by LTC Ken O’Donnell
Adaptive behavior is the ability to adjust based on dif ferent circumstances and changing conditions. Yet despite our Soldiers’ remarkable ability to adapt on the battlefield, the Army acquisition process that supports them has traditionally been anything but flexible.
Organizational and business process barriers, while well-intended, too often prevent us from leveraging current technological innovations and impede success. To meet the urgent modernization requirements of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army used the flexibility of contingency funding and operational necessity to deliver capabilities rapidly to the field. With the winding down of those conflicts, the need for modernization remains. The challenge now is to define a process that enables success within the current materiel enterprise framework.
This need for new equipment will be even harder to fill as the defense budget shrinks. To achieve its modernization objectives, the Army acquisition community must radically change the way it delivers capability to the operating forces from start to finish. The Agile Process is the centerpiece of our effort to procure critical capabilities in a more rapid, cost-effective manner, while ensuring technical maturity and integration to a degree that did not always occur over the past decade. Figure 1 on Page 24 shows the phases of the Agile Process.
INTEGRATING THE NETWORK
Currently, the tactical communications network is a top Army modernization priority, so it has become the first target for this change. With network technology making a generational leap at least every 18 months, the Army can keep pace only by synchronizing with industry and leveraging their innovation while adopting an “incremental” approach to modernization through Capability Set Management.
We have started the process by establishing an integrated network baseline made up of existing programs of record (PORs), as well as industry solutions to fill documented capability gaps. This baseline has taken shape through the Network Integration Evaluations (NIEs), semiannual events designed to quickly integrate and mature the tactical communications network. The events use an operational brigade combat team to execute realistic mission scenarios, assessing new network capabilities and determining whether they perform as needed and can interoperate with other systems.
Establishing an integrated network baseline allows the Army to define the technical standards for network infrastructure, applications, and mission command systems that give industry a blueprint toward which to build. A key step will be implementation of the Common Operating Environment (COE),
Manual for the Operation of the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (online at
which establishes computing technologies and standards that allow the rapid development and execution of secure and interoperable applications across a variety of computing environments (CEs).
Having established the integrated network baseline and the COE standards, we can then modernize the network through Capability Set Management. Instead of developing a requirement for a single capability and then buying as many as are needed upfront, we will build and procure capability sets.
Treating network capability as a cohesive portfolio, Capability Set Management evaluates the current operational environment, then selects a suite of systems or capabilities and equipment to answer the projected requirements over a two-year period. This incremental modernization will allow the Army to buy fewer but more often, to help ensure that we leverage industry advancements and keep up with the pace of changing technology. These capability sets will be validated through the NIE and delivered in alignment with Army Force Generation requirements to provide the most current capability to those who need it, when they need it.
Incremental modernization will rely on the aforementioned baseline. However, as these POR systems change, they can be managed under a new “IT Box” construct, as described in the recently updated
https://www.intelink.gov/wiki/JCIDS_Manual#Latest_Approved_JCIDS_Documents), “to provide IS [information systems] programs with greater flexibility to incorporate evolving technologies, and achieve faster responses from requirement validation processes than is typical for other kinds of materiel or non-materiel solutions.”
INSTITUTING THE AGILE PROCESS
Leveraging the IT Box, the Army can adjust requirements, procure, and field with minimal delays, incorporating capabilities as they mature or upgrading them as necessary as long as they continue to meet the identified minimum standard.
Like any fundamental change, the Agile Process has not been implemented overnight. With our industry partners, the Army is learning from the NIE efforts and applying those lessons to improve the process and its outcomes. The Agile Process and the NIE mature with each cycle. Figure 2 on Page 26 shows how the NIE synchronizes with the Agile Process.
As a result of industry feedback, the Army is committed to ensuring that NIE assessment reports and laboratory feedback are provided within weeks after the evaluations. We know we must provide feedback to industry on system performance in a timelier manner to help industry adjust systems and to better align their research and development resources.
We are also aware of the investment that small and large businesses are making in the Agile Process, and the Army is working processes to help lower the bar for industry to participate in NIE. These include taking steps that could allow the Army to buy prototypes when multiple systems are needed for evaluation;instituting methods to offset the costs of labor and field service representatives; and working with the Army’s science and technology community to explore small business grants and development agreements that can help offset small business costs. Flexibility is paramount to maturing this process and developing more than one avenue to evaluate emerging technologies.
The most recent evaluation, NIE 12.2 in spring 2012, was also the first time the Army employed all early phases of the Agile Process. It was the first NIE for which the Army has used new laboratories at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD, to their full capability, conducting
assessments and mitigating risk before executing an NIE. Over the course of several months, that activity narrowed the list of government and industry candidates participating in the field exercise, and lessened the integration burden for the Soldiers and engineers who executethe NIE at Fort Bliss, TX, and White Sands Missile Range, NM.
We are also making progress in formalizing the precise mechanisms whereby contracts can emerge from the Agile Process. To meet the requirement forfull and open competition, the Army is developing a request for proposal(s) process to award contracts to those candidates selected to participate in an NIE. Awarding NIE support contracts will provide flexibility to engage with industry partners to provide the right quantity of
systems and subsequent level of support, leading to a more valuable NIE. Each NIE support contract will contain a production option that can be exercised for procuring a system in quantities required for fielding to support the next instantiation of the Capability Set integrated network baseline.
This approach allows the Army to remain technologically relevant while showing a commitment to industry development and the Agile Process.
Changing acquisition processes will taketime, but the Army is absolutely committed to changing how we test, acquire, and field capabilities to the Soldier, starting with the network.
The development of an agile, adaptive acquisition methodology allows the Army to respond to the evolution of technology, leverage the industrial base, and refocus priorities based on operational needs.
This effort will fulfill Soldiers’ needs for modernized equipment on the unpredictable, asymmetric battlefields of today and tomorrow.
For more information on recent developments in the Agile Process, go tohttp://www.bctmod.army.mil/SoSI/sosi.html.LTC KEN O’DONNELL is Chief, Integrated Planning for the System of Systems Integration Directorate of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology. He holds a B.B.A. in human resource management from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and an M.S. in information systems engineering from George Mason University. O'Donnell is Level III certified in prog ram management.