DOD moves to speed cyber acquisition

The Defense Department has launched an effort to change the way it acquires cyberspace capabilities that wilm if successful,l greatly accelerate and streamline the way the government designs, develops and acquires network-based applications and services, a top DOD official said Aug. 9.

DOD’s rapid cyber acquisition process represents a major change in government acquisitions, said Ron Jost, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications, space and spectrum, in a keynote speech at AFCEA International’s Warfighter Support IT Day in Vienna, Va.

Jost said the new process is expected to begin next year, with a deployment to follow soon after. If the new approach is successful, DOD will expand it into other acquisition processes, he said.

One of the main efforts is to let the combat troops themselves and operators have more input in the development process. As part of the process, DOD would run multiple operational tests during the year to make sure that systems are on track, Jost said. One example of that technique is the Army’s Network Integration Exercises, which the service holds twice a year at the White Sands Missile Range, N.M., and nearby Fort Bliss, Texas.

DOD is looking to streamline the acquisition process in this new approach, partially by categorizing programs according to their cost (low, medium and high) and expected completion (short, medium and long term). Programs classified as high cost and long term should be considered carefully, Jost said.

In the new acquisition process, developers will need to be more aware of system requirements, such as interoperability. DOD does not want to deploy equipment that can't work with other systems, Jost said, citing the example of jamming systems for improvised explosive devices that were rushed into service. The jammers worked well, but their designers did not realize that they also jammed warfighters’ radios. “You have to think the total system,” he said.

Developers need to consider the combat environment, Jost said. It's no good to produce a system that works in garrison or at a command center but falters on the battlefield.

Program managers must also look at the development timelines for projects. Although DOD envies the commercial sector’s short development cycles, it has difficulty matching it, Jost said. There are some ways that the military can jump that hurdle, he said. One is to compress program delivery times or sprint through development increments. While rapid development times are good for loosely coupled systems, he warned that rapid development can become an expensive issue if the program’s technology is tightly coupled.

The commercial sector differs from DOD in its product development process. The department will wait until a system is nearly complete before beginning another project. By comparison, the private sector is already working on additional and subsidiary products and services for the next product cycle. DOD needs to evaluate the benefits and challenges of such an agile cycle, he said.

Although industry is cited as moving faster than the government, Jost cautioned that many commercial products take years to develop and require the same consideration that goes into DOD systems. “The iPad wasn’t developed in a year,” he said.

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