DARPA asked the contractors to provide information on their capabilities and to say what they felt could and could not be achieved. Several iterations between DARPA and industry occurred over a 2-month period. Joe described the Northrop Grumman perspective on the process. The company came up with an approach that would comply with the various requirements and that would utilize the company’s own internal technology investments. Northrop Grumman advised DARPA about which requirements the company could achieve, the likely time frame, and what technology could be achieved. This activity culminated in the issuance of proposal guidance to both Boeing and Northrop Grumman in May 2004. The guidance obviously considered input from all the industrial sources since some of the requirements in the documents were not those submitted by Northrop Grumman.
Before the release of this proposal guidance, it was agreed that a letter would be used to achieve the contract in the time frame desired. Such a short time frame meant that the company and DARPA were in daily communication. The keys to this success, according to Joe, were the attitude of the parties involved and the establishment of a common objective. A schedule was developed that identified the individual program teams, the integrated program team, and the counterparts. These counterparts were scheduled to meet regularly, and they met even more frequently than scheduled in order to jointly develop the proposal. The objective was to reach agreement before a formal proposal was submitted. This process was used in lieu of the standard RFP vehicle of the federal government.
Joe described the open and honest dialogue that was key to the success of the proposal development process. The teams also had good working relationships, which were key to reaching agreement and, for that matter, to agreeing on the resolution of any disagreements that might arise. The contract itself was also a collaborative process, whereby verbal agreement was first reached on what the company wanted in a business structure. There were disagreements along the way; however, its success was incumbent on the substantial involvement of the DARPA leadership and the contractor’s program leadership. This leadership possessed a willingness to resolve the disagreements, to understand the objectives of both parties, and to find a middle ground. Joe described the long discussions that had taken place and a few disagreements that had occurred even before the contract was mapped. As the program’s management reached certain agreements and found certain paths of resolution, it was decided that approval from senior management was necessary before proceeding. Communication was key to finding a middle ground between those involved. The proposal was then submitted at the end of June.
Joe said that the J-UCAS program was based on an OTA. Industry regards this contracting mechanism as one that provides flexibility to push the technology envelope and achieve best efforts—the technical objective of the program. Although OTAs could require funding from industry, top-level management is now beginning to question such investments when no clear, concrete product opportunities with the government are foreseen. While industry recognizes that the defense budget is going to be reduced in the future, it is not deterred from trying to find a contract. The non-FAR-based agreement provided the procedural flexibility to achieve prototyping activity. Joe believed that the OTA was a very good way to advance technology.