we did that already

May 2011


Discussions of how the Pentagon can become a better consumer and a more responsible custodian of taxpayer money are – not without cause – a common refrain these days. So it isn’t really surprising when one comes upon yet another bureaucratic or institutional failing within DoD. A conference on Unmanned Systems hosted by the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at the National Defense University immediately began hitting on a series of issues right with the first panel. This was a panel discussion that spent time on a refreshingly short and simple word: reuse:

  • Industry has continued to develop platform-specific software packages essentially from the ground-up – and is certainly happy to continue to charge DoD for the favor.
  • DoD spends money on the right to use and reuse software and data associated with the systems that it buys. But does it know and understand those rights? Either way, as a matter of practice, it does not exercise them enough and should be.
  • Program managers are not incentivized to expend much effort on investigating potential opportunities to reuse software that has already been developed.
  • DoD spends money on and completes research and development. But those research and development programs, particularly those with significant classified aspects, have a way of disappearing once they get completed in a file drawer and on a server somewhere. Often there is little more than a place-holder webpage for the initial scope of the program at the outset. Not only are the products of or lessons learned from the programs inaccessible, but their very existence is known far more narrowly than their applicability. As a result, the products and lessons of that research are often not made part of the requirements writing process and later elements of programmatic and acquisition efforts.

While DoD funds cutting-edge technology it has proven to be all too often a lagging or late adaptor of new technology. We’re seeing a lot of powerpoint slides these days with common and open architectures. But how much progress has there really been in this regard? How has the fielding of the Aegis open architecture been going? Have we bought into the right concept and if we have, how are we really doing in terms of implementation?

Posted by nhughes in Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy

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  • Ben Wachendorf, RADM, USN (Ret)

    Lots of meat on this bone. As I presented in an unmanned systems panel at the last USNI conference in San Diego, I saw a picture of seven UAVs in Iraq all orbiting over the same target. Many taxpayer dollars have been and are being wasted because UAV and other weapon systems are not interoperable. Builders of UAV platforms would like to supply the UAV platform, sensors, data links, ground control stations, and analyis tools as a package, none of which are interoperable with other UAV systems, which leads to wasteful spending exemplified by the seven UAVs all looking at the same target. The failure of the ISR Task Force Valiant Angel program described last year in C4ISR Journal is another example of wasteful UAV government investment. In the area of communications, NMCI and JTRS are other billion dollar examples of poor government decisions.

    My personal opinion is one of the root causes for this is a lack of technical competency in government organizations which have authority to make acquisition decisions in the area of new technology. The government bureaucrats making these aquisition decision recommenndations are often way too close to specific defense contractors who tell the government what they need. Another root cause is insufficient long range planning for converting 6.1/6.2 (basic science/R&D) research into programs of record (funded acquisition).

  • Byron

    “The government bureaucrats making these aquisition decision recommenndations are often way too close to specific defense contractors who tell the government what they need”

    Sing it to the mountains, RADM Wachendorf!!!

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Admiral W,

    Excellent points, including the statement about interoperability. True, in exact mirror, in the Emergency Response realm, particularly with software. Incident Management software has a requirement for “interoperability”, but in reality there is little that the different platforms can share readily without sometimes-complex file conversions. The most useful of the information, such as spatial data and messaging formats, have little to no commonality.

    Working on a project for HSARPA some years ago, the module we developed in a SBIR contract for designing functional exercises using incident management software met with outright refusal on the part of the software developers, most of whom had secured very large government contracts because, in part, they trumpeted “interoperability”. When queried as to why they would not incorporate a truly interoperable module that could link the top four or five software platforms, the answer was that such was “not their business model”. They had no interest in integration, because they wanted everyone to use their platforms.

    If we say “interoperability”, we should be serious about making it so.

  • Byron

    URR, that’s when you tell the vendor to go to hell and you go find one that understands what the customer wants. Of course, if you did fire them, you’d be standing in front of the HASC performing ritual seppuku…

  • Ben Wachendorf, RADM, USN (Ret)


    Thanks for the input. I was a combat arms officer, not a lawyer nor acquisition expert. I defer to those who are on proper terminology.

    My point is that what matters most is timely support to small tacical units at the pointy end of the spear. This is particularly important with respect to time sensitive information often associated with Irregular Warfare.

    We have come a long way in C4ISR, but we have failed to provide available information which these small tactical units need in near real time. My view is that this is not so much a matter of technology as it is poor acquisition decisions by the government bureaucrats who all too often accept industry solutions without making independent analysis what tactical forces really need and sound business decisions with full understanding of the technologies involved.

    In fairness to industry, one of the challenges here is the lack of DOD data standards related to C4ISR. US Joint Forces Command was working on establishing those standards, but that is a bit like herding cats, especially with the rice bowls and stovepipes which permeate our Intelligence Community. USJFCOM will be disestablished in a few months (for good reasons). The Joint Staff will now have to solve the C4ISR data standard problem. I hope they manage that better than they did the Joint Tactical Radio System program.

    Service culture also plays a role here. As just one example, consider the true story of US Army and US Marine Corps forces engaged in combat in Iraq, conducting parallel offensive operations towards Baghdad separated by a river taking fire from a common enemy in that river bed/valley. In some cases these Army and Marine units could not communicate directly with each other because the services had a different policy on personnel security clearances at small unit level.

  • Perhaps DoD can learn a few things from Apple.

    Time and again, the company has not so much invented brand-new things as designed user-oriented intgrated solutions that redefine the technology and its place in society. It maintains rigid control over specs, standards and secrets (try getting a non-spec iPhone app on the market) and spends billions developing proprietary tech, but long ago Apple dropped most of its NIH attitude. Yet it still is able to set up and maintain large, viable common domains it exclusively controls, such as iTunes and the iPad publishing platform.

    The DoD “brand” ought to stand for the best in the world at what it does, hard to get but a pleasure to use. Acquisition reform should include a look at Apple’s acquisition practices.