Stephen Cox, the lead engineer at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific's (SSC Pacific) RESTORE Lab, which uses a novel engineering process to design more efficient versions of old and failing military machinery, doesn't take too kindly to engineering flaws that lead to costly equipment failure.
"Don't get me angry or I'll design you something, I swear it," is how he puts it.
But what Cox uses as a threat — designing something — would really be an asset. Whatever machinery he tinkers with becomes better, faster, stronger and cheaper.
Cox and three colleagues at SSC Pacific received the Department of Defense’s Defense Standardization Program (DSP) Achievement Award on March 16 for this very reason. The DSP award honors individuals and organizations of the military department and defense agencies who have achieved significant improvements in interoperability, cost reduction, quality, reliability, and readiness through standardization. The team was honored at an awards ceremony held at the Pentagon in the Hall of Heroes.
Cox, along with Richard Gunn, Terry Stockton and Erin Yakes, took a converter used in Precision Approach Radar (PAR) systems that cost $6,000 and had 18 documented failures over a three-year period, and designed a converter that would last for at least 20 years and cost the service only $1,200 — at least a 400 percent increase in mean time between failures and a 67 percent decrease in unit cost.
A broken AN/FPN-63 PAR system — the primary precision landing aid for Navy and Marine Corps pilots during inclement weather — showed up at Cox’s door at SSC Pacific several years ago. His task was simple: find the broken component and fix it.
He troubleshot the failing Precision Approach Radar down to its 400-hertz converter, which spins at a high frequency, driving shots of cooling air to the magnetron that puts out the radar pulse. He learned that the converters were fielded in 1978, with 18 failures over a three-year period alone.
Not only did these failures significantly impact the PAR operational availability, but they were also expensive. The team did some research and found that in four years, the DoD had spent $640,000 on replacing these converters — there are two in each of the 37 PARs worldwide.
“I said, ‘We’re going to make new ones that are robust, we’re going to make them stop-start, and we’re going to make them quieter, better, faster and cheaper,’” Cox said. “And we’re going to make them so that they’re repairable, because those old ones are not repairable — they’re sealed.”
When Cox and Stockton, an engineer in the Tactical Air Navigation Division, had created a converter that met all of these criteria, the logistically tricky part began.
Yakes worked with Invention House, a small manufacturer that happened to have produced similar circuits for the Army and was the only company that could make the new converters, to get a national stock number (NSN) for the part to allow the fleet to order the converters straight from the manufacturer.
The team worked with the vendor's engineers to create a design that was 98 percent identical to the Army's manufactured converter, which allowed the vendor to standardize its production line so that both converters could be manufactured during the same production run.
“The outcome is that SSC Pacific performed all the engineering; the sponsor, Project Management Activity (PMA)-213, was extremely happy; the technical solution was secured; and the fleet was ordering directly from the manufacturer through the NSN,” Cox said. “Therefore we are still in our core swim lane, which is engineering. We’re not manufacturing, we’re not stocking, we’re not supplying — it was a best of all possible outcomes.”
Since the Navy and Marine Corps have implemented this new converter, there have been no failures.
Richard Gunn, the program manager for the Reverse Engineering; Science and Technology for Obsolescence, Repair and Evaluation (RESTORE) Lab, said he and the team were surprised to learn they’d been selected for the DSP Award.
“As I’m finding out more and more about it, it seems like a big deal,” Gunn said. “We just figured we were doing our job.”
Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific provides the U.S. Navy and military with essential capabilities in the areas of command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR). SSC Pacific provides the full spectrum of C4ISR capabilities from basic research and prototype development, to extensive test and evaluation services, through systems engineering and integration, to installation and life-cycle support of fielded systems. SSC Pacific is a recognized leader in the cyber domain and for autonomous unmanned systems, and is providing the technological and engineering support critical to ensuring the Navy’s information warfare superiority.