A recommendation for the long-delayed Joint Command and Control System (JCCS) for the New Zealand Defence Force is expected to be made before the end of the year.
The project has been on Defence’s books for at least ten years. Current cost estimates stand at around $45 million.
At the heart of the matter is the need for interoperability with Australia and the US. Prime Minister Helen Clark is understood to have stepped into the ongoing debate to hasten a decision after Cabinet gave the go-ahead more than a year ago.
A Defence Force team is off to the US in October for final considerations.
“The engine room for joint command and control systems is the US,” says Captain Andy Watts, Defence’s director of capability development.
“We will go to our executive capability board by the end of the year to make an endorsement for the minister and cabinet. We expect to go to industry in the second quarter of 2007.
“We’re not buying a bubble-wrapped package. We are buying the basis for growth and development.”
He says that, to date, $2.4 million has been spent on consulting with Booz Allen Hamilton. The consulting covered a production project definition study and drafting an operational requirements document.
“That had to be outsourced to a disinterested party with an external perspective.”
Watts says the project was conceived at the cusp of major technological change — from proprietary systems to an open architecture.
“Five years ago we needed to step back and assess our requirements. We need a common operating environment with open standards on which we can populate applications.”
Australia has multiple — and very large — JCCSs, bought at a time when systems were proprietary. The challenge for the Australian Defence Force is to integrate those systems under its interoperability standard. New Zealand had earlier acquired the Global Command and Control System, developed by the US Department of Defence from Northrop technology, but with a maritime focus only. Northrop is the main supplier of such systems to the US military.
Therein lies one of the problems: the three service arms each have distinct views on what would best suit them. There appears to have been quite a battle over territory. Watts puts it more diplomatically.
“The five-year delay has been about a lack of clarity at a macro level. We’ve had to reconcile a whole range of different perspectives. The three Forces use things very differently.
“We’ve had to work towards a consensus. There was a watershed step forward in 2005 when we secured agreement on a common operational environment.”
There are two current major standards: the Defence Information Infrastructure Operational Environment, and a separate NATO standard. These are complicating the purchase choice. However, Watts thinks that in five years’ time they could be one and the same.
Defence will acquire a development capability when it makes its market decision but it has yet to define what it will be, he says. “We may ask industry to propose solutions. It could be outsourced with a Defence Force component.”
The October visit to the US will follow earlier trips to validate some assumptions about where the US Department of Defence is going with the technology.
“We’ve had dialogue with a range of contractors,” Watts says. There were 26 vendor responses to early inquiries, 20 of which “are still around”. Some companies have merged or been bought in the interim.
At an over-arching level, Defence is considering what it terms Network Enabled Capability. It would encompass the JCCS and a broad range of operational needs, including satellite communications and training. Currently, low-bandwidth bearers are used to support traditional communications, along with text, email “and some chat”.
A workshop was held last week for senior leadership to thrash out a framework.