Dec 31 2009

Risk Averse

Need to set a secure plan for a project that's heavy on software development? For pointers, look to DOD's major satellite networks program.

"We are building upon the commercial capabilities
and standards used for managing the Internet today,"
Brig. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski says.

What do you get when you combine one of the Pentagon's most ambitious and expensive space programs with highly complex technologies never before used? You get the Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT), a $16 billion Defense Department program that is over budget, experiencing schedule delays and not meeting performance goals. But why should anyone in a civilian agency — even in some DOD agencies — care?

Because it offers lessons on how to pull a project back on track and reduce risk factors as much as possible.

As part of DOD's Transformational Communications Architecture, TSAT is the space-based component of TCA that U.S. military planners envision as the backbone of DOD's future communications system, providing a high-bandwidth, high-speed, on-demand Internet-like capability to soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines anytime, anywhere. By extending the Global Information Grid to forces without ground connections, TSAT will make it possible for deployed and increasingly mobile forces to use small terminals to keep connected. TSAT is designed to provide survivable, jam-resistant, global, secure and general-purpose radio frequency and laser cross-links that will vastly improve satellite communications and increase the bandwidth available to warfighters by an order of magnitude.

The Air Force, which is leading the project, has taken a three-step approach to turning TSAT around and making sure it meets its planned 2014 deployment:

First, it adopted the incremental development strategy that Defense has been pushing for large cross-agency efforts. By breaking TSAT into modular components, the service can boost control and reduce risk.

Second, the TSAT team has reached out to the stakeholders — the users throughout DOD — to break down its comm plan and set priorities for the envisioned transformation.

Third, it invested time early on to develop a long-range plan for the numerous systems interfaces needed for the project.

Getting Grounded

The road to recovery for the TSAT program is paved with a new incremental development approach that, among other things, will translate into reduced capabilities for the initial satellites but increased capabilities in the remaining satellites. In addition, the Air Force had the wisdom to award the contract for the ground-based TSAT Mission Operations System (TMOS) prior to the space segment contract, so that the competing space segment contractors could work toward a stable and more mature network design.

"In the case of TSAT, the networking piece is so important to the success of the program that the approach we've taken is different and puts everyone on notice that the network piece is of equal if not more importance than the space segment," says Brig. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, director of the Military Satellite Communications Joint Program Office.

The big challenge is to deliver transformational network capabilities, she says, noting the diversity of user terminals, peer networks and subsystems.

TMOS leverages lessons learned from other programs to ensure strong systems engineering and oversight processes, Pawlikowski says. As part of this effort, the program instituted a risk management plan with incremental milestones to provide confidence that the program is maturing properly. These milestones include early demonstrations, integration events and incremental software deliveries. Both the TSAT program office and Lockheed Martin have robust risk-tracking mitigation processes, and risk is addressed on a continuing basis.

"TMOS is working closely with our stakeholder community to ensure our requirements and interfaces are well understood early in the development process," Pawlikowski says. "Additionally, we are building upon the commercial capabilities and standards used for managing the Internet today."

TMOS will provide the mission operations, the network and operations management for the overall TSAT program. The TMOS program has two major pieces: building the ground system and mission operations segment that will run the network for TSAT; and creating the network architecture for the entire TSAT program.

In January, the Air Force awarded a $2 billion contract to Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems and Solutions to develop TMOS and the overall network architecture. Lockheed Martin has the Herculean task of negotiating the interfaces among the TSAT network and the space segment, user terminals and other external networks.

"TSAT is a system that connects to a lot of other systems, and so it has to be integrated into the overall networking infrastructure," says Mike McClary, TMOS program manager for Lockheed Martin. "There are other programs that are going to come online as we move forward, and we have to stay synchronized with all of them. That includes all the terminal programs­ and adjacent networks. We have to make sure that we have a good clean interface to them. By having that worked out early, as it should be in the design process, the overall TSAT program has a lower risk profile."