Proving the Possible: Commercial Design for Military Applications
As a former Executive Level Defense Acquisition leader, I spent years translating military capability requirements into rigid military standards for the development, manufacturing and eventual fielding of a system. The Department of Defense has a well-established system development process (DOD Instruction 5000.02, Operation of the Defense Acquisition System) that delineates how a military system, regardless of complexity, is to be developed. This process, known as the Acquisition Management System, is designed to enable the military to analyze any alternatives or options that can be put in place with existing material, or non-material solutions, in lieu of creating a new system. This process applies to almost anything in the military inventory from planes to missiles to individual equipment. The intent of this complex process is to ensure the proper utilization of public funds; however, it takes years and high levels of human and capital resources to obtain a final material solution. Over the last three decades, federal acquisition reform has helped somewhat to streamline this process. Unfortunately, the continued use of this model is not effective in an era of instant communications, social media collaboration networks and a seamless global industrial capability. Seventy percent of current Western Nations’ military systems were conceptualized three decades ago following this very same process.
Currently, there is a paradigm shift occurring globally. Departments and Ministries of Defense of western nations are leveraging commercial design as a means to inject emerging technology quicker and more cost effectively. These practices mitigate the risk of system obsolescence because of continued rapid technological growth fueled by Academia and Research & Development entities. For example, the threat of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) forced the United States to seek emerging technologies in support of combat operations. This resulted in the rapid procurement of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles.
This innovative ground vehicle design emerged from commercial technology originally developed in South Africa. The US DOD proved to itself that with a true streamlining of the acquisition/procurement system they can get this new technology to the hands of the warfighter within 24 months rather than a full 15-20 year Acquisition Cycle.
The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) leads the entire federal government in leveraging innovative and collaborative acquisition processes to obtain globally available cutting edge technologies in months, rather than years. Under US Code Title X, Section 167, the USSOCOM has been delegated the responsibility to develop and acquire special operations peculiar equipment, material, supplies and services. This authority does not exempt them from following the DODI 5000.02 guidelines. However, their innovative horizontal acquisition structure enables them to develop military systems in a streamlined fashion.
This results in an extremely fast moving procurement organization that truly leverages the “Prove the Possible” concept from industry. Additionally, the cost associated with the lengthy government R&D, testing and evaluation are mitigated, resulting in significant cost savings. In fact, most of the systems, technologies, or capabilities developed by USSOCOM eventually transition into the conventional Armed Forces. This success in leveraging commercial design and practices is not limited to weapon systems.
Their innovative Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) program continues to save countless lives in combat operations since its fielding in 2006. This program went from conceptualization to material solution fielding in less than 12 months. It included newly developed trauma management technologies, pain management drugs and techniques never before used in the battlefield. This was possible by partnering with industry and other federal agencies such as DEA and FDA. These medical solutions and techniques are now used by the rest of DOD and civilian emergency management agencies across the United States.
USSOCOM’s latest effort, the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS), seeks to collaborate with global commercial industry partners to pursue the latest applicable technologies. This effort is resulting in a never before seen collaboration consortium of relevant industries pursuing a common goal. Although a similar exoskeleton project has been in the research stages under DARPA for the past 20 years, USSOCOM’s vision is to have a viable prototype within 5 years. As an example of leveraging commercial design, ROBRADY design, based in Sarasota Florida, is a key collaboration partner in the TALOS project – along with their sister company focused on military programs, ARMORIT. Their value-add within this consortium focuses on the industrial design, ergonomic and the man-machine interface of the TALOS system. Over 30 individual commercial and academia entities are collaborating on this project.
In my opinion, the strategy of utilizing proven commercial practices, solutions and emerging technologies should be the new acquisition model for today’s global industrial collaboration networks. The global capability of instant communications and social media network collaboration clearly re-defines how defense systems will be designed, manufactured and fielded in the future. System design maturation is now measured in months rather than decades because of these phenomena. As such, having an archaic federal acquisition model not only wastes time and money, but creates military systems that are close to obsolete by the time they are available for use to the modern Warfighter.
> To learn more about Jose and BWM Global Solutions visit http://www.bwmglobalsolutions.com/