Solution to slow mobile technology acquisition could lie in classification

You’ve heard the problem before: computer technology advances too quickly for the government acquisition process to keep up. But solutions? Those don’t come up quite as often, and when they do, they tend to involve new programs designed to reform the acquisition process, like DoD’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental.

But Nathan Kielman, tactical mobility lead in the weapons division at the Naval Air Warfare Center at China Lake, California, has an idea that takes a new approach to the issue as part of a larger plan to put meaningful mobile devices in the hands of warfighters.

“What we’re attempting to do is drive cultural change at all levels by challenging the status quo,” Kielman said during a Dec. 14 FCW webinar on mobility. “Effectively, we’re looking at new policies and procedures for exploiting these commercial mobile computing devices, trying to establish the fact that they’re consumables. The cost of a mobile computing device being from $300 to $800 these days is much less than the typical logistics chain on a historic laptop, or supporting a device for a long period of time, for three to five years.”

The idea is that mobile technology is designed to be traded in for the latest upgrade every year or two, so why not reclassify it, treating it like less expensive equipment meant to be used up and disposed?

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But acquisition is just the first in a long list of challenges the military has to deal with before it can deploy mobile technology to its warfighters. So Kielman is working on establishing a team to lead the way in confronting and solving these specific issues.

“What we’re trying to do out here at the Naval Air Warfare Center at China Lake is to establish ourselves as a leader in the tactical mobile computing technology space,” he said. “We’re also trying to establish what we call the Mobile Computing Center of Excellence here at China Lake, being a lab facility and integration environment, a team of software development folks as well as the overall support infrastructure to support procurement, information assurance and driving solutions on the system engineering level on the mobile space. We believe that if we’re successful in establishing the MCCoE, that we’ll be able to provide the warfighter with patrol-portable devices and real-time access to information across the battle space with minimal delays compared to the commercial industry.”

He said one of the biggest challenges is providing ease-of-use to end-users.

“One of the biggest problems that I hear feedback from some of the users I communicate with on a normal everyday basis is, ‘I could have done it at home with my smartphone or my mobile computing device, and there I was with a multi-million dollar piece of equipment and unable to do what I wanted to do,’” Kielman said.

And this is another major factor driving some of these changes: mobile technology is more ubiquitous to peoples’ lives now than it was even five years ago, when Kielman remembers having to go through training geared toward helping those who were only familiar with traditional systems like Apple and Microsoft understand how to use mobile technologies. Now, he said, people can’t imagine life without a mobile device.

But it’s not as easy as simply picking something off the shelf, he said, even if it’s on the National Security Agency’s commercial solutions for classified list. It still has to be brought into compliance with the security technical implementation guidelines.

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“One of the things we have to figure out how to do is how do you manage all those individual mobile devices, ensure that they have security features inflicted on them, as well as managed, ensure that we’re monitoring what is done with those devices so there isn’t any malicious intent,” Kielman said.

So what Kielman wants to do is package the hardware and software together to give units the ability to roll-out a mobile device network with built-in mobile defense management and an added layer of security.

“We believe that we package that in a two-man-carry Pelican case with all of the equipment, devices, software, and everything turnkey, that we’ll be able to provide operator training in two or three days and they’ll be self-sufficient at the unit-level. We also plan to provide programs and projects in the acquisition space as well as individual units,” Kielman said.

But even that wouldn’t be panacea. Kelman envisions a more individually customizable approach. He wants to see that device management comes with user profiles like aviator or infantry to accommodate different styles and missions. But one of the major obstacles right now is that developers want to know what devices software will be installed on.

“Our long-term crown jewel that we’re looking for, producing at the MCCoE as our end-goal is the tactical mobile enterprise environment,” Kielman said. “This is something we want to provide end-users with: a ‘bring-your-own-government-device’ type construct. They would purchase or procure the devices with local unit dollars, or be provided devices by the acquisition enterprises, connect them to closed-loop classified military networks, be provided with security patches, and have a device configured and authorized for use.”