After the first dusts in Iraq and Afghanistan settled, the United States was left to struggle in a costly day-to-day grind against enemies short on funding but well-stocked with deviously simple plans of attack.
One particular lesson America learned during this challenging period has been taken to heart by the Defense Department and government-contracting community: Attack an intelligent and agile enemy with intelligence and agility.
In short: C4ISR.
C4ISR — Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance — is the art of observing, gathering intelligence and responding accordingly to enemy threats.
While the C4ISR business market has been percolating for some time, advancements in technology have made it America’s best bet to leverage the vast gap of resources it holds over its adversaries.
With concern swirling around the government-contracting business about the defense market’s viability following combat drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, C4ISR could become the budget lifeblood for a number of firms heavily entrenched in the sector.
SRA International Vice President Herb Kemp, a C4ISR expert at the firm, described the developing opportunities resulting from the vast amount of information being gathered.
“Since the late 1990s, the C4ISR space has been rapidly evolving toward a highly distributed model, which has placed significant demands on bandwidth,” he said. “Moreover, especially within the permissive air environments we see in current conflicts, we have essentially achieved near-ubiquitous collection, which will continue to increase with the introduction of new sensors.”
While business opportunities are becoming more limited in some sectors of government contracting, work abounds in the C4ISR market. Kemp notes in the coming years, the difficulties in the market will come in finding ways to handle the copious amounts of data in need of analysis.
One government-contracting industry expert singled out a strong C4ISR portfolio as a key factor for a defense contractor’s valuation, naming it alongside the booming cybersecurity market. Market assessments like that have sent waves of response through the government-contracting community.
Late in 2010, ManTech moved to acquire C4ISR specialist firm MTCSC Inc. at a cost of $75 million. The California-based company was rolled into the firm’s Systems Engineering and Advanced Technology group.
“We are excited to expand our capabilities and customer footprint with the acquisition of MTCSC,” he said in a statement. “C4ISR will continue to get priority funding. This acquisition fits well with ManTech’s long-term strategy of focusing on high-end defense and intelligence technology support.”
The Virginia-based contracting giant was not alone in its assessment of the present and future opportunities in the market. Likewise, CSC gave its C4ISR portfolio a boost with its purchase of CenTauri for an undisclosed amount.
The company reported at the time that the move would help CSC deliver IT services and solutions as a prime contractor through the Defense Intelligence Agency’s $6.6 billion Solutions for Information Technology Enterprises indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract.
CSC was also quick to note the systems integration capabilities in sensor integration, intelligence processing and in-theater analysis and exploitation.
“With the addition of CenTauri Solutions, CSC strengthens our capabilities in providing IT services and systems integration solutions that deliver value to the Defense Intelligence Agency and C4ISR customers,” James W. Sheaffer, president of CSC’s North American Public Sector, said at the time. “We are excited to help bring to market CenTauri Solutions’ innovative products in the [area of C4ISR].
While defense contractors go about reassessing their offerings and decide how to move into the best position for C4ISR business, some firms are considering how to best merge the developing market with their existing business model.
DynCorp International, for instance, will continue its commitment on the “people” aspects of defense contracting.
“C4ISR capabilities are important enablers across all phases of conflict and will likely continue to be a priority in the upcoming budget,” said Craig Reed, DynCorp senior vice president for strategy and corporate development. “However, the success of many of the defense, diplomacy and development missions that DynCorp International performs for our customers often depends more heavily on having the right people in place on the ground than on any high-technology capabilities. We may see more of this emphasis in future conflicts.”
Mark Abel, vice president of business development and strategy at Wyle Information Systems, when discussing the increased prevalence of C4ISR over traditional military activity notes the government was not asleep; rather its attention on development on new-age warfare was elsewhere.
“Quite simply, the nature of warfare has changed,” he said. “Thirty years ago, we knew where the targets we wanted to attack were located, but we had challenges in placing sufficient munitions on them. We spent a good deal of time and resources successfully maturing stealth technology and precision-guided munitions to address that issue, only to see the nature of warfare shift.”
America spent years working to respond to the challenge of attacking enemy strongholds, typically located in areas prone to collateral damage, only to have the complexity of this task grow exponentially in recent years.
“We more frequently contend with asymmetric warfare and counterinsurgencies, where our targets could be lone individuals hiding amidst the local populace,” Abel said.
Like other industry experts, Abel sees C4ISR business for contractors continue strongly into this young decade.
“A thirst for C4ISR technology — the ability to find, fix, track, target, engage and assess our kinetic and cyber armaments — has been the driving force for this market for the past decade, and will likely continue for the next several years,” he said.
Ultimately, Abel boils the C4ISR discussion down to a single word: data.
“It is about the data — the collection, processing, exploitation, dissemination, and protection of data,” he said. “Just as the most valuable node in a network is the next one you add, the most valuable bit of data is the next one you collect and process. That is what is driving growth in this market.” ♦