Primes creating own mil-specifications

June 1, 2005
“The government is looking to prime contractors to take more of a lead for system engineering and integration.”

Dr. Taylor W. Lawrence, sector vice president and general manager, C4ISR and Space Sensors division, Northrop Grumman Corp. Electronic Systems has executive responsibility for all programs and business objectives associated with the Command, Control, Communications, & Computers (C4), Intelligence, Surveillance, & Reconnaissance (ISR), and Space Sensors business areas. The division’s primary emphasis is on fielding advanced space sensor systems for intelligence gathering, ballistic missile defense and early warning, and meteorology, as well as fielding C4ISR ground processing systems for the military and intelligence communities. Dr. Lawrence also chairs the sector’s Intelligence Programs Council (IPC). Prior to coming to Northrop Grumman, Dr. Lawrence served as staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) and as Deputy Director of the Information Systems Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Q: What does the Department of Defense’s Force Transformation mean to prime contractors such as Northrop Grumman? How has it changed the way you do business if at all?

A: It generally doesn’t change the way we do business. Procurement is the same. We try to be more responsive and agile to the DOD’s large new programs such as transformational Communications and Future Combat Systems. We’re working a lot more on meeting the DOD’s timetable for transformation. We want to prove to our customers that we have the technology that is necessary and can deploy it in an affordable fashion.

Q: A little more than a decade ago the commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) initiative signaled a paradigm shift in military procurement. What procurement trends are driving DOD funding today?

A: There are a couple of things. One is that the government is looking to prime contractors to take more of a lead for system engineering and integration. We need to form alliances with suppliers to manage mil-spec procurement. The specs had gotten so large-which led to stories such as the $400 hammer.

What are really needed now are fresh specs to respond to that are more in line with COTS procurement. That role is falling to prime contractors, who have traditionally been the translators of mil-spec for suppliers.

Now, to simplify this process a prime like Northrop Grumman would create specs that are somewhat equivalent to the old mil-specs, but are based on individual programs. The real key is to communicate precisely to our suppliers in a way that they know what they need to do to perform and we get more insight into the performance. This process removes the Byzantine layers of the old bureaucratic mil-spec process. Objectives can be stated clearly and translated into technical specifications without the red tape of the past. This will result in smoother supply chain and improved management of product life cycles, which are shorter than in decades past.

Q: What are two or three DOD programs that Northrop Grumman is currently leading?

A: One is Space Radar, Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems is the chosen payload provider to two competing teams, one that is led by Northrop Grumman Space Technology in Redondo Beach, Calif., and another led by Lockheed Martin in Denver, Colo. Space Radar will provide near-instantaneous worldwide, all-weather, day/night, 24/7 imaging and detection of moving surface targets, including those deep inside denied territory, and enables or enhances missions such as global war on terrorism, counter insurgency, deep strike, and homeland defense.

Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems is also working upgrades for the E-2C Hawkeye as well as on the fire control radar for the F/A-22 and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Q: What is a major technology Northrop Grumman is working on for the military?

A: Northrop Grumman engineers are also looking gallium nitride components for semiconductors and carbon nanotubes. The nanotubes offer low-power high-performance at a molecular level. They offer a strategic antitampering capability. Basically the nanotubes can be configured so that if anyone attempts to tamper with them or reverse engineer them they will disintegrate. The emphasis with the nanotubes will be on international applications.

Q: Where are the opportunities for subcontractors and other suppliers with Northrop Grumman?

A:All electronic areas represent opportunities for advanced ESA (electronically scanned array) radar. Another area for is information processing, looking at ways get useful information as quickly as possible into the hands of the warfighter. We see a lot of advances in the commercial market in this area. Hypothetical reasoning is one area that the military is very interested in. It enables you to use data to track and hypothetically determine what your enemy will do next.

It is similar to what online retail companies such as Amazon do to determine what books you may buy next. They analyze the purchases you have already made and offer new products to you based on that data. The military would like to take that one step further to help map enemy behavior. They can also use it to track terrorists and determine what their next target would be. A lot of small companies are working on this technology.

Q: What is the best way for suppliers who are new to the military market to get their solutions in front of the right decision-makers?

A: This is a priority at all large prime contractors-how to manage suppliers. Northrop Grumman has a department set up just to handle this issue. Other primes have it as well-they call it Preferred Suppliers. Our goal is to put one Northrop Grumman face out to our suppliers on the web site. Right now it is broken down between the different sectors. They would ideally be able to start the preferred supplier process right on the web. This would make it easier for commercial companies that do not have a history of doing business with the military to get their foot in the door.

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Dr. Taylor W. Lawrence Sector Vice President and General Manager C4ISR and Space Sensors Division at Northrop Grumman Corporation Electronic Systems

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