Q&A with Lt. Col. Scott Helmore on COBRA OTA project method naming conventions

By Brittney M. Brown, DCO Strategic Communications

There’s been plenty of action within Defensive Cyber Operations (DCO). Within the past year, it established three new organizations (two product managers and one division), implemented the use of Other Transaction Authority (OTA) and opened a new cyber innovation center called “the Forge.”

Through the Forge, DCO is executing a variety of methods to procure and deliver defensive cyber prototypes. The Coliseum, Labyrinth, Constellations and the Forge Storm are among the methods being utilized. Lt. Col. Scott Helmore, product manager (PdM) for Cyber Platforms and Systems (CPS), gives insight on the naming conventions and how they build mutually beneficial relationships between DCO and industry partners.

Q: DCO is utilizing the Cyber Operations Broad Responsive Agreement, or COBRA for short, as the OTA to procure defensive cyber prototypes. What is COBRA?

A: COBRA is the name of DCO’s OTA. An OTA in general is a means by which we acquire prototypes. It allows us to go outside the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) for a “try before you buy” procurement. The method gives us the flexibility we need to ensure a capability can actually meet the requirements of Soldiers before we purchase them through an official FAR contract.

Q: How does COBRA differ from other OTAs?

A: First, COBRA is unique because it specifically focuses on cyber. Other OTAs may focus on communications, but there are none really dedicated to defensive cyber.

COBRA is also unique because we award agreements through the use of a centralized, physical location called the Forge. Within the Forge, we bring together all of the entities that make OTA execution and prototype development possible under one roof. The Forge has a contracting office, as well as the presence of our stakeholders like Army Cyber Command. No other OTA that I’m aware of has their customer or end-user co- located or involved in the process.

Another factor that sets COBRA apart is that we’re executing the OTA through a variety of execution methods, like the Forge Storm and the Coliseum.

Q: Speaking of the Forge Storm and the Coliseum, you were the mastermind behind the names, including Labyrinth and Constellations. What do the names mean in the context of DCO?

A: The naming conventions were done as a means for people to be able to associate concepts with the methods. Most have historical references, like in the case of the Roman Coliseum.

Everyone knows the Coliseum was a place for events where observers watched participants, and then voted on the winners. We’re applying the same concept, but in our case, the participants are industry and we solicit them to demonstrate their solutions to our teams of evaluators. Coliseums give us the ability to observe and vote on whether we want the technology from industry or not, and help us refine what we’re looking for. Coliseums are efficient because they’re hosted at existing industry events, such as the AFCEA Belvoir Industry Days, where industry is already present.

Q: How about the Labyrinth and Constellations methods?

A: Labyrinth is derived from Greek mythology and is basically just a maze. The Labyrinth method is all about problem solving. We present a problem to industry, bring them to the Forge, and conduct brainstorming sessions about how to solve those problems.

Constellations are groups of stars that create a picture. In DCO’s scenario, we’re putting groups of industry experts together to focus on a specific area of interest, like analytics, for example. The point is for those groups to come back to us with common ideas or solutions, and present a picture of what a capability should look like. When new participants are added to the constellation, they start as a small star and at some point in time, they grow into a brighter star of the constellation.

Q: The method called the Forge Storm is related to meteorology. What was the thought process behind the name?

A: Multiple elements go into a storm; a storm brings wind, it brings rain, and sometimes tornadoes all at the same time. With the Forge Storm, we’re going after different procurements and using multiple methodologies in the same environment. We’re basically inviting industry to the Forge for an in-house tradeshow with a “Shark Tank” twist on it.

Q: How does the Forge in combination with COBRA benefit industry?

A: There are a lot of opportunities for industry to capitalize on DCO’s new efforts. Within one Coliseum event alone, we looked at over 120 technologies from 63 companies and awarded 10 different COBRA agreements. That added up to $6.4 million in procurement dollars that went to industry in a very short amount of time. Our first Forge Storm event brought out more than 200 people from 22 companies, who were able to directly discuss their products with end-users without a middle man.

Q: How can industry take advantage of the opportunities?

A: DCO posts announcements on several platforms, including, the PEO EIS website, industry organization websites and through the System of Systems Consortium. Our announcements include specific instructions on how to participate, as well as the various timelines.