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A new era begins for tactical radios

The Army's release of the Rifleman Radio Request for Proposals in early January 2015 marks the beginning of a new era in the procurement of tactical radios and ultimately, an example of Better Buying Power (BBP) in action. For the acquisition community, there is now an opportunity that should not be missed to more fully realize the benefits of BBP for tactical radio procurement--in cost savings and capability innovation--by ethically and iteratively engaging with the essential participants from the Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), and industry.

NDI is the new acquisition strategy

The Rifleman Radio procurement, the first of many tactical radio procurements as the Handheld, Manpack and Small Form Factor (HMS) program enters full rate production, harkens a new way for the US Army to buy radios—state the technical requirements and demand that industry offer compliant solutions that meet current and future operational requirements.

Related: Army eyes 'radio marketplace' with Rifleman RFP

More: A Revolution in Tactical Radios

In August 2014, the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (USD AT&L) released a new acquisition strategy for the terrestrial portion of the HMS program that allows ALL compliant products to compete—even those radios developed by companies without the benefit of congressionally appropriated research and development funding, so-called Non-Developmental Items or NDI.

This new open, competitive acquisition strategy is absolutely guaranteed to bring great value and significant savings to the Department of Defense. The value will come from innovative companies developing solutions that give them a differentiation and advantage in the marketplace. Such features could include additional capabilities or waveforms, smaller form factors, and greater battery life. The savings will come from good, old-fashioned competition. Companies looking for success in the marketplace will offer products at a reasonable price--a price that offers reasonable return for their investment and one that demands they innovate their design and manufacturing to maintain margin.

New behaviors needed

This new marketplace for tactical radios presents the DoD acquisition community with an opportunity that should not be missed to fully realize the benefits to the department and the warfighter. The guidelines for how to be successful in this marketplace have been very well laid out in the BBP 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 that have been published over the last few years by the OUSD AT&L. All three documents lay out the principles and attributes for the DOD's acquisition corps to follow in these fiscally challenging times. All that is needed now is for these acquisition professionals to put BBP principles and attributes into practice. I would argue, that the guidance now in place and the nature of the tactical radio market place offer a huge opportunity for the acquisition community.

Recipe for success

Success in this new marketplace will require three factors:

  1. the right people at the table;
  2. an open dialog with industry, and;
  3. an acknowledgement that the new way of doing business will be an iterative strategy, taking bite-sized steps as technology changes and improves over time.

Getting the right people to the table involves three groups:

  1. those defining capabilities;
  2. those acquiring the capability for the government and industry, and;
  3. the group that has to deliver the capability to the warfighter.

In the Army's case, this includes TRADOC headquarters and their appropriate representatives from the Centers of Excellence. These folks must hear from the acquirers and from industry what is doable in a reasonable time and at a reasonable price.

Those from the acquisition community must engage in ethical face-to-face dialog with industry. I can't emphasize enough that I mean a conversation between people versus a dialog via am RFII, where there is no direct interface beyond turning in your homework to the contracting officer. While the RFI process is an excellent tool, it must be accompanied with direct interface with members of industry. There are many appropriate ways of conducting this interface including industry days and engagement at trade shows. In my view, the former is a much more effective means of engagement.

This new marketplace for tactical radios, one that requires industry to invest their own money to develop products, will be one that delivers greater and greater capabilities over time, or iteratively. The cycle time for the delivery of new capability will depend on two factors, demands from the marketplace and leaps in technology. I believe that this cycle will also deliver less expensive and more capable products over time. There already are several examples in the tactical radio market that prove this out, such as the ongoing Mid-tier Networking Vehicular Radio and the longstanding competitive program that provides DoD with its JTRS-approved single-channel radios.

A bright future for tactical radios

The release of the Rifleman Radio RFP is just a single way station on the tactical radio modernization journey that will deliver revolutionary capabilities to the Warfighter over the next decade. If BBP 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 take root, this journey will be much easier for both the government and industry. The end result will be much-needed improved mission command capability in the hands of the warfighter and, just as importantly, the opportunity to save tens of millions of procurement dollars.

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