Systemizing COTS IT

New initiative leverages the standard Army supply system to support COTS IT within the C4ISR domain.

by Mr. Dan J. Quinn, Mr. Allen J. Hardison and
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Ernest “Joe” Sylvester

The Army’s standard supply system is the well­established backbone for requisitioning replacement parts and returning unserviceable items for repair.Yet, for commercial off-the-shelf information technology (COTS IT) Army units are directed to go outside the normal logistics system.

This often requires units to contact the original equipment manufacturer or vendor to find out if the COTS IT component, such as a laptop, is still under warranty. In addition, every warranty differs. Units often must pay for add-ons such as packaging, handling, shipping and transportation and, if the item is no longer under warranty, for the item’s repair. This ad hoc commercial repair process may be lengthy, provides little prioritization and does not track system readiness. Most importantly, this process is not easily replicated on the battlefield.

With the goal of improving unit and system readiness, an initiative is underway that will leverage the standard Army supply system to support COTS IT within the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) domain.

This new initiative, between the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) and the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications – Tactical (PEO C3T), will move C4ISR COTS IT systems into the standard Army supply system by FY18. The move will significantly simplify the process for Soldiers, by making use of a system they already know and use regularly.

With the goal of improving unit and system readiness, an initiative is now underway that will leverage the standard Army supply system to support COTS IT within the C4ISR domain.

ANTICIPATION
With the goal of improving unit and system readiness, an initiative is now underway that will leverage the standard Army supply system to support COTS IT within the C4ISR domain.(US Army photos)

BACK TO CENTER
In the 2000s, when new digital capabilities and systems first flowed into Afghanistan and Iraq during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the Army stood up and financed contractor regional support centers to meet the demand for replacement parts and repairs. Soldiers could quickly put in work orders for repair of C4ISR COTS IT on-site. It was an effective and immediate solution.

Since then, with the drawdown of forces in the Middle East, many of the regional support centers there have closed, leaving deployed Soldiers without easy access to repair parts and spares. Although much of COTS IT hardware is under warranty, the process of using it is often convoluted, placing the burden of leveraging and managing the warranty on the unit. That can reduce the system’s readiness when Soldiers are required to manage the warranty actions for items that are not covered because of expired warranties or when damages are considered “other than fair wear and tear,” resulting in lengthy turnaround times for replacement parts and repairs.

In many cases, it would be significantly simpler, and therefore faster, to turn in a COTS item and requisition parts or service through the standard supply system that Soldiers use for other weapon systems. The Army supply system, which leverages both unit-level resources and depots for repairs and replacements, also prioritizes requisitions based on the unit’s mission and urgency of need. In contrast, a warranty simply satisfies the terms of a contract without regard to priorities among units and equipment.

Furthermore, program managers and sustaining organizations must consider structuring warranties in a way that provides insights into the execution of the warranty program, to make it possible to assess sustainment support options beyond the initial warranty provisions (i.e., whether to extend the warranties or fund repair services based on failure and repair data collected during initial warranty periods).

These efforts are linked to the Army’s goal of reducing reliance on contractor logistics support by training Soldiers to serve as the first line of defense for field maintenance. Requiring Soldiers to manage time-consuming warranties reduces the pace of battle and places undue burden on them. Feedback from the field indicates that Soldiers want to maintain C4ISR COTS IT systems in the same way they do their other weapon systems. They want to use a singular organic logistics system and simply push a button to order the repair part they need and receive it in a timely manner.

AFATDS, a joint and coalition forces fire support command and control system, is transitioning into the standard Army supply system used for weapon system repairs.

READY FOR ACTION
AFATDS, a joint and coalition forces fire support command and control system, is transitioning into the standard Army supply system used for weapon system repairs.

DEPOT REPAIR AND MAINTENANCE
Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below Blue Force Tracking (FBCB2/BFT) is the Army’s premier command and control and situational awareness capability at the tactical level and on-the-move. Currently, FBCB2/BFT components and repair parts are supported by the standard Army supply system and repaired by Tobyhanna Army Depot, Pennsylvania. While FBCB2/BFT components are not COTS IT, these components are considered “modified” COTS IT repair parts and include such things as integrated circuit cards, which transitioned well into the standard supply system.

To set FBCB2/BFT support up for success, the Project Manager (PM) for Joint Battle Command – Platform (JBC-P) issued spares to the tactical supply support activities during total package fielding. Also, depot maintenance technical manuals, training support packages and test fixtures were developed, and depot technicians were trained. This traditional supply support and depot repair model is now being replicated for JBC-P, the latest incarnation of FBC2/BFT. This model will be leveraged and replicated to also transition C4ISR COTS IT systems into the standard supply support system and depot repairs.

Already, CECOM and PEO C3T have moved COTS IT “consumable” repair parts such as cables and peripherals into the standard Army supply system, supported by the Defense Logistics Agency. The next step will be to move COTS IT “repairable” equipment such as hand-held devices, laptops and server components into the standard Army supply system supported by CECOM.

GETTING IT RIGHT
PEO C3T’s Product Manager for Fires Support Command and Control (FSC2), working hand in hand with CECOM, anticipates all its systems will be in the standard Army supply system within the next 24 months. The capabilities leading the pack from FSC2 include the Pocket Sized Forward Entry Device (PFEDS) used by forward observers to capture target data and pass it to the fire support officer; the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS), which provides fully automated support for planning, coordinating, controlling and executing fires and effects such as mortars, field artillery cannons, rockets and missiles, and close air support; and CENTAUR, a lightweight hand-held device that calculates indirect fires data. Not far behind are the systems within the Product Manager for Strategic Mission Command portfolio, including the Command Post of the Future, an automated system that enables the warfighter to visualize the battlefield and plan missions. In FY19, when the Command Post Computing Environment—part of the Army’s larger move to a common infrastructure known as the Common Operating Environment—is fielded, it will debut as part of the standard supply system.

The Army’s well-established supply support and depot repair model is now being replicated for JBC-P, the Army’s command and control and situational awareness capability.

ALWAYS VIGILANT
The Army’s well-established supply support and depot repair model is now being replicated for JBC-P, the Army’s command and control and situational awareness capability.

To address the consistent challenge of complexity, PEO C3T, which is responsible for developing and fielding many C4ISR capabilities, and CECOM, which is responsible for the sustainment of C4ISR capabilities, are using lessons learned and attempting to stay ahead of the new logistics processes the Army is implementing.

For example, the move to transition COTS IT hardware into the standard system falls in line with the Global Combat Support System – Army (GCSS-A), which is fielding now and will integrate all supply, maintenance, property and tactical finance data into a single automated system. This system is expected to revolutionize the way the sustainment community supports the Army as it provides improved accountability, accuracy and timeliness and enables economies of scale. The standard Army supply system will be folded into GCSS-A. Making COTS IT already part of that system will enable better management, oversight and tracking, not to mention lessening the burden on Soldiers.

Another critical element for integrated product support is technical data with the objective to identify, plan, resource and implement management actions. The ultimate goals are to operate, install, maintain and train on the equipment to maximize its effectiveness and availability; effectively catalog and acquire spare and repair parts, support equipment, and all classes of supply; and define the system’s hardware and software configuration baselines to effectively support the warfighter with the best capability at the time it is needed. Without technical data, hardware sustainment can’t function. A lesson learned when procuring COTS IT is the need for project managers to acquire the appropriate technical data and technical documentation to enable provisioning of repair parts in the standard Army supply system.

CONCLUSION
While COTS IT presents a unique set of challenges for organic item management, using proven and standard practices at the unit level that Soldiers are familiar with, coupled with creative solutions at the depot level, could be an effective and efficient solution.

In the past 12 years alone, more than 1 million pieces of COTS IT hardware have been pushed to the field. With sustainment accounting for nearly three-quarters of the lifetime costs for a weapon system, total life cycle system management must be thought through before the first piece of equipment is ever fielded. Shortcuts in the beginning of the life cycle can cause havoc on the back end when sustainment kicks in. By forging strong partnerships and reaching across the aisle while embracing smart approaches between the acquisition and sustainment communities, the Army will meet the challenge of lessening the burden on Soldiers at the same time it is equipping them with next-generation communication technologies.

For more information, go to PEO C3T’s website at http://peoc3t.army.mil/c3t/ or the CECOM website at https://www.army.mil/cecom.

PFEDS, used by forward observers and fire support teams to transmit and receive fires support messages, is one of many mission command systems that could transition into the standard Army supply system.

CONTROL WELL IN HAND
PFEDS, used by forward observers and fire support teams to transmit and receive fires support messages, is one of many mission command systems that could transition into the standard Army supply system.

MR. DAN J. QUINN is the product support manager for PEO C3T’s PM for Mission Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. He has an M.S. and a B.S. in information technology from the University of Maryland University College, and an associate degree in general science from the University of South Carolina. He is Level III certified in life cycle logistics and Level II certified in project management, and is a member of the Army Acquisition Corps (AAC).

MR. ALLEN J. HARDISON is the deputy director for the CECOM Integrated Logistics Support Center’s C3T Directorate. He has an M.S. in management from the Florida Insitute of Technology and a B.S. in management from Southern University. He is a member of the AAC, and is Level III certified in life cycle logistics and program management.

CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 5 ERNEST “JOE” SYLVESTER is the PEO C3T senior adviser for product support and readiness in the Readiness Management Division. He is the first chief warrant officer 5 assigned to PEO C3T through a joint initiative with the Ordnance Corps and the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics, and technology to place senior warrant officers with various PEO headquarters.

This article was orignially published in the January – March 2017 issue of Army AL&T Magazine.

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