Labs help military make right tech choices

Agencies struggling to make the best technology purchasing choices might consider labs that contractors, such as CACI International and Lockheed Martin, are opening for military customers.

One lab allows the Navy to test commercial software, while four others provide rapid prototyping and collaboration for network-centric warfare projects.

CACI has opened the Naval Logistics Readiness Research Center, which will be supported by MCA Solutions, a CACI subcontractor. Navy officials have paid $1 million in initial funding for the center. CACI and MCA officials will use the lab to help identify opportunities for using commercial software to meet the Navy's need for repair resources at a reduced cost.

"We've been supporting the Navy in the logistics arena for over 25 years," said Jeff Renard, senior vice president at CACI. "We've developed software over time that allows the Navy to determine its range and depth of spare parts."

Navy officials want to know what parts are available in ships or warehouses at any given moment and how to get the items to the places they are needed as economically as possible, he said.

The idea is to investigate tools that facilitate what the Navy calls "readiness-based sparing," Renard said. CACI employees will direct research and make recommendations to Navy officials about the technologies that are best and most capable of being integrated into the existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

Lenny Burdick, director of Maritime Logistics Support at the Naval Supply Systems Command in Mechanicsburg, Pa., said creating the lab is one of several initiatives that the command is undertaking to deliver affordable readiness, part of the command's mandate from the Pentagon.

"Prior to ERP implementation, we would like to be able to evaluate these commercial products to see if we can use them with our legacy systems to achieve greater efficiencies," he said. "We need tools and processes that can be incorporated in ERP that will allow us to achieve readiness requirements at best cost."

"This is not to circumvent the Navy's procurement process," added Bob Salvucci, president and chief executive officer of MCA. "What we think we're going to do is to move the ball forward and begin to show really advanced capabilities."

Innovation center

Lockheed Martin officials recently unveiled the company's Center for Innovation, a state-of-the-art laboratory to work on network-centric warfare capabilities. The center marks the fourth such facility built by large defense companies in recent years with Boeing operating the Boeing Integration Center in Anaheim, Calif., Northrop Grumman running the Cyber Warfare Integration Network in Melbourne, Fla., and Lockheed Martin maintaining the NetForce Tech Center in Fairfax, Va.

The emergence of these multimillion-dollar facilities shows that contractors realize they must provide services to make data sharing easier among DOD, intelligence and civilian agencies if they want to stay competitive, said Dave Chesebrough, president of the Association for Enterprise Integration, an industry trade group.

"The Defense Department has made it clear that the future lies with being able to network platforms and units to share vital information while at the same time protecting it," Chesebrough said. "While each company hopes that these facilities will give them an advantage in terms of business, the real benefit is, that through collaboration with each other and similar DOD facilities, the true concepts of net-centric operations will be developed and proven."

Employees at Lockheed Martin's new center will work on rapid prototyping and collaborative experimentation on military systems. Company officials said research areas to be covered include force projection; homeland security; missile defense; logistics, surveillance and reconnaissance; and advanced command, control, communications and information operations.

"Our intent with the center is to provide a collaborative environment for commanders, policy-makers, operators, analysts and engineers to assess and experiment with new operational concepts and capabilities," said Stan Sloane, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin's Integrated Systems and Solutions business unit.

The center, a 50,000-square-foot facility in Suffolk, Va., is close to a number of military commands, national security organizations and government agencies, including the Joint Forces Command, the Navy's Atlantic Fleet and the Army's Training and Doctrine Command.

Virginia officials supported the facility's development as part of efforts by the state and local governments to bring technology companies and jobs to the Norfolk, Va., area, said Keith Mordoff, a Lockheed Martin spokesman.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner praised the center for revitalizing the Tidewater area.

"With our $50,000 grant from the Governor's Opportunity Fund to support the city of Suffolk, as well as added backing from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and Virginia Department of Business Assistance, we are pleased to support Lockheed Martin's presence here," Warner said.

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