An urgent need leads to a quick off-the-shelf acquisition—a common story. PEO EIS adds two footnotes: Buy the data rights upfront, and get the original manufacturer to write the technical manual. If you end up relying on that quick purchase for years to come—not a far-fetched possibility in this budget environment—the costs of those two things will be justified by big savings.
by Maj. Jonathan W. Judy and Ms. Ruby P. Hancock
Army logisticians around the world depend on a worldwide satellite communications (SATCOM) system that was conceived as a quick fix, and consequently the Army jumped a few steps in the usual acquisition process to get it fielded. The system—the Combat Service Support Very Small Aperture Terminal (CSS VSAT)—was never intended to be a permanent solution.
A response to a joint urgent operational needs statement, it provides an invaluable capability: a global SATCOM network dedicated to the Army’s logistics information systems. “Because of the mandate to get something out quickly, CSS VSAT was a commercial off-the-shelf product introduced at the production and deployment phase,” said Peter Nesby, program officer for Combat Service Support SATCOM in the Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems (PEO EIS).
Ten years on, PEO EIS’ Product Lead for Defense-Wide Transmission Systems (PL DWTS), which owns the CSS VSAT mission, continues moving CSS VSAT along the unusual path from quick fix to enduring system, by returning to earlier stages of the usual acquisition life cycle to transition the project to long-term sustainability. PL DWTS planned to rely on contractor logistics support, as many rapidly fielded programs do. Now, transitioning to organic sustainment, PL DWTS faces the challenge of maintaining and updating the 3,620 fully fielded systems that are projected to remain in service indefinitely—well beyond the initial expectation that Warfighter Information Network – Tactical (WIN-T) terminals would replace CSS VSATs by 2009.
GETTING TO SUSTAINMENT
“Today we depend on a limited number of contractor’s field engineers for CSS VSAT maintenance and repair,” said LTC Jeff Etienne, the PL DWTS. “Transitioning from contractor support to organic [support] enables us to provide more comprehensive support than would be practical or affordable otherwise. It also provides numerous benefits to Soldiers in terms of decreasing operational readiness downtime, and supports the DWTS strategic mission to provide the best-value solutions for enabling information dominance Armywide.”
Organic sustainment replaces the contractor’s six regional field engineers with 13 field service representatives from the U.S. Army Communications – Electronics Command (CECOM). Their efforts will be supplemented by the introduction of on-site support from 786 active-duty Soldiers from the 94 series military occupational specialty (MOS)—electronic and missile maintenance.
To provide the same level of support to fielded CSS VSATs as organic support makes available, PL DWTS would have to more than double the number of contractor’s field engineers. “Our [94 series] Soldiers are already trained to do stuff like this,” said CW4 Michael Nelson, capability developer for integrated logistics supportability at the Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM). “We do it with other systems already. So budgetwise, it should be an improvement because Soldiers are doing what they’re actually supposed to be doing.” Another advantage of adding support from 94 series Soldiers who are co-located or nearly co-located with the system will be to reduce operational readiness downtimes to days—or even hours—after repair parts are received. Current downtimes for CSS VSATs can stretch from one to four months while the system waits for the contractor field service representative assigned to that region to be available to perform the repair—on top of the five- to six-week wait to receive the necessary parts.
As part of the transition from contractor-led sustainment to organic sustainment, PL DWTS completed the logistics demonstration of CSS VSAT in July 2015. This timing was unusual for a product that began fielding nearly a decade ago and has since supported critical operations worldwide in combat zones and special humanitarian missions such as for Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Pakistan earthquake relief in 2013 and Operation United Assistance: Ebola in 2014. The standard Army acquisition life cycle requires programs to conduct a logistics demonstration, a rigorous evaluation of the program’s maintenance concept and supportability strategy, before the initial operational test to evaluate the readiness of the system support package; fielding occurs sometime after that.
With successful completion of the logistics demonstration, CSS VSAT moves one step closer to providing enhanced sustainment support for the long term, well beyond its original life span. It also confronts two lessons learned that should apply to all rapid fielding initiatives during their early planning stages.
BUY DATA RIGHTS UPFRONT
First, it is critical to include procurement of the technical data rights in the original competition. Given the originally planned short life cycle for CSS VSAT, paying the upfront cost for the technical data rights did not seem justified; there was simply no intention to sustain the system long term. However, other programs in planning stages should err on the side of caution when making this decision, and favor paying the cost of procuring the data rights from the outset if a reasonable likelihood exists that the program will ever be extended into sustainment.
Because it does not have the data rights for CSS VSAT, the Army is limited to purchasing replacement parts through the original equipment manufacturer. No competition exists among vendors, and the government cannot reverse-engineer comparable parts.
The Better Buying Power (BBP) tenet of promoting effective competition, first outlined in BBP 1.0 and continued in BBP 2.0 and now 3.0, underscores the importance of planning the procurement of data rights early in the product life cycle to leverage competition. Experience confirms the importance of this initiative. For rapid fielding programs, an intellectual property plan that includes procuring data rights must consider—and weigh heavily—the likelihood of extended contingency operations.
GET THE TECHNICAL MANUAL
With the data rights now too expensive to procure for CSS VSAT, the government has spent substantial time and money to produce a technical manual for the system from scratch. This leads to the second lesson learned: If the program might transition to organic sustainment at any point in the future, build the technical manual into the original contract.
While the system was in development, the CSS VSAT contractor did not produce a technical manual for the government. Only now are the contractors who support the system developing a technical manual based on their years of experience in the field. System developers generally possess a more intimate knowledge of the system as a whole and should be able to produce a detailed technical manual more readily than the field engineers who have been involved only with maintaining it.
Relying on field engineers’ expertise will produce a high-quality manual but will greatly lengthen the process because it requires translating hands-on, trial-and-error approaches to diagnose and repair failures and convert that information into reliable, step-by-step instructions that Soldiers can use in the field. This delays the entire transition of the system to CECOM sustainment.
Validation and verification of the CSS VSAT technical manual will take more than a year and stretch into FY17, representing the longest piece of the transition process. Validation and verification events require page-by-page scrutiny of the manual by the system’s proponent, CASCOM, working with the program office to confirm the accuracy and clarity of every step, every word and every National Stock Number. The time and costs associated with this roundabout way of developing a technical manual should provide a cautionary tale for other rapid fielding initiatives. Upfront procurement of the technical manual, as with data rights, enables industry competition and ultimately provides the government with a better price.
As CSS VSAT approaches readiness for organic sustainment, the lessons brought to light in that transition are already a consideration in planning for the next iteration of the capability. PL DWTS, CASCOM, HQDA G-4’s U.S. Army Logistics Innovation Agency and end users are capturing requirements that will expand the role of CSS VSAT to carry more enterprise resource planning systems and more maintenance data in the program’s next generation.
When the current terminals are replaced to meet those expanding requirements, the PL DWTS acquisition strategy will seek to buy a terminal that is supportable over the long run, with a technical manual developed by the original equipment manufacturer and technical data rights included in the initial competition.
Other input for future iterations will come from the WIN-T transport convergence effort. Transport convergence seeks to collapse all of the Army’s disparate transport layers (for example, the intelligence system Trojan Spirit; MED VSAT, the joint telemedicine network; CSS VSAT; and PAO VSAT, the public affairs system) into the WIN-T network by moving transports off of commercial teleports and onto Army regional hub nodes. This effort will significantly cut the Army’s spending to lease use of commercial SATCOM networks by moving the traffic onto a singular Army network.
The current generation of CSS VSATs is well-suited to integrate into this effort and continue meeting the sustainment community’s enduring requirement for real-time communication to support sustainment, repair and resupply efforts at the front. While the Army will replace some networks’ terminals immediately with WIN-T terminals, CSS VSATs will assimilate into WIN-T at the transport layer.
For now, the current and future success of CSS VSAT remains a top priority for the G-4, and PL DWTS is prepared to continue providing worldwide network access for Army sustainers by keeping CSS VSAT mission-ready for the long term.
For more information, go to CSS VSAT’s website, https://peoeis.kc.army.mil/csscomms/SiteAssets/default.html, or the PEO EIS website, http://www.eis.army.mil/index.php/programs/dwts; or contact Peter Nesby, program officer for CSS SATCOM, at 703-806-8650 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
MAJ. JONATHAN W. JUDY is the assistant product manager for PL DWTS at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He has an MBA from the Naval Postgraduate School and a B.S. in computer science from the University of Georgia. He is Level II certified in program management.
MS. RUBY P. HANCOCK is a logistics management specialist and sustainment lead for PL DWTS. She holds an M.S. in community service from Central Michigan University and a B.A. in human resource management from Saint Leo College. She is Level III certified in acquisition life-cycle logistics and Level I certified in program management, and is a member of the Army Acquisition Corps.
This article was originally published in the April – June 2016 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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