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Pentagon Official Outlines Advantages of Open Architecture

By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 12, 2013 – Weapons systems upgrades and access to wider innovation requires a keener approach in design interfaces, particularly their functional and physical improvements, the assistant secretary of defense for acquisition said today during Defense Daily’s Open Architecture Summit.

During her keynote speech, Katrina G. McFarland described open architecture as the rapid insertion of technologies with a focus on growth of capability in a system’s functional design to maintain optimal performance for the warfighter.

“When we buy systems, … we have to maintain and hold [them] for a long period of time without being able to upgrade, because we’re locked into a design,” McFarland said. “I want to have the ability to pull [a] component out and upgrade it in the future.”

Whether for a gun that fires multiple rounds or a sensor with greater frequency bands, McFarland said, the Defense Department will seek to enhance a system’s capability to preserve its investment principal, which she said will, in turn, help the department keep its competitive edge.

From a business perspective, she continued, open architecture enables engineers to build the next-generation system while fielding a current system, creating opportunities for competition and controlling long-term costs. “The challenge as an engineer is to create that architecture so that it allows for growth for interoperability as well as systems performance,” McFarland said.

The assistant secretary acknowledged the complexities of interoperability, specifically the need for swift, quality communication among multiple weapons systems. “That architecture is hard,” she said. “It’s meaningful, but it’s hard.”

McFarland said she’s worked diligently on the Defense Acquisition Board in the creation of interfaces to determine the best method of purchasing data rights from industry and inserting them into systems. Many didn’t understand their rights to assert for use of intellectual property and data rights, she said.

“[It’s] important for us to fully understand, because we are … serving the public with funds to create capability for our nation,” McFarland said. “We want to make use of public money the best way we can.”

And fortunately, McFarland asserted, industry is rising to task.

“Not only are they doing it, but they’re doing it faster, because they recognize this is a very good way of preserving their engineering expertise,” McFarland said. “Instead of waiting for the next opportunity to come along, … they’re actually doing something to build for the next capability – and it’s critical for our future.”

As some leadership views evolve to reflect strengthening of engineering expertise during downsizing, companies that have invested in research and development nonetheless have come out ahead, McFarland. But open architecture wasn’t an overnight epiphany, she noted, adding that continuous process improvement has been a mainstay for about 40 years.

Among the more visible examples of that, McFarland said, is the Defense Department’s Better Buying Power initiative, now on its second iteration, which pared some 312 DOD initiatives to 23.

One initiative of note is “achieving affordable programs,” which McFarland described as often misunderstood, because it is more about determining how a program fits into a service branch’s needs, versus simply seeking cost reduction.

But in other initiatives to reduce spending, McFarland said, the Government Accountability Office announced this year that DOD had beaten independent cost estimates by a couple of points. “We want to see that emphasized throughout the department and reduce redundancy,” McFarland said. Those savings should continue through sustained efforts to explain cost burdens to industry, she added.

McFarland noted the challenges of contracting and emphasized the importance of the Defense Department relating to industry what it really needs and providing incentive for industry to meet those outcomes by engaging with the people involved.

“If you really are in the process of exploration [and] innovation [for] complex weapons systems, you may seek best value,” she said. “You may put an affordability cap on the table to industry, but you may make trades.”

She cited an example that she called a “remarkable effort” -- the Air Force’s Three Dimensional Expeditionary Long-Range Radar, or 3DELRR, a next-generation mobile, long-range surveillance system.

“The folks in the Air Force really got it,” McFarland said, lauding their “bright minds and uniquely innovative ideas on how to get best value on the table.”

That type of trade space gives industry the opportunity to bring innovative ideas to the table, but understanding what is technically acceptable before building is vital in that best-value equation, McFarland said.

“These tools are there to provide an opportunity incentive to industry to be still innovative while money disappears,” McFarland said. “And architecture is definitively one of those areas.”

(Follow Amaani Lyle on Twitter: @lyleAFPS)


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Katrina G. McFarland

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