Early wins for Army’s commercial hardware strategy

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By Bridget Bernard

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Nov. 3, 2015) — As the one-stop-shop for the Army’s tactical commercial off-the-shelf information technology (COTS IT) hardware, the Common Hardware Systems (CHS) program is taking a holistic, innovative approach that is getting noticed. Recent undertakings resulted in increased efficiencies, significant cost avoidance and official designation as the primary organization to oversee tactical COTS IT hardware procurement for the Army.

CHS provides state-of-the-art computing and networking equipment that improves connectivity, interoperability, logistics and maintenance support to Soldiers, and is available for use by all DOD and federal agencies.

“We’ve always got to be looking ahead to understand where technology is going, how we can benefit from that, and at the same time reduce capability gaps created through end-of-life hardware,” said Breck Tarr, deputy product leader for CHS. “Other contract vehicles are not designed like CHS is, to be able to help [program offices] match their requirements to the COTS IT that they’re going to buy.”

In April, Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, signed a memorandum designating CHS as the primary organization to oversee tactical commercial hardware procurement. This designation enabled CHS to coordinate with 16 Army programs, an average of one per week since the memo was published.

By working with these programs on their forecasted tactical requirements for COTS IT, CHS is able to identify and provide alternative hardware configurations that already exist on the CHS contract.

CHS gains efficiencies by coordinating across programs and leveraging common configurations. CHS staff examines schedules to determine when each program is planning to make hardware procurements and consolidates those requirements with other program offices that are making similar purchases during the same time frame.

“Our role is to enable supported Army and Department of Defense program offices to meet expedited fieldings and compressed schedules while mitigating costs,” said Bill Gehrum, strategic initiatives lead for CHS. “We help programs to effectively meet their fielding requirements, to train Soldiers, to contribute toward the development of technical manuals and to provide product support services for CHS hardware across a program’s total lifecycle. We work with program offices to help them identify and subsequently procure those COTS IT hardware configurations and support services that will meet their needs.”

Through this consolidated acquisition approach, program offices can design, develop, modify, ruggedize, environmentally test, procure, support and provide configuration management for hardware systems, all while using a single contract action and a single part number. Take laptops, for example.

“The internal components may be different,” Gehrum said. “But if you have the same look and feel of the laptop, then that potentially reduces the overall burden for the field and minimizes field support training and tracking of hardware component configurations because you have fewer variations in the field, which in turn reduces the amount of documentation you have to provide for these systems.”

Roadmaps play important role

In addition to working with other Army programs, CHS has unique partnerships with outside vendors. In FY15 alone, CHS hosted 19 vendor roadmap presentations. These meetings give CHS and engineers from supported Army programs, such as Project Manager Warfighter Information Network-Tactical and Project Manager Mission Command, to learn what each vendor is doing in terms of new technology. The roadmaps are designed so that programs can plan how to leverage future technologies to meet their respective cost, schedule and performance requirements and reduce hardware capability gaps.

These roadmaps, in part, led to the selection of the various hardware configurations that comprise the Tactical Server Infrastructure, a key enabling component of operations and intelligence convergence. By allowing Project Manager Distributed Common Ground System-Army and Project Manager Mission Command to cohost their capabilities as part of the Common Operating Environment, TSI will reduce the burden on Soldiers who in the past had to train on, field and sustain separate systems.

As part of the TSI effort, the 26 stakeholders that comprise the Command Post Computing Environment (CP CE) are leveraging the CHS contracting vehicle as well as the team’s engineering expertise to support the TSI hardware configurations. Using feedback from Soldiers during the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation exercises, for example, the CP CE utilizes CHS to make configuration changes based on new technologies before they are fielded.

USMC, Pl Net E exemplify CHS benefits

“Part of the goodness of CHS is that we can leverage multiple orders over a period of time for the same equipment,” Gehrum said. “If you’re ordering large quantities of a particular hardware configuration item, we can help to reduce the cost to programs tremendously, as opposed to every program buying individual server stacks.”

In addition to reducing costs, a common configuration for the server stacks enhances communication among programs and eliminates the need for providing Soldiers with separate manuals and training.

CHS also successfully executed a large buy for the U.S. Marines Corps (USMC) that included 1,100 Dell Rugged 14 laptops and 1,041 Dell 512Gb solid state drives in support of Mobile Tactical Shelter integration efforts scheduled to begin in spring 2016. By using CHS, the USMC is able to maintain interoperability with systems fielded by other program offices, including Product Leader Fire Support Command and Control. As a result of the expedited contracting processes and demonstrated configuration control available through CHS, the Marines are planning to return for a future buy of additional hard drives and spare batteries at the beginning of the calendar year.

Finally, Project Leader Network Enablers, which CHS is assigned to, has developed a memorandum of understanding with Tobyhanna Army Depot to establish a program through which CHS and Tobyhanna will collaborate to repair out-of-warranty CHS hardware. Tobyhanna has the capability to repair 78 of those part items, giving units and program offices an alternative to replacing their hardware.

“The CHS team will continue proactively collaborating with program offices to meet their COTS IT requirements while working to maximize efficiencies for the Army,” said Tarr.