ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (September 6, 2018) - The next game-changing mission command Soldier capability just might be percolating within a well-known, large tech organization.
Yet, it is no secret that sometimes the biggest ideas come from the smallest companies.
The Army's research and development organizations say "come one, come all," including academia, when searching for partners to help the Army meets its modernization goals.
"From artificial intelligence and robotics, to GPS-denied navigation, to super powerful lightweight batteries, to voice-activated mission command, our science and technology programs are reaping the benefits of our business and academia collaborative ventures," said Jim Hennig, associate director for the U.S. Army RDECOM Communications-Electronics Center's Technology, Plans, and Programs Office.
The U.S. government has established multiple mechanisms to facilitate these partnerships, including the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, or CRADA, which helps all-sized businesses and academia conduct specified research or development efforts to advance Soldier technologies.
"Through collaboration with one of our CRADA partners, we integrated their ruggedized, roof-mounted environmental control unit into our vehicle-based command and control support capability," said Tyler Barton, command post lead for the center's Mission Command Capabilities Division, or MCCD.
Prior to this revolutionary advancement, it would have been impossible to keep the servers cool and operational after traversing over long, often hot stretches of terrain," Barton said.
"We are now one step closer to meeting the Army's modernization goals for survivable and expeditionary command posts," he said.
CRADAs also allow government organizations to compare multiple implementations from different vendors in order to determine which one most benefits the Army. A CRADA can also result in technologies transferring from federal laboratories to the private sector if the technology is deemed useful for commercial use, Barton said.
The center also joins forces with the U.S. government's Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, program to ensure potential cutting-edge technologies don't get overshadowed by the "big guys" in industry. SBIRs come with a funding mechanism to provide small businesses with a leg up when first introducing their ideas to the government.
"We pitch our ideas and requirements to the Army's SBIR office to capture what we believe future Soldiers will require for modern warfare," said Katharine Toth, MCCD engineer.
Small businesses respond by submitting feasibility studies back to the SBIR office, and the center down-selects to a few companies. Companies receive a small amount of funding from the SBIR organization to refine their technologies over the next six months, Toth said.
"Once the small business demonstrates its technology is feasible, the SBIR office provides it with a larger amount of money, and a two-year timeline, to produce a prototype from within one of our portfolios," Toth said.
The center is currently managing a number of SBIRs that will advance Soldiers' ability to use unmanned platforms to conduct mission command more effectively and safely. These systems span from lower to higher levels of autonomy, based on the amount of human to machine interaction they require.
Two notable SBIRs in this area seek swarming technologies, which feature tiny flying or ground based robots. The first seeks to develop structure-based swarms where the robots mimic geese "V" formations, and "stigmergy," which is another type of swarming that mimics the way bugs communicate with pheromones, Toth said.
"We must keep advancing robotics to help our Soldiers identify and track high-value targets, communicate search patterns, and ensure protection for our convoys," Toth said
Other SBIRS are addressing long-lasting, lithium battery technologies to allow Soldiers to remain in the field longer, and PNT components, such as tightly coupled oscillators, that will help keep Soldiers oriented when GPS becomes degraded or denied, Toth said.
CRADAs and SBIRs will obtain higher visibility with the formation of the Army Future's Command, or AFC, which is implementing an all-hands approach to modernizing the force, Hennig noted.
"The AFC specifically dictates that we leverage commercial innovation to ensure we insert cutting-edge technologies into our capabilities, Hennig said. "We will look to these companies and academic organizations to help us help gain an edge over peer and near-peer technological advances for our future force."
The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's Communications-Electronics Center conducts applied research and executes advanced technology development for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance - or C4ISR - capabilities. RDECOM has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.
Those interested in partnering with RDECOM's Communications-Electronics Center should visit the organization's public website, www.cerdec.army.mil, and click on the Opportunities and Services tab at the top of the page.