By Christopher Manning, CERDEC CP&I Prototyping, Integration and Testing Division Chief
In the not so distant past, spending seven years to usher capabilities through the acquisition process was the accepted norm. Not only was this method costly, but by the time we put equipment in the hands of soldiers our industry partners had already developed and introduced technologies to the public that could out-perform what we had delivered. We are bound, rightfully so, to ensure we insert safe, secure, and robust technologies into the field. However, with increased global disorder and the accelerated rate of our adversaries’ abilities to match—and sometimes overmatch—our capabilities, the status quo was no longer an option.
To address this challenge, the Department of Defense introduced the Better Buying Power (BBP 1.0) initiative in 2010 to streamline processes, reduce costs and improve productivity. Today, BBP 3.0 emphasizes the need for research and development efforts across the science and technology spectrum and specifically promotes early prototyping and experimentation as a means to rapidly field capabilities to the soldiers—while those capabilities are still truly state-of-the-art.
U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, saw the applicability of BBP 3.0 in its Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, or C4ISR PIF. The C4ISR PIF provides all-inclusive engineering solutions that result in low-rate initial production prototypes of emerging technologies in response to warfighter needs.
One common misconception to prototyping is that it only yields future, science fiction-like capabilities to meet a speculative requirement. Prototypes do in fact allow technologies to assess the realm of possible. However, what is often the case is a government organization has a specific capability requirement but does not necessarily have the expertise, time or funds to outsource the development of that requirement.
This is where partnering with the C4ISR PIF maps to BBP 3.0 to quickly and inexpensively produce innovative technologies. The two parties create a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to verify the proposed cost and schedule, and the government customer transfers funds via Military Interdepartmental Purchase Request, which allows the C4ISR team to immediately begin work on project. This streamlined acquisition process is the reason so many C4ISR PIF projects transition from concept to production in less than a year.
An iterative development process ensures customer participation from the design phase up to the integration and testing. Once proven, the prototype can remain within the PIF if the customer only requires a limited number produced, or transition to Army arsenals, depots or industry partners for full-rate manufacturing. In either scenario, the customer takes possession of the technical data package, which is another critical cost saving component to the process.
The PIF resource is not news to Product Manager Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or PM WIN-T, which often teams with the C4ISR PIF to quickly produce capabilities. Most recently, the C4ISR PIF inserted specialized engineering capabilities into WIN-T’s Enroute Mission Command and Control, or EMC2. EMC2 provides real-time, in-flight networked communications to commanders and paratroopers to better support forcible entry operations from takeoff to jump. In just nine months, the collaboration between CERDEC and PM WIN-T yielded an initial operational capability that included PIF-designed robust communications and transit cases and a workspace for paratroopers to connect their laptops to the Internet while also leaving ample floor space to prepare for a jump.
The products are currently operational onboard a C-17 aircraft for the XVIII Airborne Corp’s Global Response Force missions.
Other examples of products from the C4ISR PIF include delivering advanced combat camera and tactical calibration facilities for the Marines, designing specialty radio mounts for Special Operations, and providing three prototype expeditionary command post variants to assist in defining requirements for such a capability.
BBP 3.0 outlines the benefits to prototyping as a means to insert innovative technology faster and cheaper into the field. The C4ISR PIF’s iterative prototype development process aligns with BBP 3.0, and is one option to make the DoD’s long acquisition cycle more of an exception to the rule.
The U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.
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