Calling all COTSStory
May 09, 2008
In this magazine we focus on COTS and technology for the entire military life cycle and it says so right on the cover. While I prefer to emphasize the life cycle part of our mission statement with stories such as our new guest column series Legacy Software Migration, Commercial Off-The-Shelf plays a huge part of what we write about.
In this magazine we focus on COTS and technology for the entire military life cycle and it says so right on the cover. While I prefer to emphasize the life cycle part of our mission statement with stories such as our new guest column series Legacy Software Migration, Commercial Off-The-Shelf plays a huge part of what we write about. If recent conferences and trade shows are any indication, more companies than ever want to sell their COTS wares to the military. But as always, there's good news and bad news.
First the bad news. Congress and the GAO are waking up to a squad-sized list of military programs that have gone way over budget. Even at a time when the DoD has doubled planned expenditures on new weapons from $790 billion in 2000 to a whopping $1.6 trillion in 2007 (Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology, April 7, 2008), the GAO recently reported widespread skepticism at successful program outcomes. Sixty-three percent of the programs reviewed had cost increases. Moreover, parsing the data further, many of these problems can be attributed to design changes, some of which certainly can be blamed on COTS. Part of the problem is how out-of-phase the commercial market technology cycle is with the military's long life cycle of intolerably slow steps from concept to fielding.
Let's look at the WIN-T program as an example. The Warfighter Information Network-Tactical is a key component of the Army's Future Combat Systems ‚arguably the United States' biggest defense program ever. The ORD for WIN-T was written in June 1999 to provide a tactical telecommunications infrastructure as part of the GIG, "Joint Vision 2010" and the "Army 2010 and Beyond" vision. But as recently as March 2008, the DoD published a Selected Acquisition Report (SAR) on WIN-T, which is mandated when a program experiences at least a 15 percent cost increase or schedule delays of at least six months.
General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and other teammates were awarded the development contract for WIN-T in September 2004, which was estimated to cost $7 billion through 2018. Initial Operational Capability (IOC) was slated for 2008. Since 2004, the program has been sliced into several pieces, including Increment 1 (formerly Joint Network Node) and Increment 2 (Initial Networking on the Move), both of which recently fell under the SAR's black mark. In the meantime, also in March 2008 GD won a contract for 299 Satellite Transportable Terminals (STTs) totaling $108 million. And what about the whole WIN-T program? Pundits now estimate the program will cost about $17 billion when complete more than double the original estimate.
To be fair, the military's needs have slid to the right, too. Do some technical digging into this fairly complex program and two things become apparent: First, since WIN-T is fundamentally a telecom network, it's loaded with COTS equipment such as CompactPCI (now AdvancedTCA), WindowsXP (now Vista), and Intel Pentium processors (now Core 2 Duo). Secondly, as the Internet has changed, so have the Army's expectations for connectivity and content - from voice and primitive data, to Blue Force Tracking, moving GPS-enabled maps, and live video feeds - causing a near constant escalation in the composition of COTS equipment. Add all of this up and the conclusion is that COTS is both a blessing and a curse.
But everyone wants in. Our war fighters can't live without COTS technology, and the vendor community is anxious to oblige. Intel, for example, never warmed up to GEIA's AQEC quasi-MIL-SPEC way of building semiconductors, but the company recently announced a life-cycle extension to seven years for devices on the company's "Embedded Roadmap." Military, medical, and industrial markets are the prime recipients of Intel's largesse.
Additionally, at last week's Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose, California, attendees couldn't walk 10 feet without tripping over another vendor's hardware or software product that was "ruggedized," targeting "extended temperatures," or directly marketed to "military applications." Pictures of AH-1 helicopters, F-22 Raptors, and Aegis destroyers on vendor booth signs were astounding, considering that ESC isn't a military show.
Germany's Kontron Modular Computers, for example, recently completed the acquisition of France's $40 million Thales Computers (www.mil-embedded.com/news/db/?10811). Although both companies are international, Kontron marketing executives told me that Thales was targeted specifically to get Kontron back into the U.S. VME defense business. Similarly, Taiwan-based ADLINK surprised the market last month by acquiring PC/104 inventor Ampro Computers for $20 million. In a conversation with ADLINK's U.S. general manager, I learned that the acquisition was motivated primarily to broaden ADLINK into the U.S. defense market. Ampro's 70 employees give ADLINK a solid footprint on U.S. soil and the possibility to target the company's small form factor boards and systems into hard-core DoD programs.
And there are more examples. Sun started the JSR302 safety-critical Java effort partly to offer a migration path for the military away from Ada. HP printer RTOS supplier Express Logic is finding a tidy little business putting ThreadX into space probes. Will we see an end to this COTS proliferation? I doubt it, and future defense requirements will continue to call on COTS.
Chris A. Ciufo Group Editorial Director [email protected]