FORT SILL, Oklahoma (March 5, 2020) -- Emerging weapon systems are expected to use ammunition much quicker in future conflicts, so the Long-Range Precision Fires Cross-Functional Team (CFT) is already exploring ways to speed up the ammo resupply process.To that end, subject-matter experts from the Fort Sill-based CFT met head-to-head with representatives from six nontraditional technology companies here Feb. 25. They want to define what's in the realm of possibility for automated resupply and how to leverage commercial technology for the betterment of the future field artillery force.Their session represents week seven of the Field Artillery Autonomous Resupply (FAAR) Cohort program, according to Monica Guthrie, communications director for the CFT.The Long-Range Precision Fires CFT has partnered with Army Applications Lab based at Austin, Texas, on this innovative approach to problem-solving, according to Maj. Chris Isch, an assistant operations officer with the CFT.Automated resupply looks at how to automate that tactical last mile, he said."As we introduce ERCA -- Extended Range Cannon Artillery -- to the future field artillery force here in a few years, that's going to have a much higher rate of fire, so we're going to go through ammunition potentially much quicker. We need a way of conducting that ammunition resupply faster, more efficiently," he said.So the CFT is looking at everything it can to streamline the process -- de-palletizing ammunition that's in bulk, breaking it down, transporting it up to the self-propelled howitzer and actually inserting it into the belt magazine that's going to located in that howitzer, Isch explained.Ultimately, this would also relieve soldiers of some of the physical labor the Army currently relies on.
Week one of the FAAR Cohort was an orientation session in Austin, since the companies aren't really used to working with the Department of Defense or the U.S. Army.Company reps went to Fort Bliss, Texas, for week two and saw what the problem set really looks like in the field for a self-propelled howitzer unit.They've been back at their offices working on the problem. Now, in week seven, they're here to give the CFT their initial solutions."We're providing a panel of subject-matter experts who are answering questions and really helping these companies define and refine their solution sets," Isch said."Fort Sill is really critical to this. It's the home of the Field Artillery, it's the home of the Long-Range Precision Fires Team, but it's also the home of a lot of our subject-matter experts that we can leverage. We go through a lot of ammunition. We have a lot of logistical units here that are used to dealing with this problem set," he said.The Army is used to relying on its own toolbox to solve its problems, but this time it's hoping nontraditional companies can find what's outside of the Army toolbox and give the branch a new way of thinking.This will be crucial to multi-domain operations and how the Army fights in the future, Isch said.None of the six companies in the FAAR Cohort is a household name. The list includes Neya, Apptronik, Pratt Miller, Hivemapper, Actuate and CR tactical. To find them, the CFT started out last year doing a roadshow, Isch explained. CFT reps went to all the technology hubs across the U.S. -- Boston, New York City, Silicon Valley, Pittsburgh, Pa., Austin, Texas, and several others -- to get the word out what the CFT is looking for."We had a great response, and about 400 different technology companies showed up, ranging everywhere from two-person companies that work out of a garage to our big defense prime companies … We opened up an application online, and we had 87 applicants, and then we went through a process of whittling down through those applicants until we got down to the six that are here today," Isch said.The six companies don't specialize in the same fields. Their fields of expertise range from autonomous navigation and mapping, to actual unmanned ground vehicles, to robotics.The FAAR Cohort is a 12-week program that will end April 1 when the companies give their final brief to Long-Range Precision Fires CFT Director Brig. Gen. John Rafferty in Austin, Texas.Then the CFT will take the information they provide and use it to build a requirements document for the resupply vehicle of the future. The CFT will also be able to take some of the companies and move them through a prototyping phase. The goal is to have physical prototypes built so the CFT can start looking at how to physically manage the next-generation resupply vehicle.The companies selected for the prototyping phase will go through the process of building their own prototypes. Their ability to do this themselves was part of how these six companies were chosen for the FAAR Cohort.