Moving acquisition

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Transportability engineering is vital in an accelerated acquisition process.

by Michael Bartosiak

Efficient and rapid deployment of the Army is crucial to the National Defense Strategy. The DOD acquisition community plays a key role in obtaining materiel, equipment and weapon systems that fulfill Soldier requirements. The acquisition community is evolving by accelerating and streamlining systems acquisition to meet those needs in a timelier manner. Using a commercial off-the shelf (COTS) acquisition strategy to acquire military systems can reduce initial production costs as well as fielding times. However, those benefits could come at the cost of transportability issues. Those issues impact deployability and work against some of the goals of the National Defense Strategy.

The military has a unique requirement to regularly transport large and heavy systems by rail, ship, air or highway during deployments. Commercial items do not have the same transportability and deployability requirements and therefore are not designed for frequent shipment. Military systems are required to have special provisions that enable rapid lifting and tie-down. Large or heavy military systems, referred to as transportability problem items, have requirements that define very specific transportability criteria. As the design of military systems approaches the limits of transportation assets, meeting the transportability requirements becomes critical.

ADDRESS TRANSPORTABILITY EARLY

James N. Mattis, the 26th secretary of defense, once stated, “If you cannot move, you are not lethal.” Therefore, transportability engineering is an essential part of the acquisition process. Requirements writers, materiel developers and program offices need to consider how units will deploy once the systems they develop are integrated into the formation. Designing transportable systems enables the force to be agile and deployable.

It is important to consider transportability requirements early and throughout the acquisition process. When they are considered only later in the process, issues can occur—a redesign after a system is in production can hinder system performance and effectiveness.

For example, a commonly proposed solution for addressing transportability of large or heavy systems after production is to create a transport configuration—how systems reduce for movement on a mode of transport, like a train—by removing parts from the system. While this may be a viable solution as it has less effect on initial cost and schedule, removing parts could result in slower deployment times and be an operational burden to the unit using the system. The removed parts must be packaged and shipped with the system, and those packaged parts require containers or other means of transport. This adds time to the deployment process because the systems need to be configured and reconfigured. In some cases, the process of reducing the system to a transport configuration is beyond the capabilities of the crew or organization. This adds another burden on the unit and complicates reception, staging, onward movement and integration in theater.

Once deployed, planners have to establish a staging or assembly area where the system will be returned to combat configuration—meaning fully assembled and operational. Once combat-configured, the systems may be too big or heavy to move on theater transportation assets, thus inhibiting theater mobility. If an intratheater move is needed, the unit using the system must again remove, package, transport and return all the equipment to the combat configuration. The time and manpower to deal with configuring and reconfiguring systems become a burden to the units, reducing operational effectiveness. Thus, transportability plays a huge role in the effectiveness of Army capabilities.

TRANSPORT OPTIONS

Considering the transportability of a system early in the acquisition process and verifying transportability during the engineering and manufacturing development phase better supports the Army’s strategic mobility and rapid deployment. (Graphic courtesy of the author)

 

TRANSPORTABILITY IN A COTS STRATEGY

A COTS strategy increases the potential of encountering transportability issues. In a COTS strategy, there is limited preliminary testing before the commercial alternative enters low-rate initial production. These systems often fail to meet in transportability requirements, as commercial systems are not usually designed with unique military features that support transportability. To alleviate these issues, transportability engineering should be part of the selection criteria. In most cases, transportability testing should occur before the acquisition decision. If some developmental tests are done, redesign for better transportability can occur before production.

If transportability issues arise later during production and fielding, the range of design solutions is limited to those that can be retrofitted to the existing systems. Existing systems often receive a retrofit solution when a redesign occurs during production. This creates multiple system configurations that negatively affect supportability.

Deciding to trade or waive transportability can have serious impacts. Considering transportability early in the process and before production and fielding leads to desired system performance and improved transportability. Transportability engineering is a military-unique requirement that is normally addressed in the engineering and manufacturing phase. A shortened engineering and manufacturing phase in a COTS acquisition allows developers to modify mature commercial designs for better transportability before a fielding decision and production.

With a shortened engineering and manufacturing phase, the materiel developer can generate a transportability report, which outlines how their design will transport quickly and efficiently. Transportability engineers can review this report and recommend any adjustments, if needed, before the materiel developer finalizes the design. Key system performance parameters could be verified, along with transportability, with a streamlined series of development tests. This avoids addressing performance or transportability issues after the system is in production.

A KEY RELATIONSHIP

Developing a relationship with the Surface Deployment Distribution Command Transportation Engineering Agency (SDDCTEA) can ensure that transportability is considered throughout the acquisition process. The agency’s Transportability Engineering Branch can advise the acquisition community about proposed transportability requirements and testing. It can review preliminary or concept system designs and make sure transportability is adequately covered before it becomes very costly and time-consuming to change the design. The Transportability Engineering Branch can coordinate with other transportability partners for system requirements beyond surface transportation modes—such as airlift certifications, helicopter sling lift certifications, etc. The agency also develops and provides free modal instructions that can be carried and referenced on-site—at a railhead, port or airfield—to make sure systems are properly handled for transport.

Involving SDDCTEA early in the acquisition process can pay major dividends in developing effective systems that are efficiently transported and fielded on time and within budget. Improved transportability is so critical that SDDCTEA does not charge for the services the Transportability Engineering Branch provides. Anyone in DOD can contact SDDCTEA for assistance with transportability engineering at usarmy.scott.sddc.mbx.tea-dpe@mail.mil or 618-220-5271.

CONCLUSION

Developing military systems that are capable and ready to support strategic mobility and rapid deployment means involving transportability early in the design process and meeting those transportability requirements.

Program managers can field transportable systems by choosing streamlined acquisition strategies with a reduced engineering and manufacturing development phase. The key to success is incorporating transportability early in system development and verifying transportability requirements before the production and development phase and fielding. Using this preferred acquisition strategy:

  • Allows the consideration of a full array of potential design solutions.
  • Limits the risk and cost of design changes.
  • Minimizes system fielding delays.
  • Avoids increasing lifetime transportation costs.
  • Increases transportation throughput.
  • Increases the likelihood that the desired number of systems are fielded.

Incorporating transportability earlier in the design process and meeting the transportability requirements results in military systems that are capable and ready to deploy to support strategic mobility and rapid deployment.

For more information on the Engineering for Transportability Program, go to https://www.sddc.army.mil/sites/TEA/Functions/Deployability/TransportabilityEngineering/Pages/default.aspx. 

MICHAEL BARTOSIAK is a mechanical engineer with SDDCTEA at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. He interfaces with program offices developing transportability problem items and evaluates whether the items meet transportability requirements. He holds a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Florida.


This article is published in the Winter 2020 issue of Army AL&T magazine.

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