So enthusiastic are Defense Department officials about commercial,
off-the-shelf (COTS) technology that they are revising the department's
acquisition directives and instructions known as the 5000 series-often
called the "Bible" for military acquisition-to make it
easier for the services to use such products.
The 5000 series dates back to the Nixon administration and has
been updated every few years, as circumstances warrant, Joseph Ferrara,
deputy undersecretary of defense for policy initiatives, told the
NDIA's Science & Technology Conference, held recently at the
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.
The new version, he said, will focus on faster delivery of advanced
technology to war fighters. The revised series is intended to speed
up both the acquisition of demonstrated technologies and the test-and-evaluation
process for emerging systems, Ferrara said.
The new 5000 series will contain a statement on the importance
of science and technology in the defense acquisition process-something
not found in earlier versions-Ferrara said.
The changes are intended to enable industry to provide "improved
performance, including quality, at lower cost," he said. "What
we want from the requirements community (the users) is some idea
of how much we should pay."
The new process will be more flexible, emphasizing "interoperability,
supportability and affordability," Ferrara said. Under the
new 5000 guidelines, he explained, key acquisition decisions and
long-term funding commitments may not be made until the technology
in question matures enough for the risks involved to be better understood
than has traditionally been the case.
"In fact, later is better," Ferrara said, since it reduces
the time between when funding must be committed and when the product
actually reaches the user.
Military systems are increasingly reliant upon COTS equipment-especially
in such fields as communications and satellites-officials told the
"Without the commercial technology out there, we could never
hope to achieve information superiority," noted Navy Rear Adm.
Robert M. Nutwell, deputy assistant secretary of defense for command,
control, communications, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance
(C3ISR) and space.
Information superiority, in military parlance, is "the capability
to collect, process and disseminate an uninterrupted flow of information,
while exploiting or denying an adversary's ability to do the same."
The Pentagon's increasing dependence on off-the-shelf technology
for such purposes is creating "huge commercial opportunities,"
Nutwell said, in such fields as:
"IT-21 is an excellent example," said Nutwell. IT-21-formally
known as Information Technology for the 21st Century-uses COTS technology
to link the U.S. Pacific Command to all of its components and joint
task force commanders.
IT-21 has played a major role, Nutwell said, in the Navy's effort
to intercept oil smuggled out of Iraq.
"It has speeded up the communications process between those
forces who find out where these guys are going and those who have
to be ready to intercept them," he explained.
This "evolutionary" approach to acquisition doesn't suit
everyone, Ferrara said. Some on Capitol Hill, he noted, were worried
that the changes would weaken congressional oversight. Also, he
said, the user community is skeptical.
Nutwell agreed, citing a number of "challenges and issues."
"That tends to level the playing field. How do we deal with
that? We can do it, if we just think it through."