Programs That Succeeded with Nontraditional Oversight
The programs discussed below are examples of large and complex DOD IT programs that were demonstrably successful from an end-user perspective while being executed with tailored, focused, proactive, accountable oversight of the kind advocated in this report.
The Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) command-and-control system was developed as a central element of the Army’s Advanced Warfighting Experiments (AWE) in the mid-1990s. A companion development was the Army’s Tactical Internet, a data communications capability designed by adding commercial router technology to legacy tactical communications devices. The Tactical Internet and FBCB2 formed a capability to disseminate real-time battle command information across the force. A key feature is the ability of the system to generate location information on each FBCB2-equipped vehicle based on Global Positioning System feeds and to automatically distribute this information to all other members of the force equipped with FBCB2. The command-and-control information is automatically updated on digital map displays on weapons platforms and in tactical operations centers. Early in its development stage, FBCB2 was deployed to the Central Technical Support Facility (CTSF) at Fort Hood, Texas, where soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division provided continual feedback on the system design and soldier-machine interfaces.
New capability packages were regularly deployed and evaluated at the CTSF by both the test community and end users, effectively execut-
ing an agile development approach. The soldiers functioned as a user jury and provided candid assessments and recommendations. A board of senior Army general officers conducted regular assessments and provided guidance as FBCB2 and related experimental systems were prepared for the capstone digitization experiment at the National Training Center in March 1997. More than 1000 FBCB2 systems were procured and deployed to the 4th Infantry Division for that experiment. Some systems were MILSPEC, some were ruggedized, and some were COTS-based. This approach provided a set of optional configurations that were evaluated by end users and the operational test organization to provide feedback to the Army on the performance of the configurations. Note that this feedback was not a test-fail evaluation with a report 120 days after the field event that is typical in the formal test environment; rather, the testers provided both daily feedback and an early capability assessment wrap-up that the Army used to make a “best value” determination (the answer ultimately was the ruggedized COTS variant). Following the 1997 AWE, the Army used the feedback from end users to make changes and enhancements to the FBCB2 system. The test articles remained with the 4th Infantry Division for training and further development of tactics, techniques, and procedures for operational use. In 1998 an operational evaluation (Limited User Test) was conducted, and low-rate initial production of 6000 FBCB2 systems was authorized to field the capability to the 4th Infantry Division and 1st Cavalry Division. Today approximately 40,000 FBCB2 systems are in operational use in the Army and the Marine Corps. Moreover, the FBCB2 system is the baseline for a follow-on variant named the Joint Battle Command Platform. The FBCB2 system was recognized as one of the five best-managed software programs in the entire U.S. government and was awarded the Federal Computer Week Monticello Award (given in recognition of an information system that has a direct, meaningful impact on human lives). FBCB2 exemplified the type of decentralized agile development approach that this report recommends.
The Blue Force Tracker (BFT) is a variant of FBCB2 that uses satellite-based communications in lieu of the terrestrial communications capabilities used in FBCB2. Early variants were deployed on surrogate commercial computers for use during the conflict in the Balkans in the late 1990s. During 2002 an intensive effort was initiated with supplemental funds to develop and deploy BFT for forces being prepared for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Contractors and Army program managers were deployed to Kuwait, where BFT was installed on weapons platforms and soldiers were trained in its use. Since the baseline FBCB2 program was in the production and deployment stage, the infrastructure for that program was leveraged to execute BFT very rapidly without burdensome oversight. This is a prime example of an opportunity to bring capabilities to warfighters
rapidly by leveraging a modification-in-service approach to streamline the front end of the acquisition process and execute the program in a highly decentralized manner. Programs that are in production are ideally positioned to adopt the agile processes that this report recommends as a channel to acquire and field new capabilities for warfighters by adaptation or technology insertion, without incurring the time-consuming processes of new starts.
The Joint Network Node (JNN) also used the opportunity to leverage a modification-in-service funding line. In this case the funding line had been in place for many years as part of the Army’s Mobile Subscriber Equipment (MSE) program. Its annual funds paid for multiple incremental developments and fieldings of capabilities over MSE’s decades-long life cycle. MSE started with ACAT I-level oversight at the OSD level, but oversight authority subsequently was delegated to the Army. Despite its regular upgrades through technology insertion, MSE in its current configuration could no longer provide adequate support to the deployed warfighters in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) because it lacked the mobility and broadband satellite-based capabilities needed by warfighters deployed in widely dispersed locations. The Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T), an ACAT ID program in the development phase that will eventually resolve current communications deficiencies, was years away from fielding when the deployed warfighters identified an urgent need for significantly enhanced capabilities. Consequently, the Army allocated supplemental funding and used the existing MSE modification-in-service contract to initiate the JNN program and respond rapidly to a CENTCOM urgent operational needs statement requesting communications capabilities better than what their deployed MSE could deliver. A solution to meet the requirement was designed using COTS and government off-the-shelf capabilities, and a relationship was established with the 3th Infantry Division so that the new JNN capability could be deployed and training completed before its OIF rotation. The program proved to be so successful that a decision was made to deploy additional JNNs to other divisions preparing to deploy. These fieldings were unencumbered by the formal process of a program of record (POR) because the success metrics were “good, fast, and affordable.” Eventually, the JNNs became so widespread and the funding level accumulated to so high a level that some of the standard acquisition processes were appropriate. As a result, an initial operational test and evaluation was conducted in-theater and the program was ultimately melded into the WIN-T program. In sum, this program proved to be agile and responsive to warfighter needs. Lessons learned from experience with this program can be applied as the DOD adopts a more responsive process for the acquisition of IT-based systems.
The Command Post of the Future (CPOF) is a command-and-control program built with advanced visualization and collaboration technology from the commercial and academic sectors that was initiated by DARPA. There was early collaboration with the user community during system development, and the system was deployed for evaluation, training, and interoperability enhancements at the CTSF at Fort Hood, Texas. CPOF interoperates with the Army’s command-and-control POR. It received high praise from the end users, who requested that it be deployed to OIF. Based on its success the system was transitioned into a formal POR for support, further fielding, and upgrades to meet evolving end-user requirements. This is another example of a program that thrived in the absence of formal ACAT I-level program oversight. Partnering of this kind between DARPA and the Services and agencies can be a means to achieve agile development and shorten the front end of the IT system acquisition process.
The Tactical Ground Reporting System (TIGR) is another DARPA program. It is a multimedia reporting system for soldiers at the patrol level, allowing users to collect and share information to improve situational awareness and to facilitate collaboration and information analysis among junior officers. It is based on commercial information technology and was developed using rapid and agile acquisition processes without going through the normal oversight process. It was developed in collaboration with end users and has evolved into a highly valued, widely deployed system in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like CPOF, this program should be evaluated in depth for lessons learned that can be deployed across the DOD IT system acquisition community.