News | July 17, 2020

Small business contract brings ICBM radio cable up to speed

By Natalie Skelton DLA Aviation Public Affairs Office

The Defense Logistics Agency will soon be able to upgrade and readily maintain a critical radio frequency cable for the intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM. The contract for this project was awarded to Brighton Cromwell LLC through DLA’s Small Business Innovation Program.

The SBIP develops sources of supply, not production-type contracts using Office of Secretary Defense funds to pay manufacturers to reverse engineer and develop technical data for supply items. These contracts are areas in industrial capacity that currently do not exist and allow the Defense Department to build partnerships with industry.

Steven Connor, ICBM weapon system program manager with DLA Aviation’s Customer Operations Directorate, said, “While SBIP is not a new program within the services, DLA’s SBIP office is much more streamlined and managed by a highly effective team that can obtain funds to support critical areas. In essence, DLA is developing a vehicle to streamline source development and funding. What typically would take years now has been done in months.”  

The cable, which is an external underground communication cable used to support ICBM launch control centers, has been waiting for an upgrade for nearly two years.

During the 2019 Program Management Review, Connor briefed the Air Force ICBM system program manager and leaders from Air Force Global Strike Command on DLA’s ability to partner with Air Force engineering and establish an industrial base for areas experiencing obsolescence.

The ICBM chief engineer at the Ogden Air Logistics Center then reached out to Connor and asked if this radio frequency cable could possibly be a viable project.

DLA Aviation, Brighton Cromwell representatives and Hill Air Force Base engineers held a kickoff meeting in May to discuss the project. It was during this meeting the firm presented some options for RF cables with characteristics they believed would meet all Air Force requirements. 

Connor said the new cable type provides DLA with several commercial off-the-shelf options of similar design that required and passed extensive testing to ensure their critical shielding parameters will meet existing Air Force engineering requirements.

“The old cable is no longer supported by industry, and having multiple, approved COTS buying options will not only support urgent warfighter needs but will also reduce costs associated with reverse engineering the design of the existing cable,” Connor said.

The contract initially was to reverse engineer and develop a new cable. During the initial stages of the project, several COTS-type cables were found. Through testing they were able to determine the cable could meet warfighter needs.

“As there still remains specific testing requirements, Brighton Cromwell will be one of the approved sources to deliver fully tested cables for future need,” Connor said.

Connor said Brighton Cromwell representatives were able to meet virtually with Air Force engineers and discuss the testing parameters of the new cable. The firm purchased eight-foot spools from several different sources to test. When the tests are completed, they will be able to immediately fill the order.

Brighton Cromwell will provide these COTs cables to DLA on a follow-on production contract as they have already been approved by the Air Force to do this testing.  Enough cable from the same test lot will met all requirements and be available to deliver on the contract.

In effect, Connor said, the contract will result in a dramatically shortened delivery time.

“The ability to bring industry and Air Force engineering together and discuss industry advances in real time is streamlining DLA’s ability to meet warfighter needs,” Connor said. “As of the last monthly meeting, Brighton Cromwell is on track to complete testing by mid-August. This is a full year ahead of initial delivery dates.

“If we had not taken this initiative, we would not have been able to procure the cable until 2025 or 2026. In short, we will be able to provide Air Force engineers with the cable seven years ahead of projected estimates,” he said.

This project is not Brighton Cromwell’s first for DLA, Connor said. The firm is currently part of a large effort to revitalize the entire industrial base for the F-107 engine used on the nuclear air-launched cruise missile, which Connor also manages.

“Based on their tremendous success within that program [the air-launched cruise missile weapon system], this project was a good fit with the core competencies of their company,” he said.

The Air Force engineering support office has established working relationships with SBIP companies since early 2018.

“At that time there were some major issues inhibiting our ability to support the warfighter. Denise Price, Small Business Innovation Program manager with DLA Research and Development, was looking for a series of smaller projects as well as one major effort to take on. In a few short years, Ms. Price and her team have led the way to gain a deep level of trust with the Air Force Engineering community,” Connor said.

As the Air Force looks to replace its aging ICBM and ALCM nuclear systems with the acquisition of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent and the Long Range Standoff Missile, the need for a viable industrial base is crucial. What begun with an endeavor on the F-107 engine resulted in a partnership between DLA, Air Force Engineering and the Air Force Program Office, one that continues today.

Connor said SBIP contracts have been awarded for other ICBM-related projects as well. “There are currently a total of 54 ICBM projects and many are in the process of being assigned to DLA by the Air Force, and that list continues to grow,” he said.

The bulk of those projects will support the recently deployed programmed depot maintenance program for the “big four”: launch facilities, launch control centers, boosters, and propulsion system rocket engines.

“One of the most amazing things is to see the relationships being formed between many of these small dynamic companies and the warfighter,” Connor said. “It is enhancing DLA’s ability to become much more agile in the ability to face and resolve obsolescence hurdles which were seemingly insurmountable.”