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The increased usage of commercial electronics in new DoD C31 systems has resulted in the need for adopting new methods of controlling system life cycle costs. High tech defense systems are facing upgrade or else situations due to the high price of obsolescence brought about by the rising cost of custom made electronics components and the fast pace of computer technology. Generally, these supportability upgrades now contain a high percentage of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components.

Rising Life Cycle Costs

Traditional military procurement has followed the path of military development optimization for mission requirements. Because nonmilitary applications were limited, the cost of development was absorbed in the process. AB a result of the ongoing reduction in defense spending, the Government has looked to new ways to maintain tactical capability while continuing to operate within declining budgets. The Government is, therefore, turning to the commercial world and its products to satisfy both goals. This is being accomplished by two methods: through the use of equipment with other applications whose general purpose can meet military objectives, and, by utilizing the faster development times being experienced for commercial electronic products. New system designs focus on affordability while leveraging and consolidating existing and future subsystems into a cohesive program. Use of Open Systems Architecture (OSA) is leading to the establishment of standard, commercially accepted interfaces for new or modified DoD electronics. In order to reduce recurring and life cycle costs, legacy system life cycle approaches now focus on transitioning current combat system hardware and software into COTS products.

Upgrade or Else

The rapid pace of obsolescence in commercial electronics means more frequent upgrades are required for long term sup-portability. Because the Government does not significantly influence the design of COTS products, the life cycle maintenance and modernization philosophy needs to be considered when selecting each item. A challenge in the COTS arena is the relatively short time available to acquire and field COTS equipment before obsolescence. This upgrade or else stance leaves little time for a traditional maintenance strategy.

Nontraditional Support Approach

Innovative and nontraditional support approaches are required for new acquisitions because of shortened schedules, technology driven configuration changes, and greatly extended requirements for service life. Several areas exist where system support will be affected by the broad use of COTS products and where traditional Navy maintenance and support concepts may not be effective. These areas are:

System design. Newly designed electronic systems will not be so much a large, fully integrated system as they will be a federation of reasonably independent subsystems. As a result, the prime contractor will function as an integrator and as a designer for these subsystems. Likewise, the Program Manager’s Office (PMO) will be more involved in coordination among the subsystem Participating Managers (PARM) and have less independence. Interface definition will require major effort and constant attention. Due to COTS product volatility, the system design phase will continue throughout system life requiring a life cycle designer.

Configuration management. The PMO will have less control over the configuration of a COTS-based system than it had previously because COTS product evolution will be driven by commercial market pressures rather than government design. Instead of specifying the desired design, the PMO must accept and adapt what is available. As a result, configuration management must be more flexible and more functional. Configuration status accounting must be faster and more accurate to provide configuration data for logistics, maintenance, and upgrade.

Life cycle estimating. COTS products will have a much shorter life cycle than a Mll.-SPEC system. Reasonably accurate estimating of a COTS product life cycle length is important for budgeting and planning of periodic support ability upgrades for the system. Accurate estimates will require a constant awareness of the progress of the commercial marketplace.

Maintenance philosophy. The traditional Navy three-level maintenance system will be hard to adapt to cars products. Few cars products should be repaired by organic resources and many will be cheaper to replace than to repair. Documentation and test equipment will be inferior to previous standards in that it will not be as comprehensive, nor will it be tailored to the military environment. The prime contractor should develop a new maintenance philosophy as the system is designed and built. This should include a system maintenance manual that specifies the level of repair and disposition of failed components of the cars products.

Supply Support. Form, fit, and function spare and replacement parts may vary from vendor to vendor, and perhaps lot to lot from the same vendor. To ensure that new parts function in the system, testing will be required at levels far exceeding the levels needed previously, and parts interchangeability must be accurately specified.

Controlling System Life Cycle Costs

Since the cost profile of a system is determined near the beginning of the life cycle, new strategies need to be considered early on. The primary points of this recommended life cycle strategy are:

  • Defined maintenance and modernization evaluation criteria
  • COTS-compatible configuration management plan
  • cars knowledgeable In-Service Engineering Agent (ISEA)
  • Integrated tested for hardware and software evaluations.

Maintenance and moderation evaluation criteria. Ongoing market assessments, based upon maintenance and modernization evaluation criteria, are essential to ensure system support ability and continued satisfactory performance of the system in the out years. Because cars life cycles are frequently only a fraction of the system life cycle, a series of support ability upgrades must be planned and budgeted. Well-defined maintenance and modernization evaluation criteria are critical to make this upgrade strategy work.

The expected service life of COTS hardware and software products varies from product to product, but COTS products are normally expected to be supportable for one generation after the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) delivers the product (typically S to 10 years). This is important to remember because the OEM, rather than the PMO, is likely to repair failed products. A two-level maintenance approach will likely be necessary. Operator-level maintenance should consist of troubleshooting to the lowest replaceable unit (LRU). Defective components should be discarded or returned to the intermediate maintenance and repair activity for repair. Repairs should take advantage of the commercial service, repair, and spare parts distribution systems that support the equipment, which should have been identified during the market investigation. Near the end of the supported product life, the fielded failure rate of a product needs to be reviewed. As a result, appropriate actions need to be taken to ensure spares are available until the product is replaced during a support ability upgrade.

COTS-compatible configuration management plan. The success of COTS supportability depends on the success of the COTS-based program’s configuration management (CM) plan. The goal of a CM plan for a system composed of many cars products is to maintain an accurate record of the configuration of each existing subsystem and component. Although this goal is similar to the traditional CM goal, COTS CM will be more dynamic and will be a more functional role than an administrative one. A COTS-based system will be undergoing constant change and evolution. Many system configurations will exist in parallel. Spare parts and maintenance support will depend on accurate documentation and knowledge of each system’s configuration.

COTS knowledgeable In-Service Engineering Agent (ISEA). An important aspect of cars equipment life cycle support is the selection of the ISEA. The ISEA will be the activity that applies a systematic evaluation approach for determining appropriate repair and replacement items. Because of the ISEA’s involved role in both the system development and life cycle management, careful consideration should be given to what activity is selected as the system ISEA. After the prime contractor develops and builds the system, the ISEA operates an Integrated Test Facility (ITF). This ITF should be used for the certification phase throughout the system life.

Integrated tested for hardware and software evaluation. The ITF is a key element in successful COTS equipment employment and support. It will be used to perform product evaluations during the initial selection and subsequent system or subsystem upgrades. The facility will provide the PMO insight into the capabilities of any given product to meet the system requirements. It implements after-before-buy philosophy that has been successful in many other military programs with extensive equipment procurement production. The ITF should be used throughout the life cycle of the system or subsystems to (1) evaluate new or replacement products; (2) conduct operational tests simulating a mission environment; and (3) certify the correct operation of any products that have changed since the last time they were procured or repaired. Because the PMO will have less control over changes to COTS products. the ITF is the mechanism to ensure the correct operation of a changed product before purchasing a large quantity.

COTS Supportability is the Key

Since a growing percentage of new and legacy C3I electronics systems is made up of COTS, implementation of a cohesive approach toward COTS supportability is the key to controlling system life cycle costs. Faced with an upgrade or else proposition to avoid wholesale system obsolescence, more systems are incorporating large amounts of COTS products. The long term implications of incorporating more of these commercial products into defense requires new innovative and cost effective approaches to ensure DoD systems remain viable.


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