“The General Services Administration raised the ceiling of its 8(a) Streamlined Technology Application Resource for Services (STARS) II contract by $7 billion, to $22 billion.
STARS II is a small business set-aside for customized IT services and IT-services-based solutions from 787 small business contractors that qualify under Small Business Administration standards. GSA said the contract is used by 50 federal agencies to plan and supply long-term IT projects.“
“In early April, the GSA’s 8(a) STARS II governmentwide contract hit its $15 billion ordering obligation limit.
“By raising the 8(a) STARS II ceiling, GSA continues to ensure that we meet the needs of our federal agency customers,” said GSA Administrator Emily Murphy in a June 23 statement on the increase. “As agency demand for IT products and services has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, GSA is proud that STARS II will remain available to help agencies deliver world class IT services.”
GSA started limiting task orders on the GWAC to agencies whose contracting officers had obtained a “control number” to use the contract vehicle, but it stopped issuing new control numbers.
All 787 contractors remain on the vehicle, GSA said in its announcement. Agencies can place new task orders through Aug. 30, 2021, and work can continue on those new orders through June 30, 2022.
GSA is working on a new iteration of the contract, 8(a)STARS III.
In a June 10 blog post, Laura Stanton, acting assistant commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Services’ Office of Information Technology Category, said the agency plans to issue the final solicitation for the STARS III contract by end of the federal government’s fiscal year on Sept. 30.
The initial STARS III request for information went out last August.
Stanton said the increase to STARS II wasn’t the first for the popular contract to accommodate agency demand.
“As we move into this contract’s fourth generation we can say for certain that this program is a huge success. A significant number of prior 8(a) STARS program participants have grown their businesses so much that we now see them thriving with the big companies on GSA’s Alliant 2 GWAC,” she said.”
“DARPA’s first bug bounty program, called the Finding Exploits to Thwart Tampering (FETT) program, will be held in partnership with the Department of Defense’s Defense Digital Service and Synack, a crowdsourcing security company.“
“The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is inviting security researchers to find vulnerabilities in its System Security Integration Through Hardware and Firmware systems.
Launched in 2017, SSITH aims to secure electronic systems with hardware security architectures and tools that protect against common classes of hardware vulnerabilities regularly exploited through software.
Participants will try to penetrate the SSITH hardware security schemes developed by researchers at SRI International, the University of Cambridge, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan and Lockheed Martin. Their approaches generally involve providing the hardware with more information about what the attacking software is trying to do so it can become an active participant in its own defense, DARPA officials said. The SSITH development teams are working with Galois, a computer science research and development company, to move the hardware instances systems to the cloud for the evaluations.
The emulated systems will be running in an Amazon Web Services EC2 F1 cloud. Each emulated system is based on field-programmable gate array semiconductors and includes a RISC-V processor core that has been modified to include the SSITH hardware security.
According to DARPA, each emulated system’s software stack will contain SSITH hardware security protections as well as common vulnerabilities, such as buffer errors, information leakage, resource management and numeric errors. Security researchers will be tasked to devise exploit mechanisms that bypass the hardware security protections.
The FETT challenge is expected to run from July to September 2020.
“There is a lot of complexity associated with hardware architectures, which is why we wanted to provide ample time for interested researchers to understand, explore, and evaluate the SSITH protections,” said Keith Rebello, the DARPA program manager leading SSITH and FETT.
Before security researchers and ethical hackers can join the FETT program as a Synack red team members, they must first qualify through a capture-the-flag challenge. After they are approved, participants will see a number of applications using SSITH defenses, including a medical records database system, a password authentication system for PCs and a web-based voter registration system that aims to “protect the underlying voter information from manipulation or disclosure, even in the presence of vulnerabilities in the system’s software,” Rebello said.
“Goal is to pivot away from the defense prime model (while still working with those companies) and create a new industrial base that more easily allows tech companies to simultaneously work with the Defense Department and the commercial sector.
The Air Force’s Ventures team, launched earlier this year with a tentative $1 billion in contract awards for 550 small businesses, oversees all of the branch’s small business initiatives, hopes to codify the process this year.“
“The Air Force’s increasing interest in startups isn’t just to get a taste of innovation but completely change the defense industrial base.
“We’re not going to win against China long term if they’re got a nationalized industrial base. They have access to that entire talent pool, they’ve got access to every company within their borders. And we are only working with a small subset,” Will Roper, the Air Force’s acquisition chief said of defense prime companies during a virtual Air Force Association Mitchell Institute event June 9.
“That subset continues to collapse every year under the pressure of programs that are too few and far between to sustain diversity and continual competition. So we have to have a new model that encourages companies to come in and work with [the] military but not necessarily put them on a path to become a defense prime.”
The Air Force began hosting pitch events in 2019, to stimulate its work with small businesses and speed contract awards for capabilities that could readily transition to the warfighter, and attract venture capital investment. Roper announced the creation of the AFVentures team in March as a joint effort with the service’s acquisition team, AFWERX, and the small business innovation research and small business technology transfer program.
In the last year, Roper said the Air and Space Force has added 1,000 new companies to its industrial base over the past 18 months. Those companies are still focused on research and development but the acquisition chief wants to make working with the Air Force simple and keep up that pace, adding another 1,000 companies each year with smaller investments in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Roper also said he hopes to fund “medium bets” of about $1.5 million in contract awards for about 350 startups each year.”
“The globalized pandemic reminds Americans of their inextricable ties to the rest of the world. We do not live or operate in isolation. Strength in numbers, based on common values and amplified by shared decision-making and interoperability, ensures effective deterrence, denial and, when required, defeat of those who would oppose our way of life. “
“Now, more than ever, engagement and interoperability help us maintain and extend competitive advantage. As much of the world turns inward to deal with the impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. competitors and adversaries seek advantage. National security professionals must continue to look outward, to deter, deny and, when necessary, defeat potential adversaries.
Deterrence, denial and defeat are always made easier with friends. Burden sharing at any level lessens the load the United States might otherwise bear alone. Demonstrating resolve across national boundaries also pays dividends, since potential adversaries may reconsider bad actions if they believe many countries will act together to oppose those actions.
Additionally, cognitive diversity — exploring strategies and courses of action that draw from multiple cultures and experiences — can help us outthink, rather than outfight, potential adversaries.
Finally, interoperability across the spectrum of conflict ensures the combined efforts of the United States and its allies and partners can deter, deny and defeat effectively.
Many U.S. politicians decry what they see as European allies failing to shoulder an equitable resource burden to maintain NATO’s relevance and strength. While there is always room for friends to talk about how best to split the bill, all allied contributions ultimately eliminate some national security burdens that might otherwise fall solely on the United States. Since the nation’s founding, American economic success has in many ways depended on free and open trade with allies and partners across the globe.
When Europe faced ruin from an incredibly destructive world war, U.S. forces helped catalyze an ending. And when a world war came to Europe a second time, America provided equipment and eventually forces to ensure a democratic, free market future for the western world.
The United States also played a lead role in winning the war in the Pacific, establishing the conditions for significant trade and national security relationships that continue to define international engagements.
Since that Second World War, U.S. economic and military strength has been inextricably tied to the maintenance of peace in Europe and the Pacific. These security relationships enabled economic growth with no known historical counterpart. U.S. presence and engagement through military and economic partnerships serve as the best guarantor of future peace and economic prosperity across the world.
American presence and engagement help guarantee peace and prosperity because of the inherent strength in numbers. While the United States may, in good faith, argue and disagree with its allies and partners, ultimately its interests align; we all want free and open societies based on democratic values where everyone has the opportunity to work to make a good life for their families. These shared bedrock ideals buttress alliances and partnerships as we work to deter, deny and defeat state and non-state actors who would attack those ideals. Collective resolve — backed by collective action — forms the foundation of a world order that has benefited nations across the globe with economic growth and prosperity.
But allies and partners bring more than simply burden sharing and numbers; most importantly they bring cognitive diversity to U.S. strategy, operations and tactics. Academic studies, as well as practical experience, clearly demonstrate that diverse, inclusive teams make better decisions. American warriors don’t own a monopoly on insights that can provide advantage across the spectrum of conflict.
Different experiences — cultural, educational and professional — frame approaches to tough challenges. We operate more effectively when we consider a broad array of alternatives, and we benefit from partners’ insights when we include them in all facets of operations, from determining strategy, to planning operations, through execution and finally evaluating effectiveness.
My experiences in my last assignment in Japan confirmed for me that our unique network of allies and partners is a force multiplier to achieve peace, deterrence and interoperable warfighting capability. The Defense Department is reinforcing its commitment to established alliances, while also expanding and deepening relationships with new partners who share our respect for self-determination, fair and reciprocal trade, and the rule of law.
Building partnership capacity in our long-standing security alliances is the bedrock on which U.S. strategy rests. It provides a durable, asymmetric strategic advantage that no competitor or rival can match. Expanding interoperability will ensure respective defense enterprises can work together effectively during day-to-day competition, crisis and conflict.
Through focused security cooperation, information sharing agreements and regular exercises, we connect intent, resources and outcomes and build closer relationships between militaries and economies. Increasing interoperability also involves ensuring military hardware and software can integrate more easily with those of our allies, to include offering financing and sales of cutting edge U.S. defense equipment to security partners.
The National Security Strategy calls on the United States to pursue cooperation and reciprocity with allies, partners and aspiring partners; cooperation means sharing responsibilities and burdens. The United States expects its allies and partners to shoulder a fair share of the burden to protect against common threats. When we pool resources and share responsibility for our common defense, the security burden becomes lighter and more cost-effective.
The globalized pandemic reminds Americans of their inextricable ties to the rest of the world. We do not live or operate in isolation. Strength in numbers, based on common values and amplified by shared decision-making and interoperability, ensures effective deterrence, denial and, when required, defeat of those who would oppose our way of life. “
“The bottom line: the notion that the United States is shrinking to a shell of its former glory or somehow withering in the face of challenges from its strategic competitors leaves out all nuance and simplifies a highly complicated world into clickbait.“
“Withmore than40 million Americans out of work, demonstrations rocking cities coast-to-coast, and projections for a dire economic picture this summer, you can be forgiven for believing the United States is on a rapid decline.
The conventional wisdom now emerging is one of a distracted, bumbling, and fumbling America ceding the international playing field to strategic competitors and outright adversaries. In the words of a featured June 2 report in the New York Times: “with the United States looking inward, preoccupied by the fear of more viral waves, unemployment soaring over 20 percent and nationwide protests ignited by deadly police brutality, its competitors are moving to fill the vacuum, and quickly.”
While this “U.S. is in decline” narrative is exceedingly popular today, it also happens to be inaccurate — and dangerous. If it becomes widely accepted as fact that Washington is “retreating” and leaving adversaries to “fill the vacuum,” then U.S. policymakers responsible for formulating and executing foreign policy will be increasingly susceptible to making bad policy.
We need to clear the record: discussions about the United States losing its luster, or on its way to meeting the same fate as the Roman Empire, are vastly overblown. To continue making these arguments is to wipe away all context and ignore recent history.
Much has already been written about China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, perhaps the world’s most important shipping lane and an area where multiple countries have set out competing sovereignty claims. This year alone, the People’s Liberation Army-Navy has sunk a Vietnamese fishing vessel in disputed waters off the Paracel Islands and engaged in a month-long standoff with a Malaysian oil exploration ship in waters claimed by China, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Beijing has become noticeably more confrontational with Taiwan, dropping the word “peaceful” from its reunification plans and reportedly preparing a military drill simulating the seizure of Taiwanese-held Pratas Island. And as Beijing´s move on Hong Kong last week shows, the Chinese Communist Party is getting bolder and asserting itself on issues it has long considered as vitally important to its national security, despite universal international condemnation.
We are led to believe that China’s recent activity in the South China Sea is some direct product of a U.S. seemingly incapable of maintaining a global leadership role. This, however, discounts the fact that Beijing has long viewed the waterway as its exclusive domain and has in fact spent the last 25 years coercing, cajoling, and otherwise chipping away at its neighbors’ competing claims through various military maneuvers. To chalk up China’s activity in the Pacific to a lack of U.S. resolve or leadership is to overstate Washington’s ability to deter Chinese behavior in this domain. If this mistaken premise is accepted outright, it will almost certainly convince Washington that a more intensive U.S. military response would be deter future Chinese assertiveness.
It’s important to note that China has continued to improve its posture in the South and East China Seas despite an uptick in U.S. freedom-of-navigation operations and B-1 bomber flights in international airspace.
Nor does the present narrative explain the recent spate of Russian interceptions of U.S. aircraft in international airspace, which are not exactly a new phenomenon either. On May 26, Russian Su-35 aircraft challenged a U.S. Navy P-8A flying in the eastern Mediterranean in what the U.S. Navy called an “unsafe and unprofessional” operation. Five weeks earlier, a similar Russian aircraft intercepted another U.S. surveillance plane in the same area. The U.S. Air Force has reciprocated; on April 9, U.S. F-22s escorted two Russian maritime surveillance aircraft after they entered the Alaskan Air Identification Zone. Such encounters are likely to continuee, which is precisely why it is urgent for U.S. and Russian officials to establish far more durable channels of communication in order to deescalate the situation and ensure these types of relatively regular incidents don´t result in a miscalculation or mid-air collision.
Over the previous week, U.S. officials have suggested Russia is making a power-play in North Africa and establishing its own strategic base in Libya. According to U.S. Africa Command, more than a dozen Russian warplanes recently flew to Eastern Libya purportedly to assist its partner in the civil war, renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, after a series of humiliating setbacks on the battlefield. Russian investment in Libya´s conflict, however, hasn´t exactly panned out the way the Kremlin anticipated.
Haftar has turned out to be an unreliable, mercurial, stubborn wannabe strongman whose with other armed, tribal factions is fueled by little more than contempt for the U.N.-recognized government in Tripoli. Russian President Vladimir Putin was publicly embarrassed last December, when Haftar walked out of a Kremlin-orchestrated peace conference. Negotiations remain practically nonexistent, which suggests Russia will soon face an unenviable choice between doubling down on a war that shows no signs of abating or disengaging and looking feckless.
As for Russia´s presence in Syria, this too has become an albatross around Moscow´s neck. While Russian air support in 2015 turned the war around and saved Bashar al-Assad from death or exile, Moscow´s investment in Syria since the conflict erupted more than nine years ago has yet to translate into concrete security benefits for the Kremlin. Notwithstanding the establishment of a few Russian airbases and friendly lease terms for the warm-port in Tartus, Moscow´s so-called victory in Syria consists of nothing more than a broken country led by a government that is corrupt, largely isolated from the West, and woefully incompetent in delivering basic services. Syria´s economy is in utter shambles as a result of the war, a rash of international economic sanctions, and outright mismanagement. Assad, the man the Kremlin has backed despite significant harm to its reputation, remains intransigent on even the slightest compromise with his opponents—leading Russia itself to question whether its support of the Syrian dictator was worth the cost.
Developing a foreign policy that meets U.S. interests requires working from accurate assessments and the world as it really is. Relying on a black-and-white view of international affairs is risky business and could very well produce policies that will truly weaken the United States.”
“During the first six months of 1971, I was consumed with making it through Marine Corps officer training at The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia. I was not particularly aware of Vietnam anti-war protests going on around the country and close by in Washington, D.C. When I did think of the protests, I resented the demonstrators since I was a firm believer in law and order. Also, some of the demonstrations were aimed at our military personnel who were serving, or had served, in Vietnam. That sentiment was particularly hurtful to me, as I had lost a childhood friend and fellow Marine, Lee Herron, who had died heroically in Vietnam in 1969.
Why should any of our nation’s volunteers or draftees be looked down upon for having gone where our country’s leadership had sent them? It was a dark period in our country, much as today is. Why should any ethnicity or group of people in our nation be looked down upon today?
Especially since I had come from Houston, the spring of 1971 seemed to be an extremely cold one that lasted until early June. Going from doing indoor work in Houston to doing pushups in the snow at Quantico seemed like a surreal experience.
As I arrived at the school in Quantico, Virginia, one morning in early May, my class of young officers was told that the field exercises for the next day or so had been canceled. A number of the instructors had been sent to Washington, D.C., to guard a number of government installations in the city, and to keep the major bridges open. The troops also took with them various items of equipment, including a number of the Vietnam-era radios, the so-called PRC-25 radios.
Since those PRC-25 radios were critical to our TBS-planned field exercises, the loss of them to the troops guarding D.C. meant that our missions were “scrubbed” until a later date. But most of my class members and I were pleased at the turn of events, as we got to spend a couple of extremely cold days indoors.
I did not keep many articles and photos from the local Quantico Sentry newspaper during that spring, but I did keep several photos and the main article that showed and described the anti-war protests going on in Washington, D.C. The photo that stood out to me more than any other one depicts some Marines screening a long-haired young man and a newsman, as they approached the George Mason Memorial Bridge. I found the contrast quite striking.
On the one hand, there are the Marines in full uniform and obviously with short hair. Approaching them is an assumed civilian demonstrator with long hair down past his shoulders, and a newsman wearing a suit and neatly dressed. The caption accompanying the photograph reads as follows: “Marines queried newsmen and demonstrators alike at approaches to George Mason Memorial Bridge. All pedestrians were closely screened before crossing bridges.”
Another searing photo depicts a Marine Chinook helicopter with Marines onboard from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, about to land on the grounds next to the Washington Monument. According to the photo’s caption, the purpose was to “head off demonstrators moving toward the Treasury Building.” I have always wondered whether there was a concern of demonstrators attempting to loot the Treasury Building! But if that were the case, the Treasury Building was guarded only by a sole Marine, at least in the published photo.
The caption under the photograph of the solitary Marine guarding the Treasury Building indicates that “Treasury was the farthest point of Marine control in Washington.” Wow! How difficult is it to imagine a portion of our nation’s capital being under “Marine control”? Are the protests currently in progress and being planned — are they going to result in Washington, D.C., and perhaps other cities, being under some degree of military control?
Are the protests currently in progress and being planned — are they going to result in Washington, D.C., and perhaps other cities, being under some degree of military control?”
“The earthworm-like robot now being produced for DARPA incorporates some of his previously developed characteristics like squeezing through tight spaces, while also being equipped to dig deep and rapidly move around.
A prototype that is multiple feet in length, with artificial muscles that deliberately imitate earthworms’ agile movements through soil, it traverses “with the force of tree roots penetrating through soft rock.”
“General Electric Company’s technological development division GE Research is creating and refining a soft and smart tunnel-digging robot—inspired by the makeup and movements of earthworms—that could underpin critical underground military operations of the future.
The research wing was recently tapped for a 15-month, $2.5 million project through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Underminer program to perfect and prove the capabilities of its already-designed robotic prototype, which insiders believe will also have applications beyond the battlefield.
“The key objectives of the DARPA program are to demonstrate a robot that can move at a speed of 10 cm/sec and dig a tunnel that is 500 meters in length and at least 10 cm in diameter,” GE Research’s project leader Deepak Trivedi recently told Nextgov. “We have made great progress in the project thus far and are on track to meeting these objectives.”
Through Underminer, DARPA aims to explore and demonstrate the rapid construction and uses of tactical underground tunnel networks to support the U.S. military’s efforts amid harsh environments. The ideal end result would be new solutions incorporating advanced robotics and sensing technologies that can outperform present commercial drilling capabilities. Aside from GE, the agency also selected teams from Colorado School of Mines and Sandia National Laboratories to demonstrate their own tech solutions and integrations.
“The ability to quickly bore tactical tunnels could benefit contingency operations such as rapid ammunition resupply, rescue missions, or other immediate needs,” DARPA’s program manager Andrew Nuss told Nextgov Tuesday. “As a research and development agency, DARPA’s role is to advance technologies to address national security challenges.”
He added that the agency’s transition partners in the military services would ultimately determine the timelines for precisely when these new in-the-works solutions might be deployed to support operations on—or under—the frontlines.
The inspiration for GE Research’s earthworm-mimicking soft robot and overall approach to the ongoing project stems from Trivedi’s graduate and doctoral research during his time in Penn State University’s mechanical engineering program. Embarking on his doctoral work—which GE’s release notes was “one of the earliest in soft robotics”—Trivedi sought to build and demonstrate a biologically-inspired robot based off of naturally occurring soft structures, such as the arms of octopi or the trunks of elephants.
Though the team didn’t work with live earthworms in the effort, Trivedi said much of their understanding and insights were formed reviewing scientific literature, “which provided rich detail on how earthworms are able to move so efficiently through soil and can carve out nearly perfect tunnels.”
“It’s how they move that intrigued us most,” he said.
Earthworms rely on a flexible-but-powerful muscular structure filled with fluid, called the “hydrostatic skeleton,” the mechanical engineer explained—and that structure poses a stark contrast to conventional robots, which have rigid structures and discrete joints, limiting their ability to operate in unstructured and congested settings. Trivedi and team’s robot is made up of powerful, yet soft, earthworm-imitating “muscles” that he said enable it to “function in a similar fashion to a real earthworm in nature.” This system will adapt and autonomously change its gait in response to shifting soil conditions and eventually have a range of more degrees of freedom in movement that traditional bots with joints.
“The robot can apply large forces for making the tunnel, yet easily steer through obstacles due to its flexible structure,” Trivedi said.
In their effort, the research team is taking a “very agile and iterative approach,” quickly fabricating new designs of robot-related prototypes as they uncover new insights from their tests and experiments. And one of the shifts they’re set on making early on is a move from a pneumatic to hydraulic muscle system for powering the movements of the robot. Initial prototypes for the project use a pneumatic system, which Trivedi explained relies on compressed or pressured air.
“Hydraulic systems rely on liquids, which is more consistent with the makeup of earthworms,” he noted. “Earthworms use a combination of liquid and muscles to move efficiently through the soil.”
The work is cutting-edge and soft robots are not yet the mainstream, so what Trivedi called the “building blocks” behind them—components like soft sensors and actuators—usually do not exist commercially. This means “a lot of ingenuity and effort goes into designing and fabricating reliable and capable soft active components for these robots,” he said, noting that while this might be a challenge, it is “also an opportunity for advancing the state of the art.”
The team already performed some initial lab scale demonstrations of the robot tunneling through dirt, as well as some outdoor testing of the prototype. On top of perfecting the emerging robot’s structure, another top priority going forward is to “build more autonomy” into how the smart structure moves and operates.
“In the future, we’d like the robot to be given a destination from point A to point B that it can seek and find on its own,” Trivedi said. “This will require the integration of artificial intelligence, sensing controls and automation technology.”
To that end, the team plans to tap into AI and sensing expertise from insiders across GE’s Research Lab. And though DARPA’s end use for the to-be-completed solutions are being created with the intent to support U.S. military personnel, Trivedi said the use of the tool is not solely limited to underground tunneling. The company already previously produced and field-tested snake-like robots that could be used for jet engine inspection and repair.
“The work DARPA is funding also could lead to other significant advances in soft robotics that open up a whole new set of applications in new areas like industrial inspection and infrastructure such as optical fiber for high speed internet in remote places,” Trivedi said. “So much of what DARPA funds has a positive multiplier effect when it comes to technology advancements and paving the way to new applications, and this program could have similar positive impacts down the line.”
The undersigned was on the staff of one of the design companies for the gun system of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle development program. I witnessed first hand one of the most costly weapons system development programs in history.
I cannot help but observe that we are undergoing a similar debacle for the Bradley’s replacement. The bottom line question: With Pandemic and civil unrest economic impact today, can we afford to embark on the equivalent of a re-release and update of the famous HBO Movie, “Pentagon Wars”?
“TASK AND PURPOSE“:
“The Army will likely end up spending upwards of $1.57 billion to develop a replacement for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle that’s served the U.S. military for nearly four decades, according to a new assessment from the Government Accountability Office — and that’s just for a fleet of prototypes.
As of January 2020, the service had doled out roughly $366.64 million in funding as part of a middle-tier acquisition program for the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle Increment 1 the service initiated in September 2018, according to the GAO report.
The Army is expected to spend another $1.2 billion to procure 14 prototype vehicles apiece from two separate defense contractors, an acquisition that, planned for this past March, fell apart when the service cancelled its solicitation in January in order to “revisit the requirements, acquisition strategy and schedule” prior to prototyping.
The cancellation was reportedlyprompted by the fact that the service only received one bid, from General Dynamics Land Systems, for the OMFV prototyping competition, as Army leaders told Defense News at the time.
According to the GAO report, the Army had previously planned on handing out an initial production contract award in late fiscal year 2023 and fielding the initial replacement vehicle by some time in early fiscal year 2026, but those dates are now up in the air due to the January cancellation.
“Officials stated that Army leadership is still committed to moving forward with the program, but they will need to reassess the achievability of their requirements within the desired timeframe,” according to the GAO report.
As Task & Purpose previously reported, the OMFV — part of Army Futures Command’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV) program — is just the latest attempt to replace the Bradley that has spanned nearly two decades.
In 1999, the Army adopted the Future Combat Systems (FSC) Manned Ground Vehicles (MGV) program was initiated as part of a broad effort to make the service’s legacy forces “lighter, more modular, and — most importantly — more deployable,” as the Army put it at the time.
That program was cancelled a decade later in 2009 and immediately replaced with the Ground Combat Vehicle program in 2010, which sought to replace the Bradley with the a Ground Combat Infantry Fighting Vehicle before being cancelled in 2014 amid rising costs and expanding requirements.”
“In a move that could put software factory BESPIN (Business and Enterprise Systems Product Innovation) center stage, the Air Force has been forced to consider its mobile future in addressing its telework needs.
BESPIN works with a $17 million budget — $14 million from SBIRs and $3 million from the Air Force budget.“
“I think the COVID situation has actually helped to highlight the fact that the Air Force has no mobile capabilities,” Lt. Col. Paul Cooper, BESPIN’s CEO, told FCW.
“We’re hoping that translates to budget allocation so that we can go out and build an organic mobile development capability,” Cooper said.
BESPIN’s acronym is yet another Defense Department Star Wars reference — the name of a gas planet that’s home to Cloud City. It followed in the path of Kessel Run, a pioneering Dev Ops program at USAF (also a Star Wars namecheck). BESPIN got its start with just a five airmen in 2018, according to Master Sgt. James Crocker, BESPIN’s CTO and lab director.
“Let’s take a few airmen, let’s lock them in a closet off base — literally like a closet, it was a really small room — find some problem sets, throw them at y’all see what you can do,” Crocker told FCW of the early days.
The first problem was taking the task of ordering of parts and putting it in a mobile device, reducing the protocol to six screens and nine button clicks in six weeks from idea to prototype.
BESPIN now boasts near 100 personnel – double its size from just September 2019 – and are working on 14 development efforts, 12 applications and two platforms. But the timelines for those projects could accelerate because of current needs.
BESPIN is also hoping to scale its mobile interface used by maintainers to order parts to the entire Air Force by 2023.
“Right now as we built this out, we realized that there was a lot of other hurdles and everything that we had to go through from the Air Force policy to getting access, remote access via iPads,” Cooper said of the project, adding that they were still wrestling with mobile platform access and legacy system challenges.
The group also wants to scale capabilities, such as mobile-delivery-as-a-service, its enterprise mobile and business platform which hosts applications and improve delivery times and help deliver on that mobile workforce.
Wake up call
“The Air Force has a tsunami of mobile requirements coming and we’ve started to do that. But the problem is is there’s not been really a budget allocated to going out and standing this up,” Cooper said.
But the trick is getting senior leadership bought in. Crocker said he’s frequently made the pitch, but it’s a hard sell because the assumption is that mobile capabilities exist in the Air Force — just as they do in the civilian world — and are cheap to make.
Andrew Hoog, founder of NowSecure, which specializes in automated mobile security testing, told FCW “traditional controls that have been in place to go test web apps or traditional apps are simply not effective testing mobile apps. It’s a different architecture…there’s a whole bunch of sensors that sit on your phone and they don’t sit behind firewalls.”
NowSecure partners with BESPIN to run automatic security testing on the apps it builds. The company was one of the first to be awarded an Small Business Innovation Research contract, and later a follow-on contract, via one of the Air Force’s first Pitch Day in 2019 to support continuous mobile security testing for BESPIN. The result was taking the company’s off-the-shelf product and tweaking it for the Air Force’s needs.
“Mobile basically runs the economy now. To a large degree, the federal government and DOD have been left behind those waves of mobile innovation because of stringent security requirements,” Brian Reed, NowSecure’s chief mobility officer told FCW.
But getting the Air Force to scale its mobile efforts will require a policy shift — including subverting the notion that mobile devices are inherently unsafe.
Jason Howe, the Air Force’s CTO and chief cloud architect for manpower, personnel and services (A1) said as much during a May 11 panel discussion on identity management.
“In the DOD, I truly believe that if we can start securely authenticating users on their personal mobile devices to interact with A1 systems on government devices to interact with A1 systems, that we will see growth occur. But you’ve got to get past that first step,” Howe said.
And that comes down to culture and policy.
“Policy doesn’t reflect mobile capabilities,” Crocker said, such as “how we secure and vet DOD-owned data versus public data. If we publish an application that’s a government-only application and our men and women our airmen download it and they put government data on there and there’s a breach between the two, that phone is now compromised. And so those, those capabilities are major hurdles to [bringing] your own approved device.”
“The chances of this happening again are not zero for sure,” said Gen. John Murray, Futures Command’s commanding general.
“It’s demographics, it’s urbanization, it’s economies, it’s pandemics,” he said during a teleconference with reporters hosted by George Washington University’s Project for Media and National Security.
The Army is examining what alternative futures may look like and how they will affect the service, he said. It is particularly concerned about pandemics.
Nestled under Army Futures Command is Army Medical Research and Development Command. Murray noted that the medical command has many smart doctors and researchers who have done key work on viruses such as Ebola, SARS and Zika.
“They’re absolutely a key part of the research that’s going on right now” with COVID-19, he said.
These researchers have noted that over the past decade and a half there has been a substantial increase in the number of new coronaviruses emerging in the world, Murray said. Therefore, as the Army, military and country begin to look into the future, pandemics have to be accounted for and considered, he added.
Meanwhile, Army weapon programs across the board are on track despite the impact of the novel coronavirus, said Bruce Jette, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology.
“Industry has made a significant adjustment in order to try and make sure that they continue producing on time and on schedule,” he said.
While they haven’t hit those targets 100 percent of the time, the Army only has one program where it knows it will have to make a significant change, Jette said. That involves the Intelligence Electronic Warfare Tactical Proficiency Trainer, which falls under the Army’s program executive office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation, according to an Army spokesperson.
“It’s one of our smaller programs and … is tied to a small company,” he said. The Army has found that the greatest sensitivities so far during the pandemic tend to be in the programs that have connectivity to smaller companies, Jette said. “If one person gets sick in the company, you often end up with the entire company being in quarantine for 14 days,” he said.
However, having only one major program slip is a “pretty good success and tells you a little bit about how hard industry is working to try and stay on track,” he said.
For the Army’s larger efforts, which include acquisition category one and acquisition category two programs, the Army remains on track for first unit equipped for all those, he said.
“That doesn’t mean that some of the programs aren’t having adjustments to delivery schedules or adjustments to milestones,” he said. “We’re making adjustments as necessary and then working with the companies to try and catch up.
Industry has so far been extremely cooperative with the Army in keeping leadership up to date on any potential COVID-related issues, Jette noted.
“Contractually, they don’t have to tell us a lot about their subs. In fact, in some cases they don’t have to tell us anything about their subs or their subs of subs,” he said. “But I have a 60-page report that gets updated on a daily basis of the status of the subs to the various major programs.”
That can only happen because of the cooperation of industry, he said.”