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Electronically-linked teams design the defense systems of the future

DN Staff

May 18, 1998

6 Min Read
Electronically-linked teams design the defense systems of the future

Government defense budget cutbacks have forced the U.S. armed services to be "lean and mean," even in their basic approach to developing next-generation defense systems. One example is the development of the U.S. Army's Crusader cannon artillery system, a project in which engineers, purchasing professionals, and business managers work closely together to deliver "best-value" technology.

Key to efficiently getting the most bang for the defense buck has been "integrated industry and government product development teams" (IPTs), according to Jeff Van Keuren, manager for public affairs at United Defense (Minneapolis), Crusader's prime contractor. United Defense, its partner General Dynamics Land Systems (Sterling Heights, Mich.), subcontractors, and the Army have personnel on the multi-discipline teams, which balance requirements, cost, and schedule in reaching decisions. Purchasing professionals and engineers on the teams forge links between suppliers, contractors, and the government as more subcontractors come on board, says Keuren. "What also is significant is getting government involved on the teams. We don't have a 'we/they' situation, but instead work toward a common goal."

Steve Flach, Crusader business manager for United Defense, notes the teams are chaired by the company and the Army procurement office based at the Picatinny Arsenal, N.J. Team members are electronically linked at multiple sites (see map) in an integrated-data environment for project data management (PDM).

"The system can provide real-time data exchange and configuration management by a variety of modes: T-1 line, the Internet, or dial-up," notes Flach. "A variety of development tools are available to handle this information, depending on discipline." Noteworthy are Pro/engineer from Parametric Technology (Waltham, Mass.), for CAD; for system development and risk management, RBD/RTM from Ascent Logic (San Jose, Calif.) is used; and Rationale's (Minneapolis) Rose handles software development.

Take me back

Before the IPTs were tooled up and running, team structure and functioning were tested and proven. This took place in 1994 and 1995 at the Minneapolis site. The electronic "tool sets" were identified, selected, tested, and proven for use at the remote sites. This program also formulated procedures and requirements for subcontractors to meet in bidding for program procurements.

Flach says integrated teams are much more effective than traditional government, contractor, and subcontractor relationships.

"There is no alternative to a common development environment," Flach believes. "We are achieving milestones at a faster rate than most Department of Defense projects. Systems integration and interface control are realizing the most benefit, along with reducing the review time between organizations, since everything is in real time."

Integrated environments allow fast component design maturation. Major systems such as the gun, engine, and transmission benefited almost immediately, says Flach, with other subsystems coalescing within six months. He adds that the environment is installed at lower-level suppliers when there is value to be added. "For example, everyone will be using Pro/engineer, except the mom-and-pop machine shops with small contracts, where it costs more to implement than would be saved."

According to Van Keuren, a vital part of bringing about the integrated team success was an "Industry Day" organized by Flach in December 1994, during the requirements phase of the program. This gave potential suppliers an overview of the timing of prospective requests for proposal (RFPs), making them aware of what the program would be asking for and when. Also discussed were integrated-team ground rules and requirements, performance yardsticks, and cost goals. "Many bidders were often finding out about an RFP too late, now they could turn one around quickly by being aware of what was coming up," says Van Keuren. Currently, the program is advertising procurement opportunities six months in advance on the Internet at www.udlp.com/ crusader.

The Industry Day produced another important purchasing result, according to Flach. "The Day resulted in a revised potential supplier list having 450 more companies and capabilities. The Industry Day database was put into a file of key products as a starting point for engineering and is continuously updated. In pre-RFP decisions, a purchasing professional on each IPT goes to the data base and decides if a product needs to be procured (purchased off the shelf) or subcontracted for research and development (R&D) efforts." Engineers then review and comment on the file submitted by purchasing agents.

Van Keuren says the system is working very well due to the automation and software tools in place that provide quality involvement of purchasing professionals with the engineering staff. "Getting a drawing to purchasing is only an e-mail away, and Pro/engineer gives us a bill of materials when the drawing is done."

Once an RFP is published and bids come in, the decision is not a classic "down select," according to Flach. "It's more of a capabilities review of each bidder, which indicates what was desired without closing the door for the future. Any procurement selection is based on 'best value'--not necessarily lowest cost--and is a combination of technical performance, schedule, and cost."

In outlining the team approach, Flach is quick to point out that the product development teams must be flexible in their emphasis. "Early in the program they had to concentrate on system engineering. Now they must emphasize mechanical, electronics, software, and engine design. In a year they'll be focusing on the integration and fabrication phase."

On the civilian front

In addition to the impact of integrated teams, both Flach and Van Keuren note the significance of commercial marketplace influences on military development and procurement. "Like many high-tech civilian purchases, we're looking at small-component production volumes," says Flach. "Our suppliers have to be aware of commercial developments and what would be available for our use. And it will be up to them to maintain our production line using just-in-time practices to cut inventory costs."

But simulation-based defense development and acquisition may prove to be the most important influence from the commercial sector, according to Flach.

"Boeing pioneered this in designing the 777 with virtual prototypes. Now Chrysler, in TV commercials, is showing how they designed their latest cars with simulation-based tests, before any were built. This saves time, which equals money." He says United Defense has established a systems-integration facility in Minneapolis to run virtual prototype testing.

Maj. Gen. John Michitsch, Crusader program executive officer, says, "We can verify performance and ensure everything fits together before a single piece of hardware or line of code ever comes into being. We can bring soldiers into the development environment, incorporating their feedback to verify the design approach--from initial concept through fielding."

Flach and Van Keuren say "cultural" issues--like getting organizations to provide the necessary resources to the Crusader program--were the greatest obstacles to integrating suppliers into the design process. Companies used to producing multiple products had to think about supporting a single one through the life of the program. Many companies saw their matrix organizations as producing end products. "They had to refocus to produce integrated products," says Flach. "One company was accustomed to operating under the low-price bid concept--not just for itself but for its suppliers also," he adds. That was just one case of getting the concept of best-value procurement accepted.

While the Crusader is one of the first major military programs to hinge on integrated teams for development and procurement, it won't be the last. Says Gen. Michitsch: "We're reinventing the acquisition business--a blueprint, or perhaps I should say a CAD file, for the future."

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