Naval Systems: Commercial Technology: The Legend Continues

By Ed Walsh

Maureen Weaver, leader of the COTS integrated product team in the SQQ-89 program office (PMS-411), points out that although the SQQ-89's sonar transducers have no commercial application, the system has incorporated a significant COTS content through product upgrades that include software as well as such hardware elements as circuit boards. A recent variant, version 14, is made up of approximately 90%Ic COTS, she adds. The increased COTS content has led to welcome reductions in acquisition costs because, as widely known, the prices of commercially developed products are set by marketplace competition and the Navy does not bear development costs.

The problem is that COTS is not supported by the Navy logistics system, which provides an extensive life-cycle replacement system for Navy-developed LRUs. "Nobody has looked at the costs of replacing obsolescent COTS products—everyone wants COTS, but no one knows what it costs," Weaver says.

PMS-411 started tackling the problem last year when the SQQ-89 program office asked the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Crane [Indiana] Division to help project the costs of supporting and upgrading commercially developed LRUs. Crane turned to a software program called the automated cost estimation integrated tool (ACEIT) developed by Tecolote, Inc. The ACEIT program, which runs equations that produce cost projections based on data provided by the user, is used by the Army and Air Force to project costs of engineering projects.

To support the ACEIT analysis, PMS-411 set up Weaver's integrated product teams which then developed extensive flowcharts to map the acquisition process for the system, covering configuration management, test and evaluation, engineering, and training. PMS-411 also built an extensive database on the COTS content of the system, which covered, in particular, information on manufacturers' plans for supporting their products.

The process is complex, even allowing for the size and scope of the SQQ-89's many variants. Weaver explains that identifying the future costs of commercial LRUs required the integrated product team to develop a hardware-software interdependency matrix that shows the relationship between COTS hardware upgrades and software modifications. She points out, for example, that enhancements to operating systems affect applications software, which then may have to be changed.

Weaver has briefed the ACEIT approach to the COTS project team of the Naval Sea Systems Command's Executive Steering Committee, the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, and the Aegis program office, PMS-400, which subsequently approached NSWC Crane about introducing the ACEIT program for Aegis.

Supportability is one side of the COTS story, which generally still is a positive one. The Aegis combat system will break away from military-specification hardware with its Baseline 7 Phase 1 Enhancement, now under development at Lockheed Martin Government Electronics Systems. The new baseline will replace the venerable UYK-43 Navy-unique computer, which still is being delivered to the newest Arleigh Burke (DDG-51)-class Aegis destroyers, with an architecture of commercial processors, much of which will be derived from technology already incorporated in the UYQ-70 "family" of shipboard display processors.

Aegis officials and their industry counterparts stress that the shift to COTS has been a deliberate and disciplined process, carried out with close attention to the requirement for real-time, fault-tolerant responsiveness to the detect-control-engage sequence for air defense that is the heart of the Aegis mission. Commercial systems have perennially been unable to handle the processing and transfer of air-defense targeting data to provide the right answer for weapons engagement, every time. Yet new Aegis requirements for theater ballistic missile defense and cooperative engagement dictate that the Aegis fleet make the leap to COTS-only computing, which it will do with the new baseline, to be installed first on DDG-91, funded in Fiscal Year 1998.

The push for COTS still is strongest in the information-technology and command-and-control domain, where the Navy's Information Technology-21 (IT-21) "vision" mandates the replacement of Unix-based workstations (also COTS-based), with the commercial favorite Microsoft Windows NT for desktop applications. Unix will remain only for the highest-end computing tasks.

Yet questions remain there also: Navy C4I managers have noted that despite industry claims, not all COTS products are what they claim to be. Commercial databases, for example, widely touted as interoperable throughout the industry, still are interoperable only with other products sold by the same vendor in general. A key Navy information systems official pointed out recently that he had "never experienced two different vendors bringing in a standards-compliant product that offered both high performance and interoperability." Unix, for example, is available in 37 versions. The same official added that "If I build applications to run on Sun Microsystems Unix, I have to change code to make it work on Hewlett Packard's Unix. But the Navy can't get locked into vendor-unique solutions, even if they are COTS." The official added that industry is facing a great opportunity to market information management systems to the Navy—but how successful it will be is still a "maybe," so far. 


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