Getting Key Players Together Results in More Army Radios for LessJanuary 2012
Topics: Army Operations, Government Acquisition, Radio Communications
A warfighter's two-way radio is his portal to the U.S. military's global communications network, which is a mix of Cold War-era equipment and more modern capabilities. For that reason, the Army's acquisition plans for a new radio necessarily involves detailed analysis of its current capabilities and future network goals.
In fact, it can be a struggle for the Army to supply its warfighters with the equipment they require while regularly updating that equipment to meet the Army's evolving communications capabilities. This struggle can result in situations such as in Afghanistan, where some combat teams are still using Cold-War era radios while state-of-the-art unmanned drone planes fly overhead.
In its drive to modernize its IT network to meet increasing information demands without leaving warfighters inadequately supplied with communications equipment, the Army is enlisting MITRE's help. The resulting guidance has already enabled the Army to stretch its limited acquisition dollars much further than expected.
Relying on Up-to-Date Technology
"Just as a modern organization, whether it be Hewlett-Packard or IBM or Ford, relies upon information technology, so does the United States Army," says MITRE senior principal and program manager Bill Zeiner. "Like those companies, the Army, to be most successful, needs an efficient IT network. It can't rely upon slow networks or competing applications or incompatible databases. It needs to be able to access its databases and its applications in a seamless, rapid, agile fashion."
The first item on the Army's task list was to rethink its acquisition strategy for the tactical radios and network capabilities it needs to provide Infantry Brigade Combat Teams. The Army wanted to identify radio designs and concepts that would allow them to equip as many brigade combat teams as possible with a consistent communications capability. MITRE supported the Army's approach to bring together all the parties within the Army with a stake in its modernization strategy for a Network Synchronization Working Group (NSWG). Once together, each party would have a chance to voice its views and insights.
"We said we'd be glad to host the NSWG," Zeiner says. "They took us up on that."
Focusing on Priorities, Eliminating Overlaps
The NSWG met from August through October of 2010. What soon came to light was that different stakeholders had made plans to acquire separate products to perform similar functions. The Army asked the NSWG to analyze the various programs' communication requirements, eliminate low-priority items, and focus on satisfying higher ones.
The group assessed current network capabilities, reviewed future requirements, and identified the gaps between the two. In discussing possible network designs, they focused on options that would squeeze the most capabilities out of the network while still controlling costs.
With our mix of communications, software, acquisitions, and command and control systems expertise, MITRE was a natural choice to facilitate the working group meetings. "First," says Zeiner, "we have a deep understanding of the Army's radio network, a mix of terrestrial and satellite communication systems. We also understand the applications that ride on the network."
Above all, MITRE has the systems engineering expertise to understand the Army's network as a whole, as opposed to individual parts. This allowed us to take the individual perspectives of the working group members and knit them together to reach consensus. To make sure everyone had an equal understanding of the technical and economic issues, a MITRE team supported each group in the NSWG. These teams provided technical insight for their assigned stakeholders' concerns while helping their stakeholders understand each other's perspectives.
"It was a classic example of how well MITRE collaborates with its customers to achieve an outcome," says Zeiner.
In the end, guided by data from a MITRE cost-benefit analysis, the NSWG recommended that the Army pursue a strategy centered on a hardware-agnostic approach. This would both encourage greater competition among vendors and potentially lead to significant cost savings.
MITRE's reputation for unbiased advice earned it the trust of the working group members, allowing the NSWG to work quickly, to focus on the big picture, and to gain acceptance of a common solution. MITRE's rigorous analytics supported the group's recommendations, leading to wide acceptance of the result by the members.
Zeiner also points out that, because MITRE doesn't manufacture or sell any of the products and systems under consideration, "We don't have any stake in the outcome but what's best for the government—and the warfighter."
More Benefits than Just Cost Savings
Prior to the NSWG's report, the Army believed it would only be able to equip two infantry brigade combat teams with new radios and network resources in their next acquisition phase. But following the group's recommendations, the Army was able to reallocate acquisition funds so it could equip 10 combat teams with no loss of anticipated capabilities. A modest investment in MITRE services helped the Army to more efficiently invest $622 million in acquisition funds for 2013 and to save in excess of $1.5B for terrestrial radios for all of its Infantry Brigade Combat Teams.
However, the monetary savings weren't the only benefit the Army received from its investment in MITRE. The Army was so impressed with the NSWG methodology that it has asked MITRE to host a series of the groups.
"So NSWG1 begat NSWG2 this year," says Zeiner. "We have been discussing the merging of satellite communications for intelligence, medical, logistics, and command and control into one network to achieve better cost efficiencies. And there will be an NSWG3 next year, which will also tackle a network acquisition problem."
—by Christopher Lockheardt