The two typical configurations utilized to field their equipment are transit cases and shelter-mounted systems. Depending upon the operational scenario, a decision is made as to which configuration is appropriate. "COTS technology appears to have come a long way in meeting typical demands for short-term military applications," concluded Porter.
Does COTS Stand Alone?
As noted above, the Army is generally pleased with the innate toughness of COTS technology. In June, DRS Technologies, Inc. (Gaithersburg, MD), received a $1 .6-million contract to provide COTS Explorer MP Rugged Portable Multi-Platform Workstations for battlefield applications including combat information and fire control. DRS workstation orders over the past five years have exceeded $82 million -- all COTS items that the military has found meet its ruggedization requirements.
Industry has indeed found COTS technology dependable. Pat Wilson of Phoenix Group International (Hauppauge, NY) voiced similar sentiments. "Yes, you can use COTS-based items, and you can, if needed, make minor changes to them to harden them enough to survive. We've had a lot of success with packaging and integrating other vendors' COTS items into our own as needed." Phoenix supplies hand-held and laptop computer products, including the Falcon Series, ToughPad, Condor, Nightingale, and Hummingbird. However, they have also found that "the success of a vendor supplying COTS technology to the military without substantial modification/ruggedization is largely a function of that vendors past experience in dealing with the military and its equipment needs." Wilson notes that in most cases, whether fast-turnaround item or not, the military's requirements remain extremely stringent. Yet, COTS-based technology has greatly improved product-delivery-turnaround time.
DRS Technology's Patricia Williamson, vice-president, corporate communications, also agreed, but with some qualification. DRS supplies independent and interoperable complete workstations, displays, terminals, printers, and servers. "COTS-based technology has been a revolution in military procurement," she said. "Twenty years ago we started urging the military to adopt COTSbased technology, primarily for timeliness reasons. In the '70s and '80s, by the time a system or product finally made it out of the traditional procurement process and was fielded, it was obsolete. Further, the costs of these system were skyrocketing. COTS has basically taken the best of developments in the commercial computing world and integrated them into systems delivered more promptly to the soldier or sailor at a lower cost." However, she had one qualifier: "At the modular level, COTS is pretty rugged, but when you build a product to military spec using COTSbased components, the unit still has to be designed and manufactured to rugged ized standards. This may or may not be possible without separate, further ruggedization."
SAIC Corporation (San Diego, CA) makes, among other things, rugged rack-mount assemblies, terminals, and monitors for government use, including items needed for fast turnaround and special operations. Dr. David Stanford, senior group vice president, agrees that COTS technology is, in general, tough and reliable. "In our experience -- supplying racks that go aboard ships, aboard HMMWVs, in tents, and other shelters -- a relatively minor amount of ruggedization is needed for COTS assemblies that we use. But once you do that, you get an extremely tough and reliable unit for any operating environment," said Stanford For example, before a rack of COTS monitors goes out, it may be necessary to merely place a metal stabilizing strap across heavy components like transformers and bolt both ends to the chassis. SAIC then puts shock-dampening technology into the rack itself. "But this is really a very minor amount of extra ruggedization," noted Stanford.
Not Just for the Battlefield
Short-term, COTS-based acquisition is also a valuable asset in support and training roles. In 1997, CECOM's Night Vision/Electronic Sensors Directorate (NVESD) demonstrated Paint the Night, a product it had developed using COTS technology: a Datacube Corporation color display paired with Centric Corporation Designer's Workbench (DWB) and EasyScene software. Paint the Night (PTN) is a thermal-scene simulator -- a cooperative effort involving CECOM NVESD and the Army Research Laboratory that provides realistic EO/IR simulations for Distributed Interactive Simulation (DIS) exercises. Centric's DWB is used to "build targets," and Centric's EasyScene provides PTN's 3-D display. The DIS interface is also COTS provided by Aladdin ES 4.1. The system is meant to recreate the experience of moving through a virtual nighttime space, along with the sensation of looking through IR devices.
Fast development and acquisition are not confined to immediate need items. Larger, long-range programs are also benefiting. Another program deep into combining quick procurement with COTS technology is Land Warrior (LW), a first-generation modular, integrated fighting system for the individual infantryman. The LW system includes everything the dismounted soldier wears and carries integrated into a close-combat fighting system and is composed of five integrated subsystems: Weapon Subsystem, Integrated Helmet Assembly Subsystem. Computer/Radio Subsystem (CRS), Software Subsystem, and Protective Clothing and Individual Equipment Subsystem. LW is intended to integrate the dismounted infantryman into the Army's digitized battlefield network.
The systems integration for the Land Warrior is being managed by Soldier Biological and Chemical Command (SBCCOM) Project Manager-Soldier, and the subsystems are currently being developed through the collaborative efforts of PM-Soldier Electronics, PM-Soldier Equipment, and CECOM. along with Computer Science Corp. (Osaka, Japan), Exponent Corp. (Pine Brook, NJ), Pacific Consultants (Mountain View, CA), Omega Training Group (Columbus, GA), and The Wexford Group International. Since March 1999, a new series of Land Warrior proof-of-concept innovations have been deployed and tested, soldiers have been equipped and trained with these prototypes, and the LW's effectiveness was proven in a live-fire experiment at Ft. Polk in September 2000.
COTS technologies make LW possible. The LW computer runs Windows 2000 on PC104 hardware, and the LW communications-navigation (Comm-Nav) unit uses Windows CE running on an Intel Strongarm processor. The Windows 2000 platform runs the main LW software application, drives the soldier's head-mounted display, and controls the overall system. The CommNav unit contains a GPS receiver and Dead Reckoning Module (DRM), and a wireless LAN PC card. Main LW peripheral components are attached to the soldier's Personal Area Network (PAN). The PAN also links to the head-mounted display controller and an additional, chest-mounted mouse-control device. In addition, it can be used to attach biosensors or other peripheral devices to the LW system. LW leaders are also equipped with a hand-held, daylight-visible graphics-display pad and a portable keyboard.
Chosen in 1994, the computer motherboard can now be procured from any of 12 sources at an estimated cost of $440, and a cable can be commercially obtained for $65. The program reduced an average unit-procurement cost of $102,600 to the current estimate of $32,200 and provided significant increases in technology (e.g., 3 times the computing power).
COTS and SOTS
"A good example of fast procurement for need is ongoing duty in the Gulf," said NVRSTA's Gresham. "I had a call from the Pentagon to provide protection for Navy ships in the Gulf from terrorist speedboats. The ships involved did mount .50 cals [machine guns] on deck but the crews had no NV goggles. So we 'raided' an Army NV-goggle production line and pulled out as many as we needed and boxed them and sent them over there in a matter of days [thereby creating a new acronym: SOTS, meaning "stolen off the shelf technology"]. That's pretty flexible and typical of meeting both ongoing and special operations needs these days."
Apparently, Army COTS technology works so well that the Navy wants to steal it.
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|Title Annotation:||commercial off-the-shelf purchasing|
|Comment:||Readiness Rests on Army COTS.(commercial off-the-shelf purchasing)|
|Author:||Sherman, Kenneth B.|
|Publication:||Journal of Electronic Defense|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2001|
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