In response to DoD and Navy acquisition reform initiatives over the last several years, NAVSEA is more aggressively exploring the evaluation of COTS products for Navy shipboard applications before resorting to Navy-designed equipment and systems. In many cases, COTS or near-COTS solutions are adequate, but there remain instances where Navy warship rquirements exceed the performance, reliability, ease of operation, compatibility, or other features of COTS products. Furthermore, the Navy typically constitutes too small a portion of the market for most COTS products to influence their design, price, or continued availability, which adds market risks to the technical risks that the Navy must mitigate. These opportunities and lessons have been mirrored in the Navy's shipboard environmental program, where manufacturer and vendor claims sometimes are not borne out in Navy laboratory or shipboard testing. There may be a few limited areas where traditional shipboard requirements may be relaxed to accommodate COTS products, e.g., a discard-and replace philosophy for certain components as opposed to repair, but the most technically challenging Navy requirements will not change.
SHIPBOARD WASTE MANAGEMENT RDT&E
NAVSEA plans and executes a wide range of RDT&E projects intended to provide shipboard environmental solutions for existing and future ships. NAVSEA'S basic approach to defining and acquiring shipboard environmental solutions has not really changed over the years. The maturity of the technology being considered will determine the relative emphasis on the research ("R"), development ("D"), or test and evaluation ("T&E") parts of the RDT&E equation. This is a very flexible process that can respond to influences outside of the Navy. For example, the recent development of solid waste processing equipment was substantially accelerated to meet aggressive legislative deadlines. This was accomplished by conducting many laboratory and shipboard activities in parallel, tailoring ILS requirements (e.g., deleting unnecessary documentation), involving COMOPTEVFOR early on to streamline the Fleet operational evaluations (OPEVALs), and providing drawings. Navy-developed prototype equipment, and technical assistance to production contractors. All of these deviations from the traditional sequential, formal, and years-long Navy RDT&E process had to be balanced as carefully as possible against technical and programmatic risks.
Backfitting scenarios are especially problematic because it is very dificult to find empty space or to displace existing functions or equipment on Navy vessels to install new pollution control systems and because it is expensive to retrofit shipboard systems (typically several times the cost of forward fit). This tends to focus the development effort on space-efficient, modular, and hatchable equipment that will fit into a variety of spaces avalable on different ships. Backfittable pollution control equipment tends to represent an "end-f-pipe" approach because some environmenial systems which reduce pollutants at their source, e.g, vacuum collcction of blackwater, simply cannot be backfit because they would require extensive and cost-prohibitive vessel alterations. Ease and flexibility of installation are key technical and cost drivers for environmental equipment to be retrofit. New ship designs, on the other hand, offer opportunities to apply a ship-wide perspective to environmental compliance encompassipg pollution prevention (source reduction), optimization of crew and waste movemen, upgradeability to meet future requirements, and minimization of TOC.
In either casc, however, the use of COTS products raises significant issues of at-sea performance, configuration control, long-term commercial availability, and logistics support. One new approach the Navy is selectively exploring that will heip mitigate the risks associated with COTS is open systems architecture (OSA). This design and acquisition paradigm is a "halfway house" between relaively rigid MILSPEC-driven procurement and simply purchasing COTS equipment and systems that may require ship modifications and/or signifieant crew adjustments.