Land and Maritime engineer honored for fiber optics work

By Michael Jones DLA Land and Maritime Public Affairs

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The Department of Defense is engaged in a continual effort to improve operational efficiencies of the weapons systems used by the nation’s military services. Many of the systems have incorporated fiber optics in place of older cable wiring technology to improve performance and reduce overall weight.

Integrating that fiber optic technology into the military’s weapons systems demanded the development of standardized procurement, installation and maintenance procedures. A committed group of professionals, working together across professional disciplines and service affiliations recently completed the task. They were honored at a mid-March Pentagon ceremony for their efforts.  

Known as the Joint Fiber Optic Working Group (JFOWG), their work culminated after more than 10 years of ongoing collaboration. The group teleconferenced frequently to discuss the status of the effort, discussing in detail what was working and not working during varying phases of the project.

The creation of the JFOWG and its success is an example of the focused response to the challenge to improve the function and maintenance of the nation’s military weapons systems. The group has been working this challenge since 2001. While transitioning through significant personnel changes, the JFOWG continued to work in direct support of DOD’s standardization initiatives. Mary McWilliams, electronics engineer with Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime is one of the JFOWG team members recently recognized with the 2016 Defense Standardization Program Achievement Award for their work.

“I was surprised and happy about the award because this collaborative effort achieved something that hadn’t been done before. The team put in lots of work to move the project along before I came aboard, but we accelerated our effort and got the project completed. I was on the phone constantly with the team members – we’d still be talking about completing the project if it wasn’t for our collaborative push,” McWilliams said.

McWilliams has been a member of the JFOWG team since 2012. She joined DLA in 2003 through the intern program and worked in the wiring cable group before transferring into the fiber optics division. McWilliams is responsible for developing and maintaining fiber optic standardization documents and providing technical guidance for the fiber optic documents and non-government standards.

The JFOWG’s efforts to standardize fiber optic performance and applications impact a number of aviation platforms such as F-22, F-16, C130s, F-15s, in addition to Navy vessels and various unmanned aircraft systems ground control stations.

"Mary and the entire fiber optics team showed what can be done with open collaboration and collective commitment," said Land and Maritime Commander Navy Rear Adm. Michelle Skubic. "Now the military services and industry can work from an approved reference when providing critical fiber optic capabilities when supporting the requirements of our services.

McWilliams prepared more than 130 fiber optic technical documents while also working closely with Navy professionals to ensure over 50 of their fiber optic documents are maintained. Additionally, she works collaboratively with the Navy, Army, Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to help establish new and maintain existing fiber optic specifications.

The payoff for supporting the ongoing fiber optics efforts include life cycle savings and projected costs reductions resulting from more standardized procurement and implementation processes. Those benefits are applicable to all services who use or plan to use fiber optics in their weapons systems.  

McWilliams said that the most challenging part of the effort was coordinating inputs from JFOWG team members and integrating them into a final document that everyone could agree on. “The Navy and Air Force requirements were the most challenging because they have different system requirements. We couldn’t finalize the document until we had consensus from everyone on the final product,” said McWilliams.

When preparing the standardization document the JFOWG team broke it down into sections to make it more user friendly. Several of the engineers retired before the project’s completion, but the continual collaboration that took place between them prior to their departure enabled McWilliams to bring the project to closure. The group completed individual documents relating to test methods, implementation and maintenance while working to meet hard deadlines to ensure the final document was ready for industry use.

McWilliams said some JFOWG team members met face-to-face for the first time at the award ceremony and actually got to see faces and connect them to voices. “The face time we spent together was the best ever. My biggest thrill was seeing everyone come together – and understand that at the end of the day our collaboration is the key to us providing the incredible warfighter support we do,” she added.

“With the document’s completion, a standard product is now available for operational reference. We have something everyone can use. If you want to be qualified to do business with DOD, then you have to use the new standardization document we just completed.”