ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Nov. 15, 2018) -- In order to insert industry's capabilities to meet the Army's near-term mission command modernization needs, the service is leveraging the Rapid Innovation Fund program.
The Army's product office for vehicle-mounted mission command systems has identified capability gaps in which vendors have proposed promising solutions. In response, Project Manager Mission Command is turning to RIF, which is designed to transition innovative technologies that can be introduced into acquisition programs for critical Army requirements and needs.
PM Mission Command is working with the Network Cross-Functional Team to use RIF for targeted opportunities. The N-CFT is aligned with the Army's new network modernization strategy to address the most pressing challenges.
"Some companies already have ideas they've started working through their independent research and development funding," said Ifeanyi Igwulu, future initiatives project officer for Product Manager Joint Battle Command-Platform, which is assigned to PM Mission Command. "RIF enables the Army to award contracts to further develop the prototypes to a higher technology readiness level. For some vendors, it's initially purely a concept with some limited prototyping. They have a great idea but need additional funding to further productize it into a fieldable, tactical solution."
PdM JBC-P encompasses the hardware, software and network that comprises the Army's friendly force tracking system that delivers enhanced situational awareness, secure data encryption and advanced logistics to more than 103,000 platforms across the joint services. Igwulu said the improvements enabled by RIF could be critical because of the large worldwide footprint touched by JBC-P fielding. The product office is using RIF to fulfill two goals.
The first area is to field a more resilient Blue Force Tracking network/transceiver, commonly known as BFT. The Army is looking for interim solutions until the next-generation BFT-3 version, which is currently in the architecture and standards development phase, is ready in 2023 or 2024. These capabilities would enable alternative data paths to the network or contain anti-jamming waveform properties in contested or congested operational environments. A vendor's proposed solution is to field a dismounted mission module solution that enables voice and data connectivity. This would serve as an alternative means of providing position location information, known as PLI, and messaging data when all other communications are inoperable.
The Army's second area of interest is developing a dismounted transceiver that would enable Soldiers to communicate with the BFT common operational picture while beyond line of sight from their vehicles or command posts.
"We're searching for capabilities that would be ready in 12 to 18 months. These are gaps that have been identified through direct interaction with units at Joint Readiness Training Center and National Training Center rotations, deployments, and at home-station exercises," Igwulu said. "If the solutions prove successful during final military assessments and developmental operations, we can incorporate these new solutions directly into future fielding efforts because of their anticipated high TRL."
The Army will conduct testing on the proposed solutions through a three-step process. First, there will be a government-witnessed lab demonstration at the vendor facility; then a field exercise at a government site; and finally, Soldiers will use prototypes for DevOps during a major training event, such as JRTC. The Army intends to pursue multiple awards for each RIF (2017 and 2018) effort.
PdM JBC-P is closely aligned with the N-CFT to ensure its initiatives will help inform future network design choices, Igwulu said. N-CFT sponsored the product office's RIF proposals for a more resilient BFT network and dismounted BFT transceiver to the Office of the Secretary of Defense's Emerging Capabilities Office. In addition, the RIF efforts, if successful, will be considered for direct insertion into next iteration of the Integrated Tactical Network design.
"We're searching for capabilities that align with senior Army leadership's goals for the network. RIF will make the Army more expeditionary and resilient," Igwulu said.
The U.S. Army Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical develops, acquires, fields and supports the Army's mission command network to ensure force readiness. This critical Army modernization priority delivers tactical communications so commanders and Soldiers can stay connected and informed at all times, even in the most austere and hostile environments. PEO C3T is delivering the network to regions around the globe, enabling high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications to a user base that includes the Army's joint, coalition and other mission partners.