A Focus on the End User

Book iconFirst published May 2013, Crosslink® magazine

The focus on the front end is one step in a circular process that begins and ends with system users. For example, the warfighter defines a need based on a capability shortfall in accomplishing a mission. The various operating and major commands propose a set of possible system capabilities that can be integrated to address the gaps. This will result in a capability development document and concept of operations.

Once a capability need is officially identified, the system acquisition phase begins. This phase has been a traditional focus of Aerospace expertise. The first step is to translate the need statement into verifiable and implementable system requirements that can be used to issue contracts. This requires an understanding of user and operational needs, such as how the system will integrate with other systems, present data to the end user, and interact with the operator; and training; logistics; and maintenance. When trade-offs arise due to budget, schedule, or performance shortfalls, the needs and constraints of the user and operator communities must be considered when developing courses of action.

It is essential for all organizations involved in the development cycle to fully understand the problem space and employ the right people in making technical trades. Aerospace has been active in this environment since the beginning of the Space Age, and has observed the growing complexity of the systems and acquisition process through the years. Space has evolved from a research and demonstration endeavor to a vital component of military operations. The end-user community now includes all the various armed services as well as civil and commercial users. The major command, operations, and acquisition organizations have different roles and consequently do not necessarily share a common perspective or understanding of the entire development lifecycle. Aerospace is unique in supporting all aspects of the system lifecycle, including needs analysis, requirements and concept development, acquisition, and operations and sustainment. The company is therefore well positioned to address issues that arise by integrating its efforts.

The first step of the acquisition process is to translate the needs statements into verifiable and implementable system requirements that can be used to issue contracts and acquire the system. This requires working closely with users to ensure the system will meet their needs as envisioned. When the inevitable trades arise due to budget, schedule, or performance shortfalls, user needs and constraints must be considered.

Aerospace has continued to develop resources and expertise to help integrate efforts across its organizations. One such resource is the Concept Design Center (CDC), a collaborative environment that has been expanded to help systems planners develop and refine capability descriptions and concepts of operation. When Space Radar was an active program, Aerospace program office engineers worked closely with Aerospace representatives at Air Force Space Command and, using the CDC to refine concepts, were able to delineate what capabilities could be developed and the inherent trades between radar imaging and ground moving target indications. This, in turn, helped Space Command work with end users to gain consensus regarding requirements and operational concepts. In another case, the transition to operations of the first major upgrade of the GPS control segment was accomplished through close integration between the program office, on-site test and verification personnel, transition experts, and the operations community. This was only possible because Aerospace had personnel in each of those organizations. The lessons learned during that transition are now being applied to the acquisition of the next-generation GPS control segment (OCX). In this case, transition to operations is a key factor for success. Therefore, operations personnel are being involved at critical design points, so that issues impacting transition and operations can be addressed early.

Aerospace is working on several levels to capitalize on these successes and increase the overall focus on the front end for all programs. For example, the corporation is developing resources and a cadre of engineers experienced in system transitions into a Transition Center of Excellence, to ensure user and operator needs are properly considered in new or upgraded space systems and to better plan for transition to operations. A resource known as the integrated Mission Assurance Tool is being upgraded to include more aspects of the development and operations cycle, and the Aerospace President’s Reviews have been expanded to include focus areas not previously considered in this process, such as the operational readiness of ground systems.

The emerging model of mission assurance recognizes that the front end of the requirements process and the back end of system acquisition and operations exist at the same point in the system lifecycle. This point is occupied by the end user and system operator. Focusing on this area throughout development should naturally lead to greater mission success. Aerospace already provides expertise throughout the cycle, with personnel on-site at key locations. By coordinating the priorities of operators and designers alike, Aerospace can ensure a crisp definition of requirements, a timely and accurate acquisition that meets user expectations, and a successful transition to operations. This is the foundation of mission assurance.

– Jon Davis, senior engineering specialist, Colorado Engineering and Technology Office

Back to Spring 2013 Table of Contents

Go to main article: Defining Military Space Capability Requirements for Successful Development