By John Rhea
WASHINGTON — Open systems — rather than commercial off-the-shelf, or COTS — is perhaps the best description of what is happening in the military electronics world, says Duncan Young, director of marketing for board designer DY 4 Systems in Kanata, Ontario.
Young says open systems best describes military procurement because COTS procurement is a process, not a component description. COTS is the process of acquiring the most appropriate technology at a reasonable price, not the lowest price, Young says.
"COTS has not had its day," Young told attendees of April's COTScon East Conference in Washington. He cited what he called a "shining example" of COTS use in hand-held receivers for the Global Positioning System and use in Navy command and control systems, in which the program managers "jumped in with both feet."
COTS remains a "little market niche," Young says, but it has transformed the business environment.
He boils the issue down to two methodologies: the "fresh" approach, or the "frozen" approach. The choice is between freezing the design at the engineering manufacturing development stage (the "frozen" approach) or maintaining an open architecture with functional partitioning that can accommodate technology insertion (the "fresh" approach).
The frozen approach provides total design control and predictable performance, but it is inflexible and runs the constant risk of obsolescence. The fresh approach may incur additional logistics burdens, but it represents what Young called a "future-proof backbone" that can be upgraded as the mission or threat changes.
Does COTS cause obsolescence, he asked the audience rhetorically. No, he said, because the market was already changing before COTS. "Neglect and inertia are the causes of obsolescence," he proclaimed. His bottom-line advice: get "technology insertion-ready."