Boeing dons integrator cap
Company wins contracts to create high-tech Army, surprising competitors
- By Patience Wait
- Jul 11, 2002
After many years as a leading provider of civilian and military aircraft, including the C-17 cargo aircraft, the Boeing Co. is expanding its IT systems integration capabilities.
(Boeing Co. photo)
Long known for its aerospace capabilities, the Boeing Co. has quietly emerged as a leading systems integrator in the Army's effort to transform its soldiers into 21st century warfighters.
In March, Chicago-based Boeing won the concept and technology development phase of the Future Combat Systems, a new, network-centric approach to vehicle platforms. Then in June, the company was awarded the Joint Tactical Radio System contract to create a communications system that will serve as the foundation for future Defense Department tactical radios.
Boeing officials said the key to these wins has been the company's embrace of the "integrated battlespace" concept, that every element of a combat force should be thoroughly immersed in communications and information-sharing capabilities. This also has been dubbed network-centric warfare, because of its focus on information and communications.
"We've been shaping our capabilities within the company ... to be responsive to a whole new way of looking at things," said Carl O'Berry, vice president of strategic architecture in Boeing's Space and Communications division.
O'Berry, a former Air Force lieutenant general who retired in 1995 after 38 years of service, said Boeing is applying its decades of experience with large-scale systems integration, a skill set developed through its production of commercial aircraft. The merger of Boeing with McDonnell Douglas Corp. in 1997 and the aerospace and defense portions of Rockwell International Corp. in 1998 also provided the base to expand the company's systems integration efforts.
"If you truly integrated all those engineering capabilities, suddenly [it] allows a much grander scale," O'Berry said.
The two Army wins caught a number of Boeing's competitors by surprise, suggesting the company was expanding its presence in systems integration.
"This is a fairly new endeavor for Boeing, to seek specific systems integration programs when they are not at all involved in the manufacture of similar equipment," said Paul Nisbet, principal with JSA Research, an aerospace consulting and research firm in Newport, R.I. "They are not a combat vehicle manufacturer, yet they won the Army's Future Combat System, and they bid on the Coast Guard's Deepwater contract. ... They wouldn't be providing the airplanes or the ships. And, of course, there's the radio contract: They don't build radios."
Nisbet said the radio program could be worth $6 billion to $7 billion over the next 10 to 15 years, while FCS probably could be worth even more, as much as $10 billion over the same time frame. John Gartska, director of the Pentagon's Office of Force Transformation, said Boeing officials have made a significant commitment to military transformation.
"They truly believe that network-centric operations is the way," he said. "They have aligned their independent internal investment with this strategy."
Boeing's understanding of the integrated battlespace concept allowed the company to come "out of nowhere" to win the two contracts, Gartska said.
Gartska said he considers the JTRS program of extraordinary importance. With rare exceptions, commercial enterprises mostly make use of fixed, land-line communications, he said, but for the military, everything is wireless.
"It's difficult for people to understand how complex our business is," he said.
This complexity is evident in the Army's JTRS program, which implements the communications element of the integrated battlespace architecture, said Alex Lopez, director of Boeing's Integrated Government Systems, Battle Management/Command, Control and Communications, and Strategic Systems program.
The new radio system has to accommodate 23 different waveforms, it has to be able to broadcast across wavelengths, and it will have "wideband network waveform, voice, video and data, bringing the modern approaches to networking, just like the Internet," Lopez said.
The development phase of JTRS, called Cluster One, could exceed $2 billion for the initial system development and demonstration and low-rate initial production stages, which would run into 2005.
In the Future Combat System program, the Army is interested in acquiring a platform that can be adapted to numerous needs. The military is looking to acquire a single chassis and infrastructure that adapts to a variety of uses, such as an armored personnel carrier and an artillery vehicle that looks much like a tank.
Boeing's award, worth about $154 million over nine months, is just for concept and technology development.
The FCS will help the Army in two important ways, said Jerry McElwee, Boeing vice president and program manager for the FCS contract. First, it will enable the Army to bring significant firepower quickly into combat, because the FCS can board C-130 airplanes.
Second, by incorporating the concepts of network-centric warfare, the FCS will enhance the knowledge of every person in the battlespace.
"More information makes you more productive, provided [you're] prepared to capitalize on it," McElwee said. As a result, built into FCS is the idea of considering it a "system of systems," he said.
The next significant milestone for FCS will be an interim program review in September, McElwee said. At that point, the Army, in conjunction with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, will decide whether to continue with FCS.