Leveraging commercial technology has become a common practice in military and defense projects, and General Dynamics Broadband expects that trend to continue in the domestic public-safety sector, particularly in the deployment of a nationwide 700 MHz LTE network for first responders, according to an official for the company.

Well known for its development of unique equipment and solutions for the military, General Dynamics has altered its approach to the defense sector, which has become increasingly reliant on commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) gear and solutions for its communications, said Chris Marzilli, president of General Dynamics C4 Systems.

“If you think of the physical fit-ups for hardening and mobility, the automation fit-ups and the security fit-ups—that’s all we bring,” Marzilli said during an interview with Urgent Communications. “Otherwise, it’s out-of-the-box commercial [solutions]. What they’re looking for in the harshest environments is the ability to use their iPhone or their Android phone as they are accustomed to at home, and they expect all of those features to exist.

“That’s very doable today, and that’s doable without what I would consider technology development—we do very little of that anymore. We do it for some very specialized capabilities, but not for communications.”

Changing the mindset at the company to focus more on integration and security than development of new communications technology was an “enormous” shift for the company’s engineering team, but the business case for using commercial technology in the military has been so compelling that a new approach was required, Marzilli said. It’s an approach that is expected to be used by public safety, as well, he said.

“We’re answering the call for, ‘I want COTS, and I want to be able to use it unconstrained,’” Marzilli said. “That said, the people who are savvy enough to know those infrastructures don’t exist recognize that they can’t go without an integrator, so General Dynamics brings that part of it. We expect to have that similar role in how FirstNet builds out.

“Of course, a fixed infrastructure … that you expect is going to be there allows you to do a lot more and do things at lower cost, but there’s still a need for some of those hardening/security/automation functionalities that we’re expert at bringing.”

This shift to COTS equipment also promises to close the once-massive price gap between solutions used for the military and those used by public-safety personnel, resulting in a “natural transition” of solutions between the two sectors, both of which demand high reliability in very challenging environments, Marzilli said.

As it does with the military, General Dynamics Broadband—purchaser of LTE manufacturer IPWireless earlier this year—hopes to have the opportunity to bring its expertise in hardening, security and field automation to the proposed nationwide 700 MHz LTE network for public safety, Marzilli said. Recent work with the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Department of Justice are evidence that the company can serve much more than the defense market, he said.

“In the original days, when the military had such unique technology, I would say it was very difficult to paint a box green and now paint a box white for those functions—it just didn’t fly, because the cost points weren’t there,” Marzilli said. “Now that we’re just adapting commercial off the shelf [equipment] for our military customers, the conversion has allowed us to be very, very effective with homeland-security and public-safety functions.”