The Army has begun awarding task orders under a $10 billion tactical communications contract program that, backers say, will help save money while also providing ground forces with innovative solutions designed for the long term.
Awarded in 2012, the Global Tactical Advanced Communication Systems (GTACS) contract is a five-year indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract with an expansive scope. Broader and better funded than its predecessor, the World Wide Satellite Systems (WWSS) contract, GTACS is designed to provide one-stop shopping for a broad range of communications hardware and services.
GTACS provides centralized competitive contracting to support the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T) in acquiring hardware, software and services, with an emphasis on tactical satellite communications. PEO C3T supports networked capabilities that connect fixed command posts to mobile commanders and dismounted soldiers.
“The contract’s range, flexibility and consolidation capabilities will enable the Army, Department of Defense and other agencies to spend more efficiently and to rapidly provide the right capability to the battlefield,” said Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Newman, product manager for satellite communications for Project Manager, Warfighter Information Network-Technology (WIN-T).
PEO C3T selected a total of 20 companies to participate in the GTACS program, and awarded the first task orders late last year. As of January 2014, 28 task orders for various SATCOM products and services had been awarded under GTACS. Most of these have been for products and systems and for sustainment services, as opposed to capabilities and integrated solutions. Around 30 more are expected to be awarded this year.
So far, however, GTACS seems to be receiving mixed reactions from hopeful vendors, some of whom are disappointed because they expected GTACS to include more procurements of integrated solutions. The emphasis to date, they say, has been ordering specific products and sustainment services, although some capability buys have also emerged.
Still, ordering under GTACS has only just begun. So it is probable that program managers will be looking to modernize their systems—which will involve ordering integrated solutions—as the contract gathers steam and as new Army requirements are developed. “During GTACS’s five-year ordering period, we expect that the needs of PEO C3T will evolve in response to emerging threats and changing battlefield requirements,” said Newman. “GTACS is designed to provide the flexibility and responsiveness needed to support changing mission requirements.”
While a comparison to WWSS—a five-year, $5 billion contract designed to acquire six satellite terminal types—is informative, the two vehicles differ in several ways. Besides being bigger and broader than its predecessor, GTACS is intended to focus on building longer-term capabilities rather than filling wartime gaps.
WWSS was funded primarily with wartime supplemental funding. That is ending, so GTACS orders will be placed by programs of record, which are run more formally than systems focused on fulfilling the immediate needs of combatant commanders.
GTACS includes three functional areas: research and development, production and deployment, and sustainment and logistics. “No matter where a program is in the acquisition life cycle, its program office can utilize this contract to support its requirements,” said Newman. “The contract enables the customer to develop a capability, then produce, test, field and sustain that capability with one contract.”
Cost and Capability
The 20 prime contractors selected for GTACS represent a large increase from the six contractors included in WWSS.
“The sheer number of qualified contractors is expected to improve efficiencies in both time and cost, and provide optimum resolution of requirements,” said Newman. “By utilizing best value tradeoff processes, we selected contractors that had the ability to respond to task order requirements to support the PEO C3T mission and/or had a capability and could develop the best solutions using the best industry practices to give us a balance between cost and capability.”
“GTACS has been effective in providing the ability to reach out directly to suppliers and avoid markups,” said Ken Peterman, manager of government services at ViaSat. “This has already led to significant savings.”
“An IDIQ contract was absolutely the way to go for GTACS,” said Dwight Hunsicker, vice president government business at Globecomm. “IDIQ sets the basic terms and conditions and establishes processes and structures for the procurement of capabilities. As needs and opportunities evolve across the five-year span of the contract, they can be addressed on a task-order basis.”
The Army considers WWSS to have been a “tremendous success,” said Newman, and so has sought to develop GTACS as an even more flexible, efficient and competitive vehicle for delivering capabilities “while balancing soldier requirements and taxpayer resources.”
“This overarching coverage provides greater flexibility over the WWSS contract since it includes the research and development piece, so the program offices can cover the entire life cycle of a product,” he explained.
“WWSS was almost a trial run for GTACS,” said Gretchen Blackwell, principal program manager at Rockwell Collins. “They are very similar in their acquisition goals. But the WWSS vehicle was much smaller and included a smaller population of prime contractors. GTACS was also savvy about making sure that small businesses have their say.”
The contract awardees include those that can compete under open competitions and those that are designated for the small-business set-asides. At least one contract awardee, Trace Systems, qualified and can compete under both ends of the contract.
Although GTACS was billed as the place where programs would transition to meet their future requirements, some believe that it is not yet living up to its potential in that regard. “We’re not seeing that yet,” said Peterman. “Human nature is coming into play. People don’t want to give up the way they did things before. The prior contract was billed as filling gaps between programs of record.”
Nick Smith, senior vice president and general manager for defense solutions at L-3 Communications, offered similar sentiments. “Program managers identifying their requirements did so within the mindset of the predecessor vehicle,” he said. “They are not yet accustomed to buying solutions.”
Other GTACS contract awardees have raised questions about how the contract administration is being administered. “It was supposed to be developed for best value,” said Nelson Santini, vice president for marketing and sales at Envistacom, a small, minority-owned business and an integrated solutions provider. “It is turning out to be a contract vehicle delivering goods at the lowest price. The task orders are being awarded to solutions that meet minimum requirements based on the lowest price.”
This practice could have negative on the quality of the solutions being acquired under the contract, Santini argued. “I have seen scenarios where the task order was awarded to the lowest price bidder and not to the company with the best capabilities.”
Noting that all of the task orders to-date have been related to WIN-T, the Army’s tactical network, Hunsicker expressed the hope that future task orders will address a broader range of capabilities.
“The purpose of GTACS is to address the design, development, production and sustainment of systems across the breadth of PEO C3T. I hope that other program managers will become familiar with GTACS and use it to meet their needs but I have not seen evidence of that yet,” said Hunsicker, whose company is interested in supplying the Army with a range of fixed and transportable SATCOM terminals.
Although ViaSat has won a number of task orders worth several million dollars, Peterman suggested that those very task orders reflect how GTACS is not living up to its potential. “Most have been for specific items and products,” he said. “Sometimes the RFP even identified specific part numbers. GTACS would do well to move toward more capability purchases. That would give industry the opportunity to be innovative in the way they respond and provide better value solutions more responsive to warfighter needs.”
GTACS may be starting out small, but will, over the next 12 to 18 months, expand its scope and reach its original potential, according to Smith, who points to a few reasons why GTACS task orders have concentrated on product, rather than solution, ordering. “There is pent-up demand for solutions,” he said, “but it takes a while for funds to flow down to the programs” in the wake of last year’s budget sequestration and government shutdown. “Also, I think we are seeing product purchases because program managers are focusing on resetting and repairing capabilities that are worn out, damaged, or overused over the last 12 years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Over time, they will start to modernize their systems and infrastructure,” Smith continued. “Then we will start to see procurements along the lines of solutions rather than specific systems. This will really pay big dividends with the strategic shift to the Pacific area of operations. It will become increasingly important to have more rapid rates for tactical communications just because of the greater distance in time and space across the Pacific area of operations than elsewhere.”
Other companies that have received substantial GTACS task orders have a sunnier outlook on the vehicle and its processes. One is Trace Systems, which, with seven task orders, has won more than any other to date, according to Justin Filler, a vice president at Trace.
“There has been a pretty diverse offering coming out on GTACS so far,” he said. The variety of Trace’s task orders illustrate the wide scope of potential activity under GTACS and include software licenses, management of parts to support generators, UAV batteries, and a logistics task order to support the Commercial Satellite Terminal Program office.
The logistics task order involves support of diverse satellite communications systems and terminals for the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and other federal government agencies. “These systems require continual logistical sustainment efforts due to the rapidly changing nature of communications technology,” said Filler. “The logistics contract provides engineering and technical support, logistical and documentation support, training support, and other materials and supplies for the PdM SATCOM office.”
Mike Bristol, senior vice president and Government Solutions Group president of TeleCommunication Systems (TCS), noted that there has been at least one GTACS task order so far for maritime communications systems. “WWSS involved mainly ground terminals,” he said. “The maritime applications recognize that it is an integrated battlefield and that connectivity and integration apply to all aspects of war fighting.”
TCS has received two GTACS task orders, for a total of $20 million, for micro satellites and maritime terminals for Army watercraft. The award for the largest task order to date goes to Rockwell Collins, which received an order for its HMMWV-pulled satellite transportable trailers (STT). The initial order, for $35 million, was for 300 trailers. If all options are exercised, the order could total $176 million.
Blackwell views the STT buy as more of a solution than a product procurement. “There was a real capability problem the Army was trying to solve in bringing communications to warfighters at the tactical level,” she said. “They did that with STT. STT had almost program-of-record-like requirements.”
Strength in Teams
Many GTACS awardees agree that success on the contract will depend largely on the strength of their teams. “Most of the primes have been heavily involved in putting together strong, complex and broad teams, although most of the task orders to date have been in the nature of sustainment of ongoing work where teaming is not really required. You will see the advantage of strong teams when new requirements come about,” said Hunsicker.
L-3 manages its GTACS business through a corporate-level office called the Multiple-Award Resource Center (MRC). “The MRC manages the contract vehicles, but the operational units executes on task orders and maintains the customer relationship,” Smith explained. In the case of GTACS, the MRC coordinates among 17 L-3 divisions and 30 subcontractors that work on GTACS.
“The MRC allows us to respond with a single solution,” said Smith. “The MRC will help us get better value from GTACS as the vehicle moves to procuring solutions and not just products.”
Bristol noted that funding under GTACS may prove to be more cumbersome than under WWSS, whose funding came largely from supplemental wartime appropriations. “That means that task orders are going to be issued by programs of record,” said Bristol. “Contractors are going to find that it will be more difficult to monetize this vehicle with programs of record, as compared to WWSS.”
Whatever its history to date, all agree that GTACS has the potential to provide the Army with innovative communications solutions.
“GTACS is the means to an end,” said Hunsicker. “Providing innovative resolution to meet requirements will define success. There is no inherent technology within GTACS that is going to light the world on fire, but it is a contract vehicle that can accommodate the latest and greatest as needs come about and companies make innovative proposals to the government.”
“I don’t think GTACS is meeting industry or DoD expectations,” said Peterman. “Both sides are recognizing that, and are working together to make GTACS a more effective and responsive vehicle. Industry could use some advance notice of anticipated needs. That would provide us with the opportunity wind up capabilities and be prepared.”
Blackwell views the Army’s requests for information (RFIs) as the government’s way of engaging industry in a dialog on capabilities and solutions. Under GTACS, the government has been issuing many more RFIs in advance of requests for proposals than it did under WWSS. “Vendors can learn of the government’s intentions by participating in the RFI process and, in addition, keeping productive informal channels open with the Army,” said Blackwell. “No doubt there is a backlog of RFIs to be issued. GTACS got off to a rough start because the government was in upheaval.” “Industry’s job is to be innovative, to look both inside and outside the box, and to being new ideas and solutions to the government,” said Hunsicker. “The government needs to be able to review, evaluate, contemplate and test these ideas and solutions in concert with the overall procurement process. By keeping our eyes on the ball, both industry and government can fulfill the military’s needs in an expedient and efficient manner.”
“The size and broad nature of the GTACS contract provides the Army and other DoD agencies with the ability to support nearly any command, control and communications requirement,” said Newman. “This will provide the soldier with mission critical equipment and services that enhance both situational awareness and support their ability to be more effective and efficiently execute their mission.” ♦
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- Volume: 18