By Ms. Julie I. Locker, DASA(R&T)February 26, 2018
Technology transition is the process by which a technology is determined mature enough to move from science and technology (S&T) into a DOD acquisition program. Transitions play a critical role in bridging the gap between technology development and implementation within a future Army system.
Successful transitions begin early during S&T development with the establishment of strong working relationships between the Army technologists within the research laboratories and the Army program executive officers (PEOs) and program managers (PMs). Through these relationships, stakeholders accomplish the ever-important early interpretation of user requirements and identify the technologies needed to meet user goals. The PM and the S&T developer can then forge technology transition agreements to establish a joint commitment based on a shared understanding of technology objectives and the associated technical hurdles and risks.
In 2017, the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for research and technology (DASA(R&T)) established a new portfolio to focus on key aspects of technology transition and innovation. The maturation portfolio magnifies the focus on improving transitions by merging several efforts under one technology portfolio: red teaming of S&T technologies; development of experimental prototypes through the Technology Maturation Initiatives Budget Activity (BA) 4; advanced development of manufacturing processes through the Army Manufacturing Technology (ManTech) BA7; and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR).
The Army S&T enterprise develops and advances technologies for ground maneuver, aviation, medical, Soldier, and command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) that are critical to the Soldier's success. Specifically, these technologies are key to the successful fielding of the Army's six high-priority modernization efforts for long-range precision fires, the Next Generation Combat Vehicle, Future Vertical Lift, the network and C3I, air and missile defense, and Soldier lethality.
The maturation portfolio supports these priorities by determining ways to transition technologies rapidly as affordable, reliable systems. Following this article are two case studies of successful Army S&T efforts in technology maturation: the Third Generation Forward Looking Infrared (3rd Gen FLIR) and the Affordable Protection from Objective Threats (APOT) project to mature lower-hull manufacturing technologies associated with combat vehicles, providing advanced protection.
It is critical for technologists to understand the requirements that the PEOs and PMs have in order to meet the transition timelines for insertion into their acquisition programs. Technology road maps for these efforts are key to effectively managing advanced technology development efforts, with a stage-gate approach to measure progress along the way.
The stage gates represent checkpoints along the planning timeline that mark the achievement of a specific technology objective, associated metric or both. They support an overall progress check for the effort and serve as decision points as to whether a desired technology is achievable and whether the Army should continue investing in the technology. Road maps should also consider when to effectively initiate red teaming, Technology Maturation Initiatives and ManTech efforts to reduce the risk for transition.
The Army's S&T red teaming program provides early, in-depth vulnerability assessments of S&T products. To achieve these ends, the program conducts virtual, laboratory-based or live conceptualization, threat emulation and technology assessment. The timing, sequence and structure of these activities are tailored to the evaluation of individual technologies or groups of technologies.
An example of an S&T effort that greatly benefited from red teaming was individual blade control (IBC) technologies, which offer substantial improvements for rotorcraft flight control and performance. A series of red teaming assessments looked at the vulnerability of the IBC to ballistic threats; the results were critical in helping reduce the risk of potential IBC implementation in future aviation platforms. Efforts conducted as part of red teaming serve to make our S&T technologies stronger in hostile environments and reduce risk for their successful transition.
IDENTIFYING TECHNOLOGIES FOR MATURATION
When an S&T component, subsystem or system has been demonstrated in a relevant environment, then it has reached technology readiness level 6. Further maturation of the technology may be required to successfully integrate and transition it within an acquisition program.
The purpose of the Army's efforts on this front is to further mature technologies through experimental prototyping in advance of a future program of record. Experimental prototyping provides an opportunity to get S&T products in Soldiers' hands early, thereby facilitating further evaluations to inform detailed system requirements and reduce the risk for transition.
The Army uses a strategically guided, top-down approach to manage Technology Maturation Initiative efforts. A four-star governance body called the Army's Science and Technology Advisory Group, co-chaired by the vice chief of staff of the Army and the Army acquisition executive, provides strategic guidance to the two-star Executive Steering Group chaired by the DASA(R&T). The steering group, in turn, provides guidance to the S&T community, executing commands for development and selection of future Technology Maturation Initiative efforts. Strategic top-down guidance and approval ensure that the efforts receive the necessary level of senior leader oversight to ensure alignment with the secretary of the Army's priorities.
An example of a system being matured through Technology Maturation Initiatives is the Modular Active Protection System (MAPS), which will enable the Army to provide optimized, layered defenses against the most advanced combat vehicle threats. This effort will develop and demonstrate experimental prototypes that fully integrate the MAPS architecture with advanced, autonomous countermeasures on ground platforms. The results will inform the Army's requirements for the Vehicle Protection Suite (VPS) and reduce the risk of rapidly transitioning VPS capabilities to the Army's combat vehicle fleet.
During S&T technology development, it is important to understand if there are any associated issues with the manufacture of technologies that could affect the ability to produce an item, or its affordability. Exploration of methods to manufacture technologies, in parallel with the execution of S&T efforts, ensures that any new manufacturing processes required for these technologies have been developed before transition. The Army's ManTech Program develops and refines manufacturing processes for affordable products, thereby reducing the risk of transition to programs of record.
The program leverages manufacturing research conducted jointly by the services through the Joint Defense Manufacturing Technology Panel. The panel of representatives from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Defense Logistics Agency, Missile Defense Agency and Office of the Secretary of Defense exists to avoid redundancies, identify and integrate requirements, and conduct joint planning.
ManTech yields reduced costs and improved products for the warfighter. As one example of numerous successes, its APOT project has matured lower-hull manufacturing technologies associated with combat vehicles, providing advanced protection. This effort enabled the U.S. to domestically produce a new aluminum alloy with processes needed to form, forge and weld it into a structure for the underbody hull, providing a new standard in blast protection. The successes from APOT are informing requirements for future combat vehicles.
The SBIR Program fosters innovation in all phases of S&T and shapes successful transitions by aligning small businesses directly with technology capability gaps. For instance, the 3rd Gen FLIR sensor suite leveraged small business efforts from the SBIR program. With the shift of Army S&T efforts toward mid- and far-term technologies, SBIR efforts are critical for filling near-term technology needs.
The Army is providing additional strategic guidance to the SBIR community to ensure that its work aligns with the Army's modernization priorities. The additional guidance will help small businesses focus investments in areas where the Army has critical needs.
Strengthening a transition and reducing risk to an existing or future program of record require detailed action plans to effectively link planned S&T advanced technology development, Technology Maturation Initiatives and ManTech, while using SBIRs to promote innovation throughout the technology development life cycle.
A proactive, forward-focused strategy is critical. Managing the maturation efforts within one S&T portfolio helps to ensure alignment with Army priorities and ensure that action plans are in place to link efforts, ultimately reducing overall risk and ensuring successful transition to the PEOs and PMs.
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This article is published in the January -- March 2018 Army AL&T magazine.