ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- For Soldiers in combat, situational awareness -- knowing where the enemy is and where friendly forces are -- is critical.
To help Soldiers maintain situational awareness, the U.S. Army submitted a draft Request for Proposal for Soldier Borne Sensors, which will have two components -- an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and a Ground Control Station. With a camera in the air vehicle, Soldiers will be able to see further and around obstacles that they previously wouldn't be able to see in near real time.
"The Soldier Borne Sensor System will allow Soldiers to gain situational awareness and understanding in their sphere of influence as they need it," said John Paul Kruszewski, systems engineer at the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Soldier Center.
While the Soldier Center has been working on SBS and small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, the project originally began with the U.S. Army Foreign Comparative Testing Program, which is overseen by Office of the Secretary of Defense's Comparative Technology Office and managed by RDECOM. The project was then transitioned to PM Soldier Borne Systems.
The final RFP, which will be awarded in 1st quarter FY19 through an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract, will be for an additional 2,400 systems.
The Soldier Center conducted laboratory testing on the SBS system earlier this year at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, and Natick, Massachusetts. Key areas that the tests focused on was the ability to visually detect the system at different distances and in different environments, how long it takes to deploy the system, and range and battery life. The Soldier Center plans to conduct altitude and extreme cold weather testing to inform future research and development of the systems.
Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division conducted a "fly-off" at Ft. A.P. Hill, Virginia. During the fly-off -- a competition between vendors' products -- three systems were tested. Feedback from the Soldiers was very positive, and the Army awarded a $2.6 million order for 60 Black Hornet III UASs to FLIR System, Inc. on May 30, 2018. The FY18 fly-off systems will be fielded to a Brigade Combat Team, and lessons learned from the fly-off will be used for the final RFP. The ultimate goal is to field one SBS to nearly every squad in the Army, which includes more than 7,000 squads.
"The FCT program was very successful in designing test methods for specific requirements. Many of the test methods developed under the FCT program have been integrated into the SBS program," Kruszewski said. "We're continuing to develop some of these test methods and transition them to not only the Army but also the Marine Corps for them to use."
The FCT program, which provides an avenue for Army engineers, scientists and program managers to test and evaluate items and technologies from allies and other friendly nations that may fill an Army capability gap, successfully engaged nontraditional partners, including companies that primarily work in the United Kingdom.
"Working with companies that have never done work for the U.S. market should increase competition and get a better product for Soldiers," Kruszewski said.
The Soldier Center will continue working with PM SBS to evolve the technology and test methods and provide feedback from systems provided by foreign vendors.
The FCT Program is an annual, competitive program and is executed for the Army by RDECOMs Global Technology Office which receives oversight from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Comparative Technology Office. The FCT Program provides an avenue for Army engineers, scientists and program managers to acquire, test, and evaluate items and technologies from foreign industry of our allies and other friendly nations that may fill an Army capability gap or other urgent need.