Unique Systems Engineering and Horizontal Technology Integration Earns Prestigious Award for Second Generation Forward Looking Infrared
As he accepted the 2009 LTG Thomas R. Ferguson Jr. Systems Engineering Excellence Group Award for the Second Generation Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR), Michael Doney, Deputy Product Manager (PM) FLIR, reflected on the vision that was emplaced 15 years earlier. It was that vision, founded in horizontal technology integration (HTI) principles and combined with enduring, diligent execution that led the National Defense Industrial Association to honor PM FLIR and its Second Generation FLIR (SGF).
The award is given annually to the product office that clearly demonstrates outstanding achievement in the practical application of systems engineering. “The vision was to employ the very best in HTI and systems engineering practices to provide a common battlefield scene to Armor, Mechanized Infantry, and Reconnaissance forces which would, for the first time in the history of armor, enable warfighters to see targets further than they could shoot, improving battlefield dominance,” Doney explained.
The Army’s SGF FLIR program provides the Soldier with premier night vision capability for the Abrams Tank, Bradley Fighting Vehicle, Stryker Brigade Combat Team, and the Long Range Advanced Scout Surveillance System. “What began as a vision to produce, field, and sustain the most cost-efficient, horizontally integrated technologies on ground combat vehicles has ultimately led to the delivery of 15,000 sensors in theater,” said LTC William Russell, PM FLIR.
Lessons gleaned from Operation Desert Storm provided the original impetus for what would become the SGF, Doney said. “One of the biggest problems the Army found was friendly fire and fratricide. The Army recognized the need to upgrade the ability of platforms to understand the target they were about to engage, and it turned out that the SGF technology had just become mature enough to enable the implementation of its use for platforms.”
At the time, the expectation was for each platform to have its own solution for night vision, but because of SGF’s flexibility and overall HTI benefits, it was able to serve as a common materiel solution, saving time and reducing overall costs.
In this fashion, SGF serves as an exemplar of the recent DOD directive to “do more without more.” For example, adherence to the early systems engineering processes for the SGF led to a 320 percent cost reduction over the life of the program. Furthermore, money has been saved throughout its life cycle. The hardware and software commonality reduces acquisition costs by combining procurements, reduces logistics costs, and lowers the long-term sustainment costs.
The SGF program employed classic systems engineering principles, including gaining a full understanding of the customer’s needs and ensuring that the requirements in the system specification were both valid and complete. To produce a system that shared commonalities across multiple platforms, the program aggregated the platform-unique requirements into a single set of capabilities and technical performance requirements. SGF systems engineers worked closely with platform managers to capture all of their functional requirements while working within the design constraints of each platform. As a result, the engineers have been able to build a product a single time for multiple platforms, rather than multiple times for individual platforms, thereby realizing synergies and efficiencies.
What began as a vision to produce, field, and sustain the most cost-efficient, horizontally integrated technologies on ground combat vehicles, has ultimately led to the delivery of 15,000 sensors in theater.
“The SGF has been a resounding success on numerous levels, but we don’t rest on our laurels at PM FLIR,” Russell said. “We are now replicating this successful effort, drawing on the lessons learned and successes gleaned over the past 15 years as we embark on a mission to bring a third-generation FLIR solution into the Army inventory.”
Leveraging the systems engineering that was the foundation of the SGF, the Third Generation FLIR (3GF) will provide simultaneous digital video streams of long-wave and mid-wave infrared imaging. As with the SGF, PM FLIR conducted extensive requirements analyses as part of its systems engineering. “These analyses enabled us to identify key capabilities requirements, as well as additional opportunities to implement a common materiel solution that will result in cost efficiencies over the life of the platforms,” Doney said.
“At PM FLIR, we are always looking for ways to improve our support to the warfighter,” Russell said. “With the SGF, we were able to provide the warfighter with an exceptional, cost-effective capability to sense the enemy beyond the visible. The 3GF will build on that solid foundation, providing increased platform standoff and enhanced survivability and lethality.”
- BRANDON POLLACHEK is the Program Executive Office Intelligence, Electronic Warfare, and Sensors (PEO IEW&S) Public Affairs Officer, Fort Monmouth, NJ. He holds a B.S. in political science from Cazenovia College and has more than 10 years’ experience in writing about military systems.
- CHRISTINA BATES provides contract support as a Strategic Communications Specialist for Project Manager Night Vision/Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition, under PEO IEW&S. She holds B.A.s in communication and sociology, an M.S. in mass communication, and a J.D. with an emphasis on business and corporate law from Boston University, and a Ph.D. in communication with an emphasis on organizational behavior and strategic communications from Arizona State University. Bates is also a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt.