Marine Corps Eyes More Technical Details from Vendors to Speed Repairs
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
ARLINGTON, Va. — The military is going to have to change the way it deals with its commercial vendors, including obtaining the technical details of equipment to allow them to repair or replace components without going back to the suppliers, the Marine Corps’ top officer said March 8.
“We’re going to change the whole way we deal with industry,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller said. “How do you write a contract?”
Addressing a roomful of industry representatives at a National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) lunch, Neller described the rapidly changing global security environment the services are scrambling to adjust to and said the acquisition process must help them respond.
As the services develop their requirements, they must tell industry, “this is what we need, we have to have it fast, and it needs to work,” he said.
One of the factors driving the need to change the military-industry relations, Neller said, was the exploding use of additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3-D printing. Contracting might have to change to allow the services to more freely use that process to cut the time and cost of replacing components in the field or aboard ship, he suggested
“Vendors use additive manufacturing. I tell them, ‘if you can use this, why can’t I?’,” he said.
Neller related a visit to a Marine aviation support unit during which a young Marine showed him that if a button on a keyboard broke, they previously would have to go through the supply system to replace the whole faceplate, which could take months and cost hundreds of dollars. Instead, the Marines would 3-D print the button in minutes and at virtually no cost.
Assistant Commandant Gen. Glenn Walters told a different industry group earlier in the week of a young Marine figuring out on her own how to 3-D print impellers for M-1 tank engines that enabled the mechanics to put six tanks back in service in days, instead of the months it would have taken to go back to the vendor.
The Marines now are fielding dozens of 3-D printers, Neller said.
But to enable the Marines to repair or modify more complex systems faster and at lower cost, he said, they would have to own the technical details.
“Instead of buying a tech plan” for support from the contractor, he said, they would pay for the technical data.
Neller said he described that process to a group of vendors and told them: “You should expect to be paid for the intellectual property.”
The Defense Department and Congress also have raised this issue in the push for open architecture in high-tech systems, which would allow the military to write its own software or buy from the cheapest vendor to update systems.
Meeting with reporters after his session with the NDIA audience, Neller dealt with a number of personnel issues, including the push to rapidly expand the Corps’ cyber capabilities.
The Marines acted recently to make cyber a career field, creating a new military occupational specialty, but now must recruit and retain the thousands of cyber specialists they need.
Neller said they are considering requiring Marines wanting to move into cyber to commit to a set number of years, similar to the rules applied to new pilots. The need to sustain a cyber force would lead to more senior enlisted and probably warrant officers, he said. And they would seek to recruit people coming out of college with cyber education to serve as officers in that field.
But, unlike some proposals to allow direct commissioning of people with critical skills, Neller said the cyber candidates would have to go through the normal Marine process of officer candidate school and the Basic School, which teaches fundamental infantry tactics.