Industry at odds over architecture groups

A new committee launched this month by leading defense contractors and aimed at forging an open architecture and standards to ensure that future battle systems can communicate more effectively could also stop Boeing Co.'s ambition to form a similar working group, industry insiders said.

On the surface, the goal of the new Net-Centric Operations Industry Forum to foster interoperability makes sense. But some participants' objectives could be to box the large Chicago-based aerospace and defense company into a corner. Boeing officials announced the Strategic Architecture Consortium with Industry in March.

"When Boeing won the Army's Future Combat Systems lead systems integrator contract in 2002, it thought it could control the world," said an industry official who requested anonymity. "It now wants to control everyone else."

A company official said that assumption is false.

"Whenever you propose something new, you get some push-back," said Carl O'Berry, vice president of strategic architecture at Boeing's Integrated Defense Systems division in St. Louis.

Boeing's competitors, however, disagree.

The National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) established the forum earlier this month. When asked if some in industry are using the forum to counter Boeing's proposed consortium, David Chesebrough, president of the NDIA-affiliated group, said, "You could get that impression. But I believe that is not the case."

There also is a need for a broader, more open industry forum on architecture that the consortium cannot provide, he said.

An association forum can create broad inclusion with no barriers to entry, unlike a consortium that is less broad and requires companies to be invited, Chesebrough said. NDIA forum participation did not require association membership, he said.

"Our priority is to present a balanced, neutral and objective industry view on net-centric issues," Chesebrough said.

Military and industry officials approached NDIA this summer to launch the new working group, defense insiders said.

"This committee was established under the Association for Enterprise Integration and is aligned with NDIA's mission to provide a legal and ethical framework for the interchange of ideas between government and industry," Chesebrough said in an Oct. 6 statement.

However, the NDIA-led committee likely started after Boeing 7 solicited companies to join the Strategic Architecture Consortium with Industry March 7, defense insiders said.

"The goal of the consortium is to establish the industry standard for a systems architecture that will eliminate interoperability issues among systems," Boeing officials wrote in their March 7 letter.

But consortium signees must agree to let Boeing own the architecture. "We replied, 'No, thank you,' " said the industry official, who requested anonymity. O'Berry also said that is false.

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A controversial proposal

Boeing Co. officials have proposed creating an industry consortium to focus on ensuring the interoperability of defense systems.

According to a consortium fact sheet, the company wants the consortium to decide which commercial communications and information standards would be best to foster interoperability and deploy an integrated core architecture for network-centric operations.

The consortium would include major defense contractors, systems integrators, technology providers, and representatives from government and academia.

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