The future of mobile military communications could depend on how well the Defense Department and industry can talk to each other, according to panelists at the C4ISR & Networks Conference.

Lt. Col. Tamara Campbell, Marine Corps Systems Command's product manager for Integration, Interoperability and Situational Awareness, said it takes "three conversations" with industry to develop requirements for communications systems. First, what are the vendors spending their time on? Next, how do the vendors understand what they're hearing from DoD? And finally, how are they planning to solve the problems that the department needs solved?

Once, Campbell said, went on a tour of a contractor factory for a communication system being developed for the Marine Corps. It became clear that had the Marines and the provider collaborated more closely, the products could have been even better than it was.

"One of the things [the contractor] said struck me and stuck with me, and I tried to teach it to the folks I work with," she said. "He said, 'We could have given you something better, but we bid to what you asked, because if we did not, we knew we would not be able to get this work.'"

Paul Bristow, chief network architect for General Dynamics Missions Systems, said that lack of collaboration on system development ultimately ends up hurting both parties.

"There's a lot of dollars being spent in both DoD and in industry, and I don't think it benefits anybody if it's dollars misspent because people were trying to speculate what the Army, the Navy, the Air Force or the Marines wanted next," he said. "We don't get rewarded in our own reviews with our management if we spend money on something that it turns out our customers didn't want or didn't need."

To build trust, Campbell said, takes effort on both sides.

"It's events like this. It's those unsolicited proposals. It's getting out and having discussions with the budget office coming in and scheduling a meeting with those [program managers]," she said.