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What is a Military off-The-Shelf Product?

By Ken Black
Updated May 16, 2024
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A military off-the-shelf product (MOTS) is a software product that is usually available not just to the military, but to the public at large. In most cases, it is available commercially, which is why it is sometimes called a commercial off-the-shelf product (COTS). Military off-the-shelf products have been heavily emphasized in the U.S. military since the mid 1990s.

Defense administrators say there are many benefits to a military off-the-shelf product. The main advantages are the savings in cost and time. If there is a suitable commercial program the military can use, it can often be obtained at a lower cost than writing a new program. Also, because most commercial programs have been thoroughly tested, there are fewer bugs that will cause problems and fewer major updates. Additionally, because the product is already on the market, there is no delay in obtaining and using it.

While a military off-the-shelf product can produce some benefits, there are also challenges. In many cases, commercial software may work just fine for some military applications. Payroll software, for example, can be standardized enough it does not matter what industry, or military, is utilizing it. However, there may be some functions that are not suited for a military off-the-shelf product.

The first step in choosing a military off-the-shelf is to determine which sources it may come from. Different companies may offer different programs, with some being better than others for military users. Once the source has been identified, it is then necessary to pick the military off-the-shelf product that will offer the most seamless, and thus most cost effective, transition.

Some products can meet most of the requirements a military may have, but not all. In these cases, the source code of a military off-the-shelf product may need to be changed. If this is the case, the product becomes a modified off-the-shelf product, which can also go by the acronym MOTS. MOTS products, even though they need to be changed, can also offer a financial and time-savings benefit due to the fact that most of the programming code has already been written. The modification may be completed by the software manufacturer, a third party or the military, depending on the situation.

Even though there are a number of benefits to a military off-the-shelf product, the idea does have its critics as well. Some say a commercial product may not meet the security requirements the military needs. Another criticism is that sometimes the product often does require a change in the way the military operates, causing a cost increase, at least over the short term. However, overall the cost-benefit analyses generally show there is a net benefit for the military in utilizing these products.

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Discussion Comments

By Scrbblchick — On May 28, 2014

I'd also say a big benefit is that the software has already been beta tested and technical support is in place. This means that developers are already working on any bugs, which means the military doesn't have to pay people extra to troubleshoot the product; the tech support comes with the purchase. A private company has already done all the legwork, so when the military gets the software, it's just a matter of configuration to specs.

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