LEARNING UNDER PRESSURE: PM ODI builds on experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan to adapt and improve on numerous fronts

As the Army’s leading provider of Quick Reaction Capability (QRC) Aerial Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (AISR), Product Manager Observe, Detect, and Identify (PM ODI) has met remarkable logistical and operational challenges in deploying, fielding, and operating its systems. The challenges included condensed timelines, widely dispersed remote locations, personnel instability, unrefined operational requirements, multiple contracts, and limited resources.

To address or mitigate some of these unique challenges, PM ODI—assigned to Project Manager Airborne Reconnaissance and Exploitation Systems (PM ARES) under the Program Executive Office Intelligence, Electronic Warfare, and Sensors—focused on five areas of improvement:

  1. Organizational design—To function at a very fast pace in an acquisition environment requiring a uniquely agile, expeditionary, and intensive hands-on approach, PM ODI migrated from the traditional functional/matrix staffing design to a demand-driven combination of military and Army civilian staff, in addition to an agile set of systems engineering and technical assistance (SETA) contractors, external subject-matter experts (SMEs), and provisional hires.
  2. Cross–PM supply chain management—We surveyed the battlefield for other agencies in the same line of business. This summer, PM ODI will take on cost-sharing agreements with other product management offices on common payloads, communications equipment, and similar logistical requirements.
  3. An umbrella sustainment contract—The current multiple platform sustainment and operations contracts are inefficient and costly to manage.
  4. The transition from Operation New Dawn (OND) to Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)—The transition was a logistical mountain to climb. There were no contractual vehicles or means to deactivate or redeploy systems. We learned that technical refreshes or equipment retrofits are almost impossible as a theater of operation is closing out.
  5. Operational readiness—All of the PM ODI AISR platforms are commercial derivatives that require precise scheduled and unscheduled maintenance and have high operations readiness rates in a time of high operations tempo (OPTEMPO). In this environment, we learned that we had to carry an abundance of parts and hire additional maintainers.

These five lessons are the tip of the iceberg. PM ODI could share many more across the Army, some unique and some very common.

Supporting Intelligence Gathering

Over the past nine years, PM ODI has provided QRC AISR support directly to Task Force Observe, Detect, Identify, and Neutralize (TF ODIN), an aerial exploitation battalion that conducts intelligence–gathering missions to detect and combat insurgents, and to provide wide–area persistent surveillance and pattern–of–life analysis to battlefield commanders. The systems supported by PM ODI have been deployed in support of OEF and OND as well as in missions for U.S. Special Forces and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

PM ODI provides full life-cycle support for each system by acquiring and developing and/or integrating new capabilities; training operators; and providing deployed operations, sustainment, and maintenance services, to include contractor pilots, sensor operators, maintainers, and augmented SETA logistics personnel.

Previous major acquisition and deployment initiatives include the Airborne Reconnaissance Multi–Sensor System, an intelligence–gathering aircraft; Highlighter, a high–resolution detection platform; Constant Hawk, a wide–area persistent surveillance system; and the Medium Altitude Reconnaissance Surveillance System, the most prolific of the TF ODIN systems, which combines multiple-intelligence capabilities in addition to processing, exploitation, and dissemination capabilities.

Streamlining the Organization

As ongoing operations in OEF and OND evolved, the requirement for manned aerial intelligence-gathering capabilities grew rapidly. TF ODIN’s role as the preeminent AISR unit in theater has grown as well with a significant increase in OPTEMPO; PM ODI is charged with supporting the capability surge.

To meet this challenge, first we had to organize properly for combat. PM ODI staffed not by the traditional matrix/functional method but by a demand driven SME cadre, agile SETA support, and provisional hires to support the asymmetric demands of fielding and sustaining operations in wartime. We organized according to the demands of the contract. For example, the sensor operator workstations had to be developed from scratch, and we had no one in the government to lead this development. So we went to industry and hired the right engineers and integrators to provide this support.

In addition to our robust SETA support structure, PM ODI partnered with various Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, the U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command, and industry partners to leverage their technical expertise and systems engineering. This employment approach has succeeded in supporting the asymmetric demands of technical insertions, fielding, and sustaining a mix of contractor–owned and –operated systems along with government–owned and –operated QRC capabilities.

Another streamlining initiative adopted by PM ODI is a cross–PM supply chain management approach to primary mission equipment support. PM ODI, in conjunction with other PM offices, has identified common major subsystems and has conducted reliability and affordability analyses. These have helped define the optimum sparing level based on mission requirements and subsystem maintainability.

The overall goal is to have a forward–deployed maintenance facility that supports multiple PM offices and resolves 60 to 70 percent of issues on-site. The intention is to share facilities, maintenance labor, and material spare and sustainment parts across the various programs, reducing cost and the maximum time to recovery and providing a higher return on investment as well as higherquality performance.

The final major strategy is an umbrella contract that encompasses all of the PM ODI programs under a single effort, managed and administered by the PM office. The current multiplicity of contracts, prime contractors, and contracting agencies has resulted in several burdens, including increased administrative oversight to manage the various efforts, increased cost to maintain the programs (because of multiple prime contractors and the need to duplicate material and labor efforts), and administrative inconsistencies across the programs. Working with multiple contracting offices leads to disparate reporting requirements and performance measurements. By consolidating these programs, the PM office intends to increase efficiency, both administratively and operationally, reduce cost, and ensure consistency.

Transitioning from OND to OEF

Delivering QRC to theater presents immense logical challenges, as timelines are condensed and resources stretched. As OND drew down and efforts focused on OEF, PM ODI had even more responsibilities, including deactivating some TF ODIN programs and repositioning others, while maintaining a high OPTEMPO in both theaters of operation.

To meet these challenges, PM ODI conducted a number of relocation initiatives specifically focused on the transition, including refreshing, reconsolidating, resetting, and transitioning equipment, and on managing contractual issues.

Deactivation activities entailed demilitarizing equipment, demobilizing material and personnel assets, and contract closeout. Some of the equipment in theater was deemed beyond economical repair or was not worth the cost of transportation; this equipment was turned in to the theater through various programs. Other high-dollar or sensitive items were packaged and transported from OND to OEF using military or commercial transportation.

For programs that had no follow-on mission, decisions were made on divestiture, transfer, or transportation of equipment back to the original equipment manufacturer or depot. Finally, some programs or portions thereof relocated back to CONUS for reset and technical refreshment before moving onward. In every case, a cost-benefit analysis helped to determine the best course of action for the Soldier and the taxpayer.

Spare Parts: Mitigating Risks

Because of the quick-response, limited production nature of its program, PM ODI has had to deal with a number of unique acquisition challenges. One example is the maintenance of adequate spare parts for its systems.

With each system flying an average of 350 to 400 hours per month, PM ODI learned that increased numbers of spare parts are necessary to maintain TF ODIN’s current 96 percent mission-capable rating. Accomplishing this goal takes a considerable staff of maintainers and logistics support personnel, as well as a large supply of forward–fielded spare parts. If a system goes down, there is little time to wait for a part to be replaced or repaired. To combat these potential part shortages, TF ODIN keeps 40 to 50 percent spare levels of high–usage, high–value, and/or long–lead–time parts on–site, instead of the 30 percent that a typical unit would maintain.

In addition, PM ODI understands that maintaining each of its programs under separate contracts is not optimal with the Contractor Logistics Support (CLS) system. Unlike a program of record, QRCs are unable to use the Army Supply System, whereby spare parts are provisioned and a mature inventory management system is in place; QRCs use CLS instead. Because of contractual limitations, PM ODI has maintained each portfolio program as a separate contract. Each weapon system operates independently, creating spare requirements without factoring in parts availability from other programs, resulting in duplication of material and contractor personnel.

Conclusion

PM ODI will continue as a strong provider of the Army’s AISR QRC. As operations have evolved, PM ODI has evolved with them and will keep doing so. As its systems have matured, PM ODI has gained deep insight into what it takes to create and sustain a successful AISR program: namely, that multiple high-intensity AISR operations require a significant personnel footprint to operate and maintain the weapon systems.

When evaluating its path forward, PM ODI examined the U.S. Air Force Big Safari program office as a potential model. Big Safari offers a single program office for cradle-to-grave management of the Air Force’s QRC special projects. There is no single Army entity that oversees full–system, end–to–end operations for its AISR QRCs. It is PM ODI’s longterm vision to become the Army´s Big Safari, providing a one-stop-shop QRC turnkey capability for any manned AISR Army initiatives.