Masthead Corporate Logo
Search  Advanced

The Mil & Aero Blog

Bookmark this Blog Subscribe to an RSS Feed of this Blog.
<< Home

COTS, COTS, COTS, COTS


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Posted by John McHale.

Nearly everyone I speak to at defense electronics trade shows or for interviews over the phone brings up the COTS (commercial-off-the-shelf) procurement term in some way. They make COTS products, use COTS practices, or think COTS is the worst thing in the world.

Everyone seems to have different definitions or different acronyms for COTS. I've heard GOTS -- government-off-the-shelf; ROTS -- rugged-off-the-shelf; MOTS -- military-off-the-shelf; NOTS -- NATO-off-the-shelf; or my personal favorite: KOTS -- kinda-off-the-shelf. A few industry friends tell me they see a lot of SHOTS or "sh "-off-the-shelf. I'll let you fill in the rest ... we are a family web site ya know.

Seriously though, COTS is a procurement term that is supposed to embrace technology standards, but lacks any standard definition itself.

At our magazine we like to think of COTS as being anything that is available out of a company catalog, even if it is tweaked or adjusted for a specific program. On the other hand custom would be anything that the government or end-user pays a supplier to develop from the ground up.

We've been talking about COTS for 15 years now. We've had shows about it and dedicated sections of our magazine to it, but many of our readers still differ on its meaning.

Some think the original intent of the Perry memo was to embrace commercial practices rather than a decree to run out and buy gadgets right off the shelf at Radio Shack or Fry's. In other words, to create standard product lines of MIL-STD components that can be bought off the shelf.

Many companies do offer such solutions, but just as many will buy a totally commercial component that does not meet military specifications and put it in a rugged enclosure.

Using COTS also cuts down on development time, which is very important to DOD program managers who want to get technology into the hands of the warfighter in Iraq or Afghanistan as fast as possible. DOD funding has been diverted from long-term programs to solutions that can be deployed near term to the warfighter.

Regardless, of how COTS is deployed or used, its dark side -- obsolecscne remains. No matter how you define it, designers still have to manage how they will support programs with components that will be obsolete in a few months or years.

Desginers of the avionics for the Orion spacecraft -- the proposed replacement for the space shuttle -- at Honeywell told me in January that managing obsolescene is one of their biggest challenges, but they cannot reach many of their performance golas without making use of COTS electronics and standards.

A decade and half after the Perry memo COTS has become a household word to those in the defense industry, it remains a kind of procurement wonder drug with wonderful benefits and occasionally some nasty side effects.

What does COTS mean to you? I would love to hear your COTS definition, your COTS success, or even a COTS horror story.

Follow me on Twitter

Post a Comment

1 Comments:
Blogger Michael said...
I agree, COTS has been the most used...abused nomenclature I've ever seen. To me I agree with your assessment that "COTS" means the maximum use of standard products, which do not have development costs to the user, as opposed to the past where every platform may have had their own unique custom device for the same function. It does not mean the use of the least expensive , commercial radio shack device.....to perform in the demanding environments of airborne or rotary wing applications but the use of standard products which have been specifically developed for those environments. We offer standard product solutions at various environmental screening levels to cover applications from ground based to airborne to satellites. In this way, customers on various applications can select the most suitable standard product solution.....COTS solution....for their applications.
Thursday, October 29, 2009 1:50:00 PM EDT  


<< Home




Welcome to the lighter side of Military & Aerospace Electronics. This is where our staff recount tales of the strange, the weird, and the otherwise offbeat. We could put news here, but we have the rest of our Website for that. Enjoy our scribblings, and feel free to add your own opinions. You might also get to know us in the process. Proceed at your own risk.

John Keller for MAE
John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.


Courtney Howard for MAE Courtney E. Howard is senior editor of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine. She is responsible for writing news stories and feature articles for the print publication, as well as composing daily news for the magazine's Website and assembling the weekly electronic newsletter. Her features have appeared in such high-tech trade publications as Military & Aerospace Electronics, Computer Graphics World, Electronic Publishing, Small Times, and The Audio Amateur.


John McHale for MAE John McHale is executive editor of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, where he has been covering the defense Industry for more than dozen years. During that time he also led PennWell's launches of magazines and shows on homeland security and a defense publication and website in Europe. Mr. McHale has served as chairman of the Military & Aerospace Electronics Forum and its Advisory Council since 2004. He lives in Boston with his golf clubs.