Raytheon pushes modernization through sustainment contracts
- By Ross Wilkers
- Sep 22, 2017
Raytheon’s almost $6.2 billion services business is known for its vast cybersecurity portfolio and other specialized technology services that include upgrading legacy military platforms at intermittent phases.
That approach extends the life of military platforms and aims to resemble the “cell phone model” of periodic updates to Apple and Android devices and their apps, Raytheon executive Todd Probert told Washington Technology. The goal for defense agencies is to “chunk up requirements into small enough buckets” that make the upgrades manageable, he said.
Probert, vice president of mission support and modernization, oversees a $1.5 billion portfolio within Raytheon’s larger intelligence, information and services segment that its president Dave Wajsgras told us in June has mostly stayed out of commodity IT work.
The company’s focus on modernization includes software sustainment and cyber resiliency and hardening work, Probert said. And this all fits within a services model that is putting increased emphasis on quickly fielding new tools, he said.
“The way things have been done the past 30-40 years, you’d set out a set of requirements in the ‘classic waterfall’ with a test process, and many years down the road the requirements manifest in capabilities for the warfighter,” Probert said. “Now it’s looking more like the commercial market with what we’re seeing in the cell phone and desktop and that delivery mechanism. It’s a major paradigm shift.”
That shift moves away from 10-year development “big-bang” type programs and sees agencies use sustainment contracts to modernize their systems, Probert said. This is where agile software development and shorter durations of design work come in.
Under that model, Probert said new upgrades can be fielded “inside of a year” and even smaller increments could go out into the field “inside of a month.” This is important as the Defense Department focuses more on readiness and relevance of legacy platforms already in the field through “small incremental changes to move things forward,” he said.
In one example of modernization through sustainment, Raytheon is updating baseline software and deploying new updates for the Air Force under a six-year, $375 million contract awarded in April.
Another larger job in that portfolio is a five-year, $700 million contract to maintain and gradually update the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s threat warning system in Cheyenne Mountain. In all software sustainment work, Probert said it starts in systems integration laboratories for fleet configurations, then the software upgrade comes in and the company “makes sure that works before it is fielded to systems out there.”
Raytheon is also awaiting the outcome of a Booz Allen Hamilton protest against the award of a three-year, $575 million task order to perform similar work for the Army’s missile defense systems. Pending a Government Accountability Office ruling, this would represent a milestone win for Raytheon’s modernization through sustainment portfolio.
Artificial intelligence and related autonomous technologies is another area where Raytheon wants to lead the way in modernization. The goal is to take much of the manual labor involving data collection away from analysts and put in into the hands of machines.
“On any given day, the analyst is bombarded with more data than he or she could possibly get their head around,” Probert said. Where AI comes in is that analysis moves to a “rule-based” set up with automated tools that can “use disparate sensors or sources to make conclusions” he said.
The analysts themselves have been doing much of the data inputs manually for almost 10 years, according to Probert. The next phase will see that “getting put into machines, then getting into outcomes.”
Analysts and data scientists themselves are helping set up those rules for how machines do the work, Probert said, and that is seeing “lots of three-letter agency success stories.”
Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also find and connect with him on LinkedIn.