Lt. Gen. Michael Williamson, the Army’s senior uniformed weapons buyer and chief of its acquisition force on Thursday made a clear, concise case for the implementation of open architectures in all future Army network technology acquisition.

In prepared remarks opening a panel discussion Thursday on Army networks, industry and acquisition, Williamson began by rehashing what has become an old trope in both the military and civilian information technology (IT) worlds.

“The pace of innovation in information technology is increasing the pace of our combat operations and our adversaries’ ability to influence our operating environment,” he said at a forum dedicated to Army networks and communication system hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army at its headquarters outside Washington, D.C. “Keeping up with this rapid evolution and exploiting it is presenting challenges to the Army procurement system.”

Commercial electronics routinely advance at such a pace that the average time to obsolescence for some devices like personal computers and smartphones is as fast as 24 months or at best 36 months, he said. The same is true with software-based military technologies.

“To address these challenges, future Army systems will likely require significantly smarter and smartly-defined network architectures where subsystems and well-defined interface specifications and performance parameters can be swapped out and replaced for higher performance and higher capacity very quickly during the lifetime of that system,” Williamson said.

“This will require appropriately crafted system software and, more importantly, security architectures,” he said. “The vision is somewhat analogous to desktop computers where memory, video and other special-purpose hardware cards can be added, along with new software drivers to extend the lifetime of the base machine while increasing its power and its features.”

As senior manager of all Army acquisition personnel, Williamson has issued marching orders to achieve modular, open systems wherever possible to both allow rapid tech refresh and reduce lifecycle costs of particular systems. A ready example is the overall acquisition strategy the Army followed in developing its new family of tactical radios. The Army’s tactical radio contracting strategy relies heavily on non-developmental items that have proven capabilities and can be bought and fielded quickly.

“These exceed the requirements for the radios that we initially started with. What we’ve seen from industry is because there was a defined spec and a defined architecture, they had the ability increase performance in each turn of that radio,” Williamson said. “The tactical radio contracting strategy is faster than the current government development, procurement, fielding and acquisition strategies that we’ve used up to this point. We are using proven technology, developed by the vendors, prior to the government sitting down and writing the latest requirement document… Industry has led as opposed to waiting for us to define a requirement and come back to them.”