Academic journal article Defense Horizons

Sweden's Use of Commercial Information Technology for Military Applications

Academic journal article Defense Horizons

Sweden's Use of Commercial Information Technology for Military Applications

Article excerpt


Sweden, a nation of only 9 million people with a political climate that has fostered a posture of nonalignment for over half a century, has nevertheless maintained highly credible, modern, and high-technology military forces. Sweden has expanded the mission of forces originally designed for the Cold War to include international peacekeeping. The focus of this study is the Swedish formula for achieving the high-technology military capabilities that successfully compensate for a small standing force. What policies and processes enabled the Swedish military to take advantage of leading-edge producers of commercial information technology (CIT)? What lessons does the Swedish model hold for the U.S. Department of Defense?

A National Defense University case study examined the Swedish experience, policy, process, and government-industry relationships to determine ways to improve America's ability to capitalize on the use of CIT in military systems. The case study included a review of published Swedish policies, regulations, and reports but is based predominantly on meetings and interviews with Swedish industry and government officials.

The case study found more similarities than differences in Swedish and American policies and processes for acquiring commercial technology for military systems. Perhaps the most significant difference is that in Sweden, government and industry participants in the acquisition process have embraced the policy for maximum utilization of CIT, whereas Americans still debate whether commercial technology can do the job in warfighter or other defense applications. Furthermore, Sweden has initiated an acquisition process that routinely examines all requirements to determine the potential to do the job with CIT and then performs tradeoff analyses to determine acceptance.

The Department of Defense (DOD) has entered the information age with a concept of network-centric warfare that relies on incorporation of state-of-the-art information technology (IT) in military systems. From major computer centers vital to managing the routine business of the department to frontline battlefield communications and automated, networked weapons systems, the demands for affordable, state-of-the-art IT products and services continue to increase. Much of the cutting edge of the IT sector is now found in the commercial world. Commercial research and development (R&D) investment is huge, and new products emerge every 12-18 months. To stay abreast of IT developments, DOD must take advantage of commercial information technology (CIT). Moreover, given other budget requirements, it makes little sense for DOD to fund the R&D necessary to meet all of its system development needs. Rather, it should focus R&D resources on military applications and rely on industry to the maximum extent possible to fund IT technology that can be adopted or adapted for defense use.

But doing business with the CIT industry has proven to be complicated. The industry is geared to a market of commercial business enterprise and consumers that dwarfs the defense market in both size and ease of doing business. Leading IT companies have limited incentives to do business with DOD, unless the department is willing to accept standard products without modification. And if DOD finds suitable technology, procurement is hampered by an acquisition system out of synch with commercial business practices. In the mid-1990s, DOD tried to increase procurement of CIT. Instruction 5000.2, the guide for DOD acquisition, was modified to state that defense systems will "make maximum use of commercial off the shelf technology." Numerous policy statements, speeches, and articles by high-level defense officials have emphasized this point.

Progress is being made, but more can be done. No one questions that DOD is doing a good job in applying CIT to enterprise and infrastructure requirements. Commercial products (telecommunications, computers, software, network servers, and routers) for virtually all DOD business enterprise requirements are procured rapidly and cost-effectively. …

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