Shaking Up the Radio Marketplace
The U.S. Army, which purchases vast numbers of tacti- cal radios, will no longer do so through sole-source contracting, vows Maj. Gen. Daniel Hughes, USA, program executive officer, command, control and
communications-tactical (PEO-C3T). Competing every
single contract is designed to create a radio marketplace
that fosters innovation while saving time
“As of right now, every radio buy will be
competitive. I do not believe sole source
is the way to go. I would rather compete radios because I
know competing radios produces innovation and drives
down the total cost of ownership of the radio itself. For
example, we’ll tell vendors, ‘We need 1,000 radios. Now go
kill yourselves competing on this,” Gen. Hughes says.
Under the radio marketplace concept, multiple contractors will compete to build systems, and those who prove
they can meet the requirements and security standards will
be placed in a pool of qualified vendors to compete on individual task orders. The service ultimately could end up with
multiple vendors building a given radio system. The aim,
Gen. Hughes explains, is to shorten the acquisition process
and make it 24 to 36 months versus 10 years.
“We’ll compete the delivery orders on an annual basis or
whenever I need to, and buy a commodity, which is that
radio, on a regular basis, so industry knows how many
radios I need this year and next year,” he adds. “And every
year, I want them to add a feature—make it less hot, make
it operate better, give me better battery life—I think that’s
where we get innovation.”
The PEO-C3T office kicked off the marketplace concept
in January when it issued a request for proposals for nearly
172,000 additional Rifleman Radios, a handheld system car-
ried by soldiers at the platoon, squad and team levels that
transmits voice and data beyond line of sight. The request
for proposals moves the Army toward full-rate production
of the system, which is part of the Handheld, Manpack and
Small Form Fit program. Army officials intend to award an
indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract to multiple
vendors during fiscal year 2015.
The PEO compares the radio marketplace concept to
the smartphone market, where consumers have multiple
options. While he loves his BlackBerry, Gen. Hughes reveals
he recently purchased an iPhone 6 “for simplicity because it
connects into everything else in my house,” which ultimately
is the kind of simplicity he would like to see for command,
control and communications equipment on the battlefield.
The general says he intends to use the competitive market-
place approach for all radios and perhaps other technologies,
including software applications. Army officials are creating a
software development kit for the service’s tactical command
post computing environment that will enable developers to
create apps much more quickly and cheaply. “This is a different
world where you don’t have this long development process that
takes seven stinking years to do. Just imagine bringing an app
that costs $200,000 and works right away,” Gen. Hughes states,
suggesting at that price, apps can be built for a specific combat
mission and possibly never used again. “Maybe we build a pool
of folks who have the right chops to build an app. I’d like to
say, ‘Here’s the software development kit, here are the needs we
have, now go for it and compete against each other.’”
Gen. Hughes describes simplification as a top priority,
including simplifying unit task reorganization. The process
of reassigning or reorganizing units can take months, in
part because the radios and a wide range of other network
components must be painstakingly reconfigured. “We want
the commander to have the ability to take a unit from A and
plug it into B and not have to take days to do it. The problem
I have right now is that the systems are not set up to auto-
matically update. All my frequencies don’t change, all my data
for connectivity don’t change, so we have to do that,” Gen.
Hughes says. He estimates the Army has more tactical radios
in a single brigade combat team than the entire Navy.
“If I get just one thing done as PEO-C3T, unit task reorganization would be the one thing I would absolutely prioritize above everything else that we’re doing,” he declares.
In preparation for the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical
( WIN-T) Increment 2 initial operational test and evaluation, soldiers
train on the move during the WIN-T Increment 2 new equipment
training at Fort Bliss, Texas. Simplifying the network is a major
priority for Maj. Gen. Daniel Hughes, USA, program executive
officer, command, control and communications-tactical.
U.S. Army’s PEO-C3T slashes sole-source contracts in a push for competition.
BY GEORGE I.
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