ARLINGTON, VA: At $2.6 million, the contract award that Lockheed Martin will announce today to upgrade something called the Distributed Common Ground System is a rounding error in the aerospace giant’s $46.5 billion annual revenue. But in an age of austerity, when mega-programs like Lockheed’s flagship Joint Strike Fighter are under ever-increasing scrutiny, small can be beautiful. The DCGS approach — modest, incremental, and based on free open-source software — is an interesting model for a difficult era.

DCGS does what’s called “fusion,” combining “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance” (ISR) data from different kinds of drones and manned aircraft into a single coherent picture for analysts on the ground. The different services all have their different variants, with something called the DCGS Integrated Backbone (DIB) supposed to connect them. That’s the kind of complex IT integration challenge that has bedeviled programs like the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) and the Army’s Future Combat System (FCS) — for which Lockheed also did fusion work before its cancellation in 2009 — and at one point DIB seemed headed down that same, well-trodden road to nowhere. Keep reading →