By Amy Walker
The Army’s Common Hardware Systems (CHS) program takes a holistic approach to contracting by providing a one-stop-shop across a system’s lifecycle, supporting it from cradle to grave.
“Because CHS is a consolidated acquisition source that can provide total lifecycle systems management, it allows the Army and Department of Defense (DoD) to reduce inefficient single-point solution procurement, lifecycle sustainment costs and field support manpower requirements,” said Danielle Kays, product director (PD) for CHS.
The CHS program provides a rapid and proven means to deliver modified commercial-off-the-shelf information technology (COTS IT) solutions to its DoD customers, primarily the Army’s operational force. Its consolidated acquisition approach can design, develop, modify, ruggedize, environmentally test, procure, sustain and provide configuration management for hardware systems — all using a single contract action.
“We collaborate with engineers across the Army Materiel Enterprise to obtain program requirements and reach out to industry to identify the latest technologies that meet the user’s mission,” Kays said. “CHS systems engineers offer a single, efficient interface to develop solutions that meet the needs of multiple program executive offices and project managers (PMs), supporting cross-program solutions for the common operating environment (COE).”
“The customer has the peace of mind in knowing that from a logistics standpoint, once the equipment is fielded there is a single number to call, a single hotline and a single turn-in point for all hardware under warranty.”
Instead of encouraging developers to begin with a blank slate by designing a system or capability from beginning to end, the Army is advancing parameters for a more interoperable COE where government and industry partners can contribute applications to an existing standard framework. Through customer-provided requirements and engineering processes, CHS helps to identify the best fit and more focused, efficient solutions across the Army. The CHS effort also touches the many units and tactical organizations that are purchasing modified COTS equipment outside of the COE, allowing CHS to promote the common systems infrastructure through the acquisition process.
CHS increases efficiencies by applying a Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) Materiel Enterprise-centric approach to streamline technology insertions, saving execution time and accelerating delivery schedules. In collaboration with its prime contractor, CHS will design and develop a system up-front to meet customer requirements without having to charge the customer for non-recurring engineering to research, design, develop and test a new product.
“Once a system is added to CHS, the system and the ‘next generation’ of that system can be acquired for the life of the CHS contract with a simple delivery order, without going through a re-compete for future procurement,” Kays said.
To reduce cost and accelerate procurement, CHS can implement large consolidated buys, resulting in economies of scale.
The program office also ruggedizes hardware to ensure it can survive in the intended operational environment. Customers can choose the level of ruggedization based on their environmental and mission requirements. CHS also provides environmental testing to ensure equipment meets operational requirements.
When developing acquisition strategies, sustainment costs typically represent the largest life-cycle cost factor programs need to consider. PD CHS’s tactical sustainment strategy includes regional depot support, extended warranties, rapid turnaround times and configuration management. Project manager offices that oversee large programs of record (PORs), such as PM Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, PM Mission Command and PM Distributed Common Ground System-Army, utilize CHS to fulfill their multi-year sustainment strategies. Bundling services under a single CHS part number allows the PORs to control costs across the product lifecycle.
When adding hardware to the CHS contract, customers can also choose from a menu of flexible warranty options to maintain it. After fielding their hardware, customers also have the option of returning to PD CHS to generate a task execution plan supporting reset, deep cleaning, equipment retrofit, field training exercise support and out-of-warranty repairs. The CHS warranty covers all hardware for defects in material, workmanship and fair wear and tear. Warranty repairs or replacements are accomplished within a 72-hour repair turnaround time at worldwide CHS Regional Support Centers.
“The customer has the peace of mind in knowing that from a logistics standpoint, once the equipment is fielded there is a single number to call, a single hotline and a single turn-in point for all hardware under warranty,” said Joshua Graham, systems engineer for PD CHS.
In the past, when purchasing large quantities of equipment from multiple contractors at different times, it has proved nearly impossible to always receive the exact equipment in the same configuration that was originally purchased. Equipment with different configurations can cause future integration, interoperability, training and user issues that inevitably increase costs. However, configuration management is a critical function of the CHS program and is provided to ensure system interoperability and compatibility across multiple programs. CHS manages each customer’s unique configurations and program baselines to ensure that in all subsequent buys, the precise configuration is being purchased and can be used and integrated into other systems exactly as the initial equipment had been.
CHS also manages items reaching end-of-life and works with industry providers and PORs to ensure the replacement items fit within the configured design and operating environment. These efforts not only increase consistency for greater efficiency, but also offer significant cost avoidance.
The CHS technical evaluation environment utilizes a distributed network and leverages only those systems, architecture, and automated assessment tools required to support each evaluation. Coupling technologies like hypervisors (virtual machine monitors) and hardware remote management capabilities with the Army’s testing networks will help provide a more simplified method for future hardware evaluations.
“Potentially, multiple solutions can meet technical specifications and system interoperability requirements,” Graham said. “Following the conclusion of each technical evaluation, CHS provides materiel developers with the data and metrics needed to choose the right brand-name solution for their program and end users.”
CHS continually seeks innovative ways to effectively and efficiently provide the right solutions to its customer base. In a unique opportunity to demonstrate and review new advancements in technology, PD CHS will be hosting a Technology Day on Oct. 1 at the C4ISR Campus at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. The event will also provide a venue for technical leads and engineers across different C4ISR organizations to discuss common program requirements and collaborate on effective technology solutions that meet mission needs yet simplify operations.
“The goal of this Technology Day is to give technology providers the opportunity to demonstrate possible solutions and collectively allow us to further understand the needs of our customers and the C4ISR community,” Kays said. “Supporting our Soldiers should not be a stove-piped, isolated effort, but one approached in an open and cooperative arena.”