By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest, Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO)December 30, 2019
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (December 30, 2019) -- Following the inaugural Innovation Day held in September, the U.S. Army issued its first of several expected contracts for new rapid prototyping efforts.
Designed to accelerate the transition of emerging technology to Soldiers, Innovation Day resembled a commercial investor "pitch day" event to find the most promising capabilities, resulting in accelerated contracting and rapid delivery of prototypes.
To qualify to participate in the first Innovation Day, held in McLean, Va., companies responded to a call for White Paper submissions under the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) Broad Agency Announcement (BAA). The companies invited to present their unique ideas had 20 minutes in front of panel members, including subject matter experts, followed by a quick feedback session. They left Innovation Day knowing that either the concepts had merit and would be considered further; or it was a good idea but wasn't currently feasible for the Army RCCTO to prototype.
Of the 42 presentations that Army panelists evaluated, nine innovative concepts across 12 vendors - some of whom teamed on their efforts - were approved for prototyping efforts with the RCCTO. The companies selected to move forward to concept refinement and potential contract awards represent a wide range of small, medium and large businesses, from both the defense sector and non-traditional vendor communities.
Those concepts not selected for further evaluation by the RCCTO were considered by the Army and Department of Defense leader representation on the panels for application to other organizations such as the Army Futures Command or Program Executive Offices. More than a dozen of the presentations fit in this category and were introduced to other organizations for potential partnerships.
The first contract was awarded to TRX, a Maryland-based small business that received an award for a prototype dismounted electronic warfare kit. As the first company to receive an Innovation Day contract, TRX will deliver a prototype tactical electronic warfare kit for dismounted Soldiers. The portable kit will provide alerts for Soldiers at the lowest echelons when electronic jamming or spoofing is detected, so they can take immediate action. It will also provide a "rewind" navigation feature to estimate the user's probable current position after jamming or spoofing has occurred. The prototype software and hardware is expected to be delivered in approximately 12 months from the contract award. After successful demonstration, the equipment could transition to an Army project management office to provide operational capability and for integration with other electronic warfare systems.
"This was just a great opportunity to receive thoughtful ideas on innovative areas, and allow Army leadership to quickly make a recommendation on bringing a technology to our Soldiers," said Rob Monto, the lead for the RCCTO's Innovation Days and its Advanced Concepts and Experimentation program office. "And the technology TRX proposed is prime to quickly prototype and provide to Soldiers sensing at the forward edge of the battle space."
Additional selected concepts that are proceeding to concept refinement and potential contract awards from the Sept. 17 event are in the capability areas of artificial intelligence, resilient communications, counter unmanned aerial systems (CUAS), weapon system cyber resiliency, advanced defensive and offensive cyber, multi-domain command and control, brakes, adaptable UAS, and Soldier sensors.
"From pitching a good idea to being on contract to deliver a prototype to Soldiers is exactly how the Army envisioned the Innovation Day model," said LTG L. Neil Thurgood, Director of Hypersonics, Directed Energy, Space and Rapid Acquisition, which includes the RCCTO. "Technology is advancing at extraordinary speed, and we must continue to offer similar opportunities for exciting ideas to be converted into action."
A second RCCTO Innovation Day will take place at the Capital Factory in Austin, Texas, February 11-12, 2020, in partnership with the Army Futures Command, Army Applications Laboratory. A Request for Information for this event closed on Dec. 20, with more than 700 White Papers submitted.
The intent of the semi-annual Innovation Days is to allow companies to present new technologies and ideas that reduce near- and mid-term operational risks against near-peer adversaries. If selected by a board of Army leaders, companies may be awarded a contract to develop a prototype and potentially deliver an operational capability to the Army.