"It's a challenging area for the acquisitions community to really embrace interoperability and especially to work jointly ... in delivering interoperable capabilities," Capt. Jarratt Mowery, an acquisitions official with the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, said during a conference sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.
Mowery pointed to major organizational differences among the military services and different methods of solving similar problems. "We all ... want to deliver capabilities to the war-fighter; we want to do it quickly; we want to do it efficiently and manage our costs," he said. "But the ways we approach those problems are so different that even finding the right counterpart and levels to work within the joint community is challenging."
One way for acquisitions officials to deliver to soldiers, sailors and Marines the technologies that communicate with each other is to "all get together and build one system that we're all going to use," according to Mowery. That approach generally guarantees interoperability, he said, but it is far from perfect.
"It usually takes longer to get everybody to ... agree on the requirements, and the agreement usually involves the least common denominator," he said. "That leaves service-specific applications with a little bit less than they probably wanted when they went into it. So there are some challenges with doing business that way."
Another method involves a "common architectural vision," with agreed-upon standards for interoperability, that acquisitions officials try to implement jointly.
"That has its own complications," Mowery said. "We have lots of testing that we do to try to assure that we're actually complying with those standards and delivering something that really works together, but I think it's quite a bit more challenging to do that in real life than when the vision's first put together."
Nevertheless, acquisition officials have taken a "revolutionary" step by linking their programs, according to Keith Masback, the Army's director of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance integration. "This is about interoperability at its core," he said.
The Pentagon also has called for a joint rapid-acquisition program to speed the delivery of interoperable technologies to the battlefield.
"What I see is a general shifting in power to combatant commanders for saying what the priorities really need to be," said John Hanley, assistant director of the Office of Force Transformation. "That gives the joint user a little more clout in the [acquisitions] system."
Hanley also noted that Pentagon officials are laying the groundwork for a joint training center to enable warfighters from the four military branches to train and experiment with new technologies together. He said the training center would serve as a "new driver ... to create interoperability in a way that we haven't had before."