The COTS Wagon Keeps On Rolling…But Is Anyone Watching?

Jul 02

It is inevitable that the Services Acquisition Commands continue to focus on employing COTS products in the design of their new weapons systems and key infrastructure; this is aligned with the focus of Secretary Gates and Undersecretary Carter to reduce costs, but retain the military’s effectiveness.

Below are two recent acquisition initiatives at employing COTS products. I know of no DoD study that annually measuring the COTS content of new weapon systems…if there is none, one should be started.

1. The U.S. Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) is placing orders under the Common Afloat Local Area Network Infrastructure (CALI). Under the CALI contracts, contractors will provide ships and submarines with Common Computing Environment (CCE) Components, Integrated Logistics Support (ILS), Configuration Management (CM), Test and Evaluation (T&E), Quality Assurance (QA), and Installation Support. Each contractor will deliver a secure, commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware, software and networking equipment. Each CALI contract has a total potential value of $502 million if all options are exercised. 

2. The Air Force is working on the Common Large Area Display Set (CLADS) acquisition program to replace aging CRTs in the Airborne Warning   And Control System (AWACS) aircraft with one of three flat-screen technologies: active matrix LCD (AMLCD), gas plasma, or a digital micro-mirror device. “The heart and soul of this is COTS, with some heavy ruggedization to operate under depressurization. The prices we`re seeing coming in the door are a third of what the old technology stuff now costs,” Bill Sirmon, a civilian contract negotiator at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins Air Force Base, Ga. Aboard the AWACS now are CRTs that operate for about 300 hours between failures; the new products are planned to increase that operating time to 3,000 to 5,000 hours between failures.

Tweaking COTS Products To Become MOTS Products

Jun 07

A Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) product employed in a weapon system for economic or acquisition cycle time reasons, may not meet some of the more demanding requirements of the traditional military Developmental Item. Military Off The Shelf (MOTS) products are COTS products that meet the rigors of a Development Item. There are opportunities in which COTS products can become MOTS products as discussed below by Brig. Gen. Michael Brogan, Commander of the Marine Corps System Command (PEO for MRAP) during a NDIA conference.

“Acceleration is the most significant casualty-producing mechanism in our combat vehicles when hitting IEDs. Vehicles caught in a bomb blast experience two acceleration events: one is in an upward direction after the blast goes off. Its duration is between 40 to 50 milliseconds. The second event, when the vehicle returns to the ground and stops abruptly, is analogous to an automobile accident and last roughly 200 milliseconds.

That first 40-millisecond event is causing the majority of the casualties. People say automotive airbags can’t do that because they operate in that second event, that 200-millisecond event. Does it, or is that the way we’ve done that? In our litigious society, have we dumbed-down our airbags, have we slowed their speed of deployment to prevent the vehicle occupant from having his nose broken or glasses broken? Could we tune these up to get closer to that 40-millisecond event, recognizing that we would be accepting of minor injury to prevent much more serious injuries.”

The question is how many COTS products could be tweaked to become MOTS products….and can our enemies figure that out before we can…and as a result cause our warfighters harm?

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