CAL brings workforce, students together to defend the future
September 12, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. - In the Concepts and Analysis Laboratory, contributions can come from freshmen in college as well as seniors in their field of expertise.
Members of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command's CAL, along with the assistance of college students and interns, are using existing technology to support the Counter-Rockets, Artillery and Mortars program.
"We started working with the Projectile Tracking System Radar," said Kevin Nash, CAL supervisor. "It was a test bed, developed at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., for the Crusader gun system. It was developed to track outgoing rounds off the gun and help them adjust their fire accordingly. We turned it around to track incoming rockets and mortars. We have used three different variants of the PTS interferometer radar technology in support of C-RAM since 2004.
"And what we have done is bring our young people out and they actually do the sensor operations," he added. "We don't need any contractors with them. We have a contractor there in case the system breaks, but we do all of the target tracking ourselves and then we do the data analysis afterwards.
Although the CAL's students and interns' contributions are limited to helping them as they capture and understand test results, their assistance is key in supporting C-RAM testing.
"Between 2005 and 2007 we observed intercepts with an infrared camera for the entire engagement of each target," Nash said. "The students created time-stamped movies of what happened and provided those to our C-RAM customer. That way the customer could assess the lethality of their engagements.
"On the radar side, our role is test support to record all of the tracks, so the customer can perform an assessment of how well their tactical radars tracked the targets," he added.
During the summer months, there are approximately 20 students and interns working in the CAL. There are others that continue throughout the year and intertwine working at SMDC with their college schedules.
"There are two main ways the students assist us," Nash said. "One is the actual operations of the sensors. We bring the students out to perform target tracking with radar and, previously, infrared.
"What they are spending the most hours on is helping develop data analysis software," he added. "One of the challenging things for the radar is that we have to make sure our track quality is good, so the students write programs that analyze the track and help give us a quality assessment so that when we turn in the data it is correct.
"The students' efforts help us improve our performance on the ground out at the test ranges. We want to track 100 percent of the targets and we want to have good quality data," he added. "Their products get us into high success ratings and our product here at SMDC helps the C-RAM program office characterize and assess their performance at the test range before they deploy to the field."
Nash talked about what he is most proud of when watching the students he supervises as they progress in the CAL.
"It is amazing the contributions that these students are making," Nash said. "Just watching them grow as some come back every summer as they progress and their skills blossom is really amazing to see."
Many of the students are hired at SMDC through the Redstone Arsenal summer hire program while others are traditional Co-Op students. Nash said that one of the main ways students come aboard is through the Department of Defense Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) scholarship program.
As some students use the summer hire and intern programs as building blocks in their future, some of them become permanent members of the SMDC family.
"Starting here as a student was great," said Marcus Ratcliff, a general engineer in the CAL since 2008, who started out as an Auburn University student in 2004. "It got me excited about going out into the workforce and gave me something to focus on while I was in college.
"The work here is interesting and exciting, especially working with the C-RAM program," he added. "If any college student is considering coming to work here for SMDC, I definitely recommend it. They will get a lot of experience that is helpful with both school and their careers."