Posted by Courtney E. Howard
SAN DIEGO, 3 June 2010. Are you using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology because it’s the best, or because it’s all you’ve got? Should the U.S. Department of Defense and technology partners be focusing on domestic COTS or anywhere COTS? These questions were among many posed by Dr. Stephen Jarrett, chief technologist at the U.S. Navy SPAWAR Systems Center, Charleston. Jarrett kicked off the late-morning session, “COTS Integration Challenges,” at the Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum, co-located with Avionics USA, in San Diego.
The Department of Defense and soldiers in the field can’t “stick with seven years to get technology integrated into a product,” Jarrett observes. The “bad guys” go to popular commercial retailers, like a Best Buy, he says. “We are chasing an 18-month/2-year cycle and they are turning it around in a two-week cycle.”
At the same time, says Jarrett, “We are inundating the soldier with data, not information. If you go into Wal-mart, they can tell you what you bought last time and anticipate what you are likely to buy this time. I have talked to other groups that do the same thing. We need a similar solution to assist the soldier in the field who needs specific data; we need to anticipate his needs and deliver on them.”
Additional needs include fast, accurate data visualization and analysis, as well as cloud computing with security and information assurance.
“COTS has to be part of the solution,” Jarrett says. “We have to aggressively engage technology; you have to go find the technology and what the technical options are. It used to be we submitted an RFP and the best technology would beat its way to our door.” Now, it might be a commercial company like Verizon Wireless working on $300 million projects who has the technology we need, but a $1 million RFP isn’t even on the company’s radar, he notes. How do we harvest COTS technology to fit in mil-aero solutions?
Jarrett also recognizes a need to maintain the engineering quality of an aging mil-aero engineering and systems integration workforce. The average age of engineers in mil-aero are is 50, he continues.