Home' Army Acquisition Logistics and Technology Magazine : Army ALT July-September 2017 Contents working through the little details to reach a production model.
It’s the ultimate soft start before milestone C and low-rate initial
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) needed to
put high-bandwidth communications for passengers on U.S. Air
Force C-17 aircraft. The prevailing wisdom called for adding
more international maritime satellite (INMARSAT) channels on
the plane. Rather than charging forward with an INMARSAT
upgrade, however, the J-6 (communications directorate) acquisi-
tion and technical leads conducted a network study. In that study,
they determined that more INMARSAT was a dead end: For the
foreseeable future, INMARSATs could not support the number
of channels needed.
After laying out all the options, they determined the solution was to
install a Ku-band high-bandwidth antenna on a number of C-17s.
Not an easy task, but by doing the network study up front, the J-6
had a plan for an appropriate network it could use—one that has
proven to be the right solution for the better part of a decade.
The J-6 technical lead had been putting other antennas on smaller
aircraft for some time, but to get it right, a request for information,
several vendor visits and an antenna study were used. Through this
process they discovered the only viable solution that was also suf-
ficiently low-risk. There were many opportunities to pick answers
that looked right before finding the ultimate solution, but after
closer inspection they would have cost far more and taken far lon-
ger than the budget allowed.
After the network study and the antenna study, when the J-6
acquisition lead approached the Air Force program office, the
estimate was six years and more than $50 million to modify 15
aircraft. Why? The answer was in the project framing. The pro-
gram structure proposed by the Air Force program office was to
hire a prime contractor, go through a traditional engineering and
manufacturing development phase, then enter production. This
left all the risk in the initial project plan, even after two studies.
The J-6 counterproposal was to work out the risk by taking it one
step at a time: First, an antenna placement study to determine
where on the aircraft the antenna should be located to minimize
technical risk and, therefore, cost. Second, a prototype effort that
modified three aircraft. Third, a kit-proof effort, which is the Air
Force equivalent of low-rate initial production. Finally, the full
production run. The approach was most aptly summed up by the
deputy J-6 as “going slow to go fast.”
The cost of the first three planes modified under the prototype
effort was $2.5 million each. The cost of the two planes modified
under the kit-proof effort was $2 million each. The effect of these
two risk reduction efforts was to bring the cost of the production
run of 10 planes down to $1.1 million each.
Remember, risk equals money. By breaking down the effort into
three phases, reducing the risk as the effort progressed, the cost
of the production run was cut in half. The original estimate of
six years and $50 million-plus was reduced to three years and
just under $25 million. Effectively, both the budget and schedule
were cut in half. The users were happy with their new capability,
and the Army leveraged the USSOCOM effort to produce its
Enroute Mission Command Capability for the XVIII Airborne
Corps’ Global Response Force.
Credibility cannot be built overnight, although it certainly can
be lost that fast. A successful foundation of credibility requires
building trust—trust built by consistently producing what you
said you would produce, in the time you said you would do it and
within the budget you were given. Cost, performance, schedule:
It’s more than a mantra, it’s your path to credibility.
For more information, read “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” by
Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling, or contact the
author at 703-806-0583 or joel.d .firstname.lastname@example.org.
COL. JOEL D. BABBITT is the product lead for Wideband
Enterprise Satellite Systems within the Program Executive Office
for Enterprise Information Systems at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He
previously served as the product manager for the Warfighter
Information Network – Tactical Increment 1 and the product
manager for command, control, communications, computing
and intelligence for a unit under the U.S . Special Operations
Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He holds a master’s
degree in computer science from the Naval Postgraduate School and
a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Brigham Young University,
and is a graduate of the U.S . Army Command and General Staff
College at Fort Lee, Virginia, and Austin, Texas. He is Level
III certified in program management and Level II certified in
engineering and in information technology. He holds the Project
Management Professional certification and is a member of the Army
Space Cadre and the Army Acquisition Corps.
92 Army AL&T Magazine
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