ded reckoning

The Militaristic, Environmental, Telecom blog that doesn't know where it's going

15 March 2005

Out-contracting the Defense Contractors

There is a lot more activity going on in using commercial technology adapted to military needs now that strictly military development programs are so expensive and take so long to yeild results. While "COTS" Commercial-off-the-shelf is a '90s concept is is getting much more attention now that there is a war on.

Some lads at the Navy Postgraduate School in Monterray are using their heads incoming up with an innovative use of Wimax as a military communications technology. Their idea is particularly relevant given the problems JTRS is having and with the (overly hyped) focus on Network Centric Warfare.

Doucet said Redline, which supplied the gear Guice and Munoz used in field tests for their thesis, was interested in the DOD market and would not discourage possible licensing discussions to incorporate the company's 802.16 waveforms and MAC into JTRS.

Another program showing what can be done quickly is the Joint Network Node (JNN) being deployed in Iraq with 3rd ID. This replacement for the Mobile Subscriber Equipment (MSE) which, as the name suggests, is a deployable version of the GSM cellular standard that the Army uses (I never used it, but heard about it during the first Gulf War, it was developed by the Brits and French and bought by the Army. Some kind of radio net used outside the usual tactical radio network at BN levels, at least that was how I saw it, but I could be wrong). Whatever it is, the replacement sounds very COTS to me:

JNN’s equipment includes 2651 and 3725 series routers, 2950 and 3750 Ethernet switches and VG248 gateway voice equipment from Cisco; Promina 400 broadband services delivery platforms from; HDX PBX switches from Redcom; and NetScreen 25 and 5XT firewalls from Juniper.

JNN was developed by General Dynamics, a traditional contractor but they put the system together in a few months, and it, "gives soldiers more mobile communications than MSE-Tritac did but not as much as the future Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T)." WIN-T being one of the components of JTRS. Sounds like one of the 80% solutions that most procurment reformers like to talk about.

To top it all off, there are problems with the big government, big contractor JTRS and FCS programs. JTRS is meant to replace every radio with new Software Defined Radios that use commercial electronics and customized software. A good idea but one that is not going along too well, as the Army had to stop work on the first tranche of the system this past January. Fred Kaplan (a guy who is wrong about the military as much as he is right) writes about FCS here, and notes that it will fail without JTRS. Problems with FCS deserve a book, so I won't beat is down now.

Nonetheless, JTRS is a good solution that is being implement on a gigantic scale when is should be small scale, skunk-works type stuff, rather than out of a suffocating 1000 person program office, or whatever they use these days to manage it. Like, say, the Iridium phone with GPS (pdf) that the Marine Corps developed and depoloyed to Afghanistan and Iraq in less than a year. It basically provides handheld Satcom/Position Reporting to a squad in the field. Iridium being the commercially developed satellite cell phone system Motorola developed that failed economically just after putting their satellites in orbit. Of course, later they were rescued by the military buying their MOUs. I am sure there are squad leaders in the mountains of the Hindu Kush, happy to have good comm when they need it--as long as it doesn't cause their Company CO to micro-manage them at least.

But all this gets wrapped up neatly by the guys at StrategyPage with a recent article I noticed at Instapundit. The full link is here where troops and others are starting to notice how the poorly run, long drawn out big contractor programs take forever to get stuff to the field, while the off-the-shelf route delivers in spades. Lets hope this is an expanding trend, and not one where the defense contractors just jump on the bandwagon like they did with "military transformation," where things like the F-ayy-22 came from.


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