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Open Architecture Cuts Cost, Promotes Competition, Official Says

By Cheryl PellerinDoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2014 – Adopting open architectures in systems that the Defense Department buys from industry can reduce costs and facilitate competition, the assistant secretary of defense for acquisition said here yesterday.

Katrina G. McFarland was the morning keynote speaker at Defense Daily’s 2014 Open Architecture Summit, which focused on open architecture in military acquisition.

Open architecture is a system in which the specifications are made public to encourage third-party vendors to develop add-on products. In defense acquisition, the term extends to creating separate modules in a larger system, each of which can be updated to modernize the entire system without rebuilding it, and the modules can be produced by different vendors, promoting diversity and competition at the module or component level.

Acquisition Strategies Implement Open Systems Architecture

McFarland said 75 percent of Defense Department acquisition strategies implement open systems architecture across all services and agencies. “The importance that we place on it is not just in word only, it’s in action,” she added.

“This department is seriously engaged in trying to understand how to help our program managers and our department and our industry look at open architecture and its benefits,” McFarland said, “and understand truly what our objectives are related to intellectual property and making sure that we’re doing it based on the best interest of national security relative to a business case.”

According to the August 2014 Guidelines for Creating and Maintaining a Competitive Environment for Supplies and Services in the Department of Defense, developing an open system may be less expensive than traditional systems because of reductions in material cost, the use of commercial standard interfaces, and the more effective maintenance and modification possible over a system’s lifecycle.

Open systems architecture also may be used to overcome barriers to competition by applying open standards and open business model principles, the Guidelines book says.

McFarland told the audience that confusion exists in the defense industry about intellectual property and open systems architecture. “The government has no interest in pursuing intellectual property when it’s the ‘secret sauce’ of a company,” she said, “but … we are very interested in what I could call the interfaces.”

Owning Interfaces Allows Department to Compete

Owning the interfaces and the architecture allows the department to compete, the assistant secretary explained.

“Conceptually, you’re trying to get your program managers … to understand when they design their functional architecture that they have to take into account what they must go after in terms of … modularity so they can build and change in that area,” McFarland said. “You should have a logic behind what you’re doing, and it should be based on a business case, and you should be able to articulate where you consider those threats to be most prevalent so you can [determine] how to address that interface.”

In terms of defense exportability, she added, “I’m very interested in ensuring that when I build something I know will have export trade related to it.”

“Because of our relationship with other nations,” she added, “I want to make sure I’ve protected the ability of those countries to implement their aspects [of open architecture] as well.”

Guidelines Offer Information on Acquisition Practices

McFarland said the Guidelines book offers good information about the use of open architecture in military acquisition practices.

“In that book you will find … highlights of what we believe people need to think about, … and we give examples throughout the document of how [open architecture] works to the benefit of industry, to the benefit of the government, and most importantly, to the benefit of national security,” she said.

The book advises that “the essence of OSA is to take the long-standing engineering practice of modularization and adding to that the rigor of ensuring those modules can be separated from each other in a well-orchestrated manner.”

These technical practices, the book adds, “provide the power to acquire components of a system from separate sources and yield a business model that facilitates competition. OSA enables increased opportunities for competition of systems upgrades and competition at the subsystem level to improve innovation.”

Even fielded systems can create a competitive environment or open-systems architecture, McFarland said, adding that many defense companies “are looking to try to find a way to create their systems in a new form, bringing about improvement in their systems to the performance of the threat, and doing it through open systems architecture.”

Better Buying Power 3.0

The department’s Better Buying Power 3.0 initiative emphasizes such innovation and technical excellence while remaining focused on continual improvement, the assistant secretary told the audience.

“Better Buying Power now addresses the reality of our future,” she added. “What we’re seeing in front of us is that we need to refresh our technological superiority, … improving our engineering skills, improving our workforce skills writ large, bringing about a closer relationship with industry at the conceptual level of our requirements, opening the door before we’ve decided on the final set of requirements [so] industry is able to provide us their inputs without having it be a conflict of interest.”

Areas Being Considered for Future Strategies

The assistant secretary said that areas being considered for the military’s future strategies include electronic warfare, long-range air-to-air missiles, radars operating in nonconventional bandwidths, counter-space capabilities, longer range and more accurate ballistic and cruise missiles, improved undersea warfare capabilities, and cyber and informational operations.

“These are not trivial,” she said. “These are challenges, these are innovations, and we’re talking with the senior leadership in each of our largest defense industries, and we’re talking about them through the lens of addressing current and emerging threats.”

The idea of open architecture for the Defense Department also is not trivial, McFarland said.

“It’s a means of achieving our needs,” she added, “and all of us have seen evidence over time of how well that provides us the opportunity to resurge.”