A nontraditional defense contractor success story
By Michael Klein and James Cummiskey
Late last year, the Army Contracting Command–New Jersey (ACC-NJ) awarded the contract for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) of the Autonomous Mine Detection System (AMDS) to Carnegie Robotics, LLC (CRL). The signing of the contract, awarded on behalf of the Program Executive Officer for Ammunition and the Project Manager for Close Combat Systems (PM CCS), was a proud moment for the entire acquisition team, which had invested months of effort to reach that goal.
From a contracting perspective, the award also highlighted a larger success story that began several years earlier, when ACC-NJ awarded a competitive project to CRL for AMDS technology development work under an other transaction agreement (OTA). The strategic use of an OTA made it possible for CRL, a nontraditional defense contractor, to contribute its robotics expertise to the AMDS program. Perhaps more importantly, it provided a perfect opportunity for CRL to evolve into a traditional defense contractor and fostered the robust competition needed to make the program successful as it advanced into the EMD phase.
The AMDS is an Acquisition Category III program currently managed by the Product Manager Counter Explosive Hazard under PM CCS. Acquisition of the system began in 2002 as an Army technology objective. After passing through three concept phases, the program entered the technology development phase in 2008.
The underlying operational concept of the AMDS is straightforward and compelling: develop payload modules for the robotic system that can perform the extremely dangerous work of detecting and neutralizing explosive hazards, providing essential stand-off capability. Combat engineers would operate the AMDS remotely, from a safe distance, without having to physically enter an area to sweep it with handheld detection equipment. From a technological standpoint, this straightforward concept is extremely complex, and leveraging the best resources available is critical to program success.
Leveraging the OTA
ACC-NJ has considerable expertise in using OTAs, an innovative contracting instrument that facilitates government partnership with nontraditional defense contractors, including non-profit and academic research organizations. Many nontraditional defense contractors are reluctant or unable to enter into a traditional contract with the government because of the complex regulations and administrative burden required under the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). Because OTAs are not governed by the FAR, they are more flexible and less burdensome.
“The flexibility of the OTA makes it possible for the government to tap into the cutting-edge capabilities of the nontraditional defense contractor,” said Morgan Ross, procuring contracting officer (PCO) and agreements officer
In May 2008, ACC-NJ entered into a Section 845 Prototype OTA with the Robotics Technology Consortium, a group of businesses, defense contractors and research organizations involved in the translational research and development of the complete range of prototype, ground vehicle and robotics systems. CRL is a member of the group, which is now known as the National Advanced Mobility Consortium. A Section 845 Prototype OTA is used under a specific set of circumstances, including procurement of research and development work from nontraditional defense contractors to build prototypes directly relevant to a weapon system. The consortium became DOD’s primary industry partner for developing prototype robotics technology solutions.
Award Yields Greater Benefits
As a result of a request for project proposals process conducted by ACC-NJ in 2011, Ross led the award of a competitive project to CRL, on behalf of PM CCS, to build the Dismounted Stand-off Explosive Hazards Detection, Marking and Neutralization prototype under the AMDS program.
From CRL’s perspective, the award represented an opportunity far greater than the value of the project itself. CRL was created by Dr. John Bares in May 2010, emerging from Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center. Bares founded CRL with the explicit goal of growing it into a product-oriented company that focused on successful technology transfer and could perform post-development activities such as manufacturing and life-cycle support. “While the university had the brains and skills to meet this challenge, a private sector company would provide a better platform for transforming the technology into a viable product for the warfighter,” said Brian Beyer, project manager at CRL on the AMDS program.
“The OTA gave us an incredible opportunity to develop our capabilities,” he said. “Working under the OTA, we learned to think beyond the prototype and take a whole life-cycle view of technology transfer, considering the actual end user, the operating environment, the logistics footprint and, of course, system producibility itself.”
As the competitive project progressed, CRL viewed it as an opportunity to ramp up its competitiveness for the EMD phase. Said Beyer, “We saw this as our shot at making it as a company. We decided to swing for the fences, so we attacked the key performance parameters that really mattered to the Army.”
That effort paid off. CRL “produced a prototype system with demonstrated performance results that met or exceeded the established technology development requirements,” said Frank Navish, branch chief in the Countermine Division of the Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate, part of U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center. “The prototype went on to earn high technology readiness levels, which were instrumental in AMDS transitioning from technology development to the EMD phase.”
After passing the Milestone B decision review, the program was authorized to advance into the EMD phase. ACC-NJ prepared a FAR-based solicitation, using full and open competition that also included an option for low-rate initial production. The performance work statement required significant post-development capabilities, including extensive project management and systems engineering work. “After reviewing the requirements provided by the program office, it was clear that a successful proposal would have to demonstrate much more than technological expertise,” said PCO Elizabeth Horak, who oversaw the solicitation phase. It would have to clearly demonstrate the ability to manage a very complex project while adhering to cost targets and a highly structured program schedule.
The government received multiple proposals in response to the competitive solicitation, including a submission from CRL. According to PCO Jason Melofchik, who led the award phase, “the successes achieved during the technology development effort under the OTA set the stage for robust competition for the EMD phase award.” The proposal submitted by CRL demonstrated that it had developed the mature capabilities required to successfully complete the AMDS EMD effort under a traditional FAR-based contract. The ACC-NJ contracting team, which also included Contract Specialist Tyler Fulper, awarded the contract to CRL on Sept. 8, 2014.
The competitive project awarded to CRL under the OTA advances the AMDS program by providing a valuable source of technological innovation. It also paves the way for CRL to compete among traditional defense contractors for a FAR-based contract. “Without the OTA, it would have been a real uphill battle to prepare a viable proposal in response to the AMDS EMD solicitation,” Beyer said.
Michael Klein is the lead contract specialist on the AMDS program at ACC-NJ, and worked on the EMD award team. James Cummiskey was a part of the OTA team, and is an agreements specialist at ACC-NJ. In 2012, he was named the organization’s Contract Specialist of the Year.
Subscribe to Access AL&T is the premier online news source for the Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology (AL&T) Workforce.