Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Needing reform

Posted by John McHale

Last week I was struck by how the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense (MOD) is behind on acquisition reform, not having anything like a block upgrade or other type of incremental acquisition.

During a presentation at the Avionics conference in Amsterdam, Netherlands, engineers from the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) discussed their efforts to integrate COTS electronicsinto military avionics systems and manage the obsolescence issues that go along with it.

According to them the MOD uses mid-life upgrades, that have long intervals between them, which causes major obsolescence issues as the parts from the last upgrade are no longer supported by the time the next upgrade comes around.

Yes, block upgrades put even more pressure on maintaining the life cycle of components, but that is necessary if systems are to have the latest technology deployed to the field.

For acquisition, the U.S. Department of Defense uses what they call spiral development, which breaks down program development into blocks that incrementally add capability to the program every year or so. This gets new systems into the hands of warfighters more quickly and helps battle the obsolescence problem of COTS components by upgrading them more frequently.

It also enables designers to get feedback from those using the systems in the field.

However, block upgrades can also be confusing to suppliers and newcomers to the industry as there are so many variants and requirements for each block.

I think the gentlemen from Dstl would welcome that type of incremental technology insertion, but kudos to them finding innovative ways to integrate modern military avionics despite the MOD's slow-moving procurement structure.

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