Competitive Prototyping ‘Brings Out the Best’ in Contractors
By Sandra I. Erwin
As a result of massive cost overruns and performance failures in major weapon systems, the Pentagon is now requiring competing contractors to build real-world functioning prototypes of their proposed hardware. The idea is to test each prototype rigorously and make sure it does the job before the government commits big money.
It appears that this new approach, at least for the Army, is working splendidly.
“I was skeptical at first,” said Col. William Riggins, one of the Army’s program managers for soldier technologies. He is overseeing a competition among three contractor teams for a “ground soldier system” — a suite of computers and sensors that will be worn by infantry troops.
“When you have three times the number of contracts to award, you have three times the administration associated with that,” Riggins said. “Initially, I was not happy.” But nine months into the competition, his mind has changed. “I’m pretty happy with the competitive nature of what we’re doing. It’s brought out the best in contractors … They look for ways to be innovative, cut costs. They listen to soldiers … It’s been a surprisingly good experience.”