ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, MD -- The U.S. Army conducted a three-day Technical Interchange to assist industry in aligning its efforts with military needs and requirements, May 2-4.
Presented by the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, the Technical Interchange briefed more than 200 industry representatives on relevant technologies, research investments and challenges that support the Army's Six Modernization Priorities -- Long-Range Precision Fires, Next-Generation Combat Vehicle, Future Vertical Lift, Network/C3I, Air and Missile Defense and Soldier Lethality -- and the eight corresponding Cross-Functional Teams.
As the Army's applied research and development center for command, control, communications, computers, cyber, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance - or C5ISR -- CERDEC develops and matures capabilities that support Army Modernization priorities and enable tactical overmatch for the joint warfighter.
Recognizing the need to leverage industry's creativity and innovation to the fullest potential, the goal of the Technical Interchange was for CERDEC to brief and interact with industry in the earliest stages of a product lifecycle, before requirements and design concepts are firm. Then, in areas where companies believe they have potential solutions, industry can request an individual Technical Interchange Meeting, or TIM, with CERDEC engineers and scientists to discuss their innovations and ideas.
"The sooner industry learns of the Army's interest in a new capability, the sooner industry can begin to explore or invest in applicable technologies and formulate ideas for Army consideration," explained CERDEC Director Patrick J. O'Neill.
"CERDEC looks at itself as the home of innovation," O'Neill told the industry attendees. "We press forward to innovate in support of the warfighter. These exchanges of information are critical to us and beneficial to the Soldier. The ideas are the combination of everything that we think about. They are great ideas, and we need to embrace them."
Speaking to the industry attendees, Chuck Hoppe, CERDEC's associate director of Science, Technology and Engineering, helped frame the Technical Interchange by stating that the forum was about helping industry to understand CERDEC problems at a certain level and then encouraging attendees to come back to discuss how they think they can help CERDEC solve these challenges.
"Our goal is to give you information so that you can marry up your core competencies against our gaps -- not perceived gaps. [CERDEC] directors are going to give you some very specific problems, which focus on these six priorities and how they fit as a system of systems in meeting the Army's need to execute multi-domain battle," Hoppe said.
"Companies cannot waste a lot of time trying to figure out whether they fit with CERDEC's needs or not," added Hoppe. "This forum allows companies to align their core competencies against CERDEC's problem sets."
Intelligence & Information Warfare Directorate, or I2WD, Director Gary Blohm; Night Vision & Electronic Sensors Directorate, or NVESD, Director Dr. Donald Reago; Space & Terrestrial Comms Directorate, or S&TCD, Acting Director Seth Spoenlein; and Command, Power & Integration Directorate, or CP&ID, Acting Associate Director of Tech, Plans, and Programs James Henning, along with 14 chiefs and engineers from divisions within the directorates, each briefed attendees on the structure of their organization; how their core technical competencies align with the Six Modernization Priorities, the Cross-Functional Teams and Army mission; their facilities; present customers; current and future projects; and a summary of challenges, before concluding with a lively question and answer session.
"What brought me here is to try to gain a better understanding of the Army's S&T [science and technology] needs, with the expectation that they are aligned and tied to the Army's emerging and current requirements," explained, Dave Lockhart, manager of Energy, Force Protection, Defense, Space & Security with The Boeing Company. "The most important part of this is we are getting access to the level of detail and information that we have not gotten before."
"That is good because it helps us [in industry] focus not only on the Army's general direction but with that next layer of technical information, that helps us to better understand how to apply it to some product or technology to feed the capability that CERDEC needs," he said. "And as we get technical information from CERDEC, that puts us in the position to really maximize our S&T investment versus guessing what the Army's technical needs might be. That is critically important to [industry] because it helps us get it more right the first time by reducing our cost to develop and increasing our speed to delivery."
John Fanelle is the senior director of Radar Systems and Mission Systems with San Diego, California office of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., who sees the Technical Interchange as an opportunity to align his firm's research to what is being developed within CERDEC.
"It was very interesting to hear the research that CERDEC is doing, specifically in the area of GPS [global positioning system] because from my perspective, that is one of the things that is a key to the future of radar and the night vision environment," said Fanelle. "I am primarily doing business with the Air Force, but this forum allowed me to meet new people [in government and industry] who are in the Army world. There is a lot of synergy that we can have from business to business, working across services."
"Overall," he concluded, "most of the briefers were very good, articulating what their needs were -- and that was the purpose of the meeting; that is what we are getting out of it."
This is the second Technical Interchange at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The first was held two years ago at the request of industry. Thanks to the success of this year's forum, Hoppe said CERDEC plans to hold one every other year, the next being in 2020.
"We are committed to doing this every two years," said Hoppe. "If there is a message that we want to get to industry, it is CERDEC cannot truly do this alone. We need their input to help us with these hard problems."
That is the kind of message that Felix Boccadoro, principal with Bethesda, Maryland-based Felix Associates, LLC wanted to hear.
"I am a small business that supports a number of smaller companies that cannot afford full-time business development people," said Boccadoro. "What I try to do is help small companies get channeled into meeting the right people in the areas that they need to be focused on. This is a good forum to come and hear from all the different branches within CERDEC, to find out what their technological challenges are and to help my small companies connect with individuals that are here."
"It was a good open forum to ask questions and it was good for me to meet other contractors so that I may be able to have my small company team up with them on future projects. You really have to be here if you want to know what is going on. Overall, it was a good experience."
O'Neill believed the Technical Interchange successfully highlight the critical role that industry plays in developing technologies as well as the teamwork required to overcome the Army's future technological challenges.
"I think it was Vince Lombardi [past head coach of the Green Bay Packers] who said, 'People who work together win,'" O'Neill stressed to the attendees. "We're not set up so that our scientists can come up with these ideas and pay industry to do it. That is not the way we work. More than half of our [monetary] resources go out-of-house. So you [in industry] are critical to us. You are here to enable the warfighter. That is what this forum is all about; we are looking for people that can help us with ideas."