Military Expands Use of Off-the-Shelf Technology Products
The consumer warranty may be one of the Navy’s best friends.
Not to mention the taxpayer’s.
A consumer manufacturer’s aversion to do warranty work makes a better, tougher, commercial product, said Rear Adm. John Gauss, commander of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (Spawar) in San Diego, noting it’s one of many things to weigh when considering consumer products for military settings.
The military is now markedly more receptive to off-the-shelf, consumer electronics, said Tony Di Fede, sales manager for El Cajon-based Enerdyne Technologies, Inc., a supplier of electronics for transmitting video from remote locations.
Military demand for off-the-shelf products ought to continue, said Al Botticelli, a senior vice president with contracting giant Science Applications International Corp., making his comments before a display of commercial, flat-panel screens SAIC had shrouded in hard casings designed for military use.
Commercial products are cheaper for the government, and that’s good for the taxpayer, Botticelli said.
All were attending last week’s West 2001 military trade show at the San Diego Convention Center. It was an event where longtime military contractors mixed with representatives of familiar consumer brands. Sony Corp. of America was one of the show’s largest exhibitors.
Of course, the military environment is a lot rougher than the home electronics environment.
Noise and vibration often surprise executives on a first-time visit to a Navy ship, said Cmdr. Scott White. The deputy for innovation and experiments to the commander of the Navy’s Third Fleet made his comments at a Jan. 23 panel discussion before military officers and industry leaders.
Gauss told the same crowd what a product must withstand. “You have to shake it, bake it, rattle it, roll it,” he said. “And if it can’t survive, it can’t go to sea.”
Yet the demands of a commercial market can toughen a product up, Gauss said later in an interview with the San Diego Business Journal.
“I’ve had great success buying pure commercial (products) where I am really a small part of the market,” Gauss said. To avoid warranty repairs, he noted, companies make their products resistant to shock, vibration and temperature extremes.
“And, therefore, I get to ride the tail of the advancement of the commercial market,” he said. “I’ve found on the other hand, if I am 95 percent of the market, then I inherit 95 percent of the problems.”
Gauss told listeners at the panel discussion he could speak more boldly than he has in the past because he will retire at the middle of this year.
He made several remarks about the military’s needs from industry , including help with communications satellites.
“Commercial development in sat-com has not been what we had hoped it would be,” he told the crowd. He said later his wish list included greater bandwidth, greater flexibility in allocating voice and data among available bandwidth, and the ability to shift work between one satellite and another without the customer noticing.
As for the future of Spawar in San Diego, Gauss told the Business Journal that the command was not going anywhere.
“The Defense Department budget has been on the decline in terms of real dollar expenditure. We’ve been holding our own on the revenue stream that’s coming into San Diego , relatively speaking we’re a growth industry within the department. The revenue flow, depending upon the policies of the new administration, I expect to be at least constant, if not have some growth.”
As evidence, he pointed to the Jan. 23 announcement of two Spawar contracts, collectively worth about $500 million, for communications equipment and services.
“Seventy percent of that work will be done in San Diego in the next five years,” Gauss said.
The winning contractors are Resource Consultants, Inc. of Vienna, Va., and Amsec LLC of Virginia Beach, Va. Amsec is a partnership between SAIC and Newport News Shipbuilding.
Spawar will stay in San Diego “for the long haul” and will continue to put money into the local economy, Gauss added.
Meanwhile, on the West 2001 exhibit floor, local and out-of-town vendors were trying to snag their share of government work.
The locals included Tadpole-Cycle of Carlsbad, a supplier of UNIX-based computer hardware.
‘Size And Weight’
“Our whole thing is size and weight,” said Frank Smaldino, vice president and general manager for Tadpole’s government division, noting his products fit more computer into scarce space aboard ships and submarines.
Another local vendor was Carlsbad-based Holocom Networks. The supplier of conduit and related telecom cabling items has gotten into shore government installations , Bethesda Naval Hospital, for example , and now has its eye on shipboard work, company officials said.
The West 2001 show was co-sponsored by the Armed Forces Communication & Electronics Association and the U.S. Naval Institute.