Spiral Development: ESC’s new way of business

14 February 1997

by Kevin Gilmartin
ESC Public Affairs

In his new strategic goals, Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish, Electronic Systems Center commander, has challenged ESC to achieve an acquisition cycle time of 18 months or less using evolutionary spiral development.

Spiral development, the essence of ESC’s new way of acquiring systems, is an innovative method to field a system quickly using commercial and government off-the-shelf equipment with maximum user involvement throughout the process. It seeks to take advantage of rapidly evolving new technology in the commercial world and the establishment of a common operating environment for future command and control systems.

Ideally, an initial system will be developed, put on contract and delivered within 18 months. It will be designed to quickly meet as much of the user’s needs as possible with commercially or government-developed equipment currently obtainable or with a rapidly developed prototype. Users will participate as ESC validates the technical concept of the product early in the process at one of ESC’s distributed CUBEs -- the Command and Control Unified Battlespace Environment -- then work out operational concepts at an Air Force Battle Lab. ESC will ensure the initial system is compliant with the Global Command and Control System and the Global Combat Support System common operating environment known as the Defense Information Infrastructure.

That initial development cycle is the first "spiral" in the process. Subsequent spirals of 18 months or less will allow for new mission capabilities to be added, software to be upgraded, DII compliance to be enhanced and additional testing by the user at ESC’s CUBEs and Air Force Battle Labs to ensure the systems continue to grow to meet the full user requirement.

Although larger systems such as a Joint STARS or AWACS may not fully fit the model because of longer development times and the requirement for DoD and congressional oversight, spiral development will apply to about 95 percent of ESC programs. However, components of those larger systems such as Joint STARS and AWACS can be effectively and efficiently developed and upgraded spirally.

"There is nothing magic about 18 month cycles of spiral development, except that 18 months has become the accepted time computer and information technology seems to double its capacity," said Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish, ESC commander. "In some cases, it may take longer to develop and field a system, but in many cases we will be able to do it quicker. The bottom line is we need to provide our users with something that meets most of their needs now and continue to improve that product until it meets not only the old requirements, but new ones that will undoubtedly surface. If we can’t or won’t meet the 18 month timeline, at least we’ll know why so we can change our acquisition process if it stands in the way."

Spiral development is not new at ESC. Several programs have used this process successfully, including the Deployable Wing Intel Capability program managed by ESC’s Intelligence and Information Warfare Systems Program Office.

DWIC grew out of a requirement by United States Air Forces Europe’s 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base, Italy for a deployable version of its Wing Operations and Intelligence Capability. Officials there found it would take two C-5 aircraft to deploy the existing system, so they turned to ESC for help.

The user asked that the system be "man-portable," be able to mirror capabilities of the home station at Aviano as well as be able to "reach back" to that system from anywhere in Europe, have two security levels, be able to rapidly deploy, and be affordable.

Using Commercial Off-The-Shelf hardware and Government Off-the-Shelf software, the ESC program office developed a prototype in one month that could be set up in less than 30 minutes. During Fort Franklin V, a command and control field demonstration at Hanscom last August, 31st Fighter Wing analysts exercised the system, and found it met their initial requirements, thus validating the user’s concept. A second trip around the spiral updated hardware, provided new messaging capabilities and tested a broader configuration.

At present, USAFE, Air Mobility Command, Air Force Special Operations Command and the 820th Security Forces have all expressed a desire to field DWICs. ESC is prepared to deliver the system within 90 days of funding.

The spiral acquisition process brought many advantages for the DWIC program. It allowed the integration of commercial and government off-the-shelf equipment, infusion of the latest technology, and allowed for the user to validate the concept very early in the process. Also, the product will be continually improved as it moves through further and shorter spirals.

"The increasingly rapid pace of technological development has presented us with a challenge," said Kadish. "That challenge is to harness this technology and get it into the hands of our warfighters quickly, before it becomes obsolete. Spiral development allows us to do that while working closely with our customers to ensure they are getting what they need to meet their missions."


Page Master: Doris Richards, ESC Public Affairs DSN 478-4065, (781) 377-4065
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Last Updated: 12/15/97