The U.S. Navy’s submarine community was in near-crisis; its long superiority in acoustics detection fading. Military competitors were minimizing their submarines’ noise signatures to the point of becoming virtually undetectable. Modernizing the Navy’s sonar systems using traditional acquisition methods would be a multibillion dollar, years-long proposition. Then, a determined group of Navy submariners, acquisitions officials, and experts from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (APL) settled on a new approach: replace the submarines’ original closed information technology architecture with an open system that allowed upgrades competed from a variety of sources without creating a major multiyear program or sidelining the submarine fleet. This would take advantage of recent commercial advances (in capability and cost) to frequently upgrade both hardware and software in the sonar system. The result was a dramatic improvement in sonar performance with minimal impact to fleet availability—at a fraction of the projected time and price.
Going Back to the Future on Defense Acquisition
By Christine Fox and Sarah Stevenson