DOD looks to make joint IT buys

America's armed forces will soon have to consider how purchases of information technology would support joint forces.

The new guidelines are part of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instruction (CJCSI) 3170 Requirements Generation System, which defines how acquisitions made by one service will affect other services. The existing system is largely modular: Each service acquires systems based on its own needs and only later considers joint applications. The process has made it difficult to create interoperable systems that would support a joint war effort.

"We are basically rewriting CJCSI 3170 to reflect the vision the joint chiefs have for truly joint armed services," said Army Col. James Shufelt, head of the Combat Identification Assessment Division for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "It marks a fundamental shift in the way services will do business."

Opponents of the status quo argue that the current version puts a low priority on joint warfighting demands, frequently produces stand-alone systems and does not eliminate duplicative purchases.

The new instruction has been under revision and review for more than a year, and combatant commanders will critique it before it is finalized. Shufelt said he expects the guidelines to be completed this summer and the new instruction to be in place by the end of the year.

According to the instruction, all acquisitions will have to pass through a functional capabilities board to determine which services could benefit, said Navy Capt. Michael Mara, who works alongside Shufelt for the joint chiefs. Mara said that even acquisitions that would, on the surface affect only one service will be reviewed for potential joint applications.

"If the Navy wants to purchase a new type of propeller for one of their boats, that acquisition will first have to be vetted through the functional capabilities board in order to determine if the acquisition could have joint applications," Mara said. "Chances are it would not, but something like a handheld radio could be a different story. The board will review the acquisition and make that determination."

That degree of scrutiny will probably rarely occur because the instruction is designed to address acquisition programs, and not the acquisition of pieces and parts, said Ric Sylvester, deputy director for acquisition workforce and career management at the Office of Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy.

Under the new instruction, acquisitions that have a joint component will receive spending priority.

"In the 'old days,' [developing] joint requirements could be expensive," Shufelt said. "Under the new 3170, if an acquisition is joint, it will go into the system almost regardless of cost. What we're saying is that an acquisition must be joint from the beginning, not by serendipity or crowbar."

The Defense Department, Joint Forces Command, combatant commanders from each of the services and several other groups within DOD are determining the criteria in the new instruction.

Late last year, DOD started revamping the 5000 series policies that outline the process for buying and managing several major systems, including automated information systems. With the update to the DOD 5000 series and the upcoming 3170, Shufelt said vendors and defense personnel should begin studying the new processes to prepare for their enactment.

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