ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – Navigating through the subterranean world of tunnels and caves poses a serious threat for Soldiers. When the lights go out, Soldiers are left in total darkness. Soldiers may also be exposed to toxic agents, insufficient levels of air and other challenges as they maneuver deep underground.
To keep Soldiers safe, the “tunnel safing” project was identified as one of six priorities during the Advanced Development of Asset Protection Technologies, or ADAPT, workshop in May 2019. The workshop was hosted by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center and the New Jersey Institute of Technology; more than 30 experts from industry, academia and the Department of Defense attended the event.
Teamwork is the core of the ADAPT program, which employs a novel rapid development and prototype process called “ideation and innovation.” This collaborative process leverages public and private partnerships, including the NJIT, that work together to solve some of the Army’s toughest problems. The ADAPT program plans cost, schedule and performance objectives for projects, along with milestones and deliverables. Each project aligns with the Army’s modernization priorities and is planned as a one year project sprint from design to demonstration. Sprints – originally developed by Google – are used to rapidly solve problems through design, prototypes and testing with users.
“The idea for the tunnel safing project resulted from a discussion between a CCDC engineer and Soldiers who mentioned the need to check caves and tunnels from a safe distance. We worked with STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] students at the NJIT to develop a prototype robot that can maneuver a tunnel and provide sensor data about the environment,” said Jim Zunino, CCDC Armaments Center engineer.
CCDC subject matter experts, DOD mentors and NJIT faculty members mentored STEM engineering scholars and junior engineers during the ten-week technology sprint to develop a prototype made with commercial-off-the-shelf and additively manufactured parts. The “robotic canary” is equipped with sensors and other data collection systems that can be used by both the military and commercially, particularly the mining industry.
“Tunnel safing robots are one of the many new technology breakthroughs that are keeping U.S. service members out of harm’s way. By using additive manufacturing to develop tunnel safing robots, the Army can rapidly develop systems to keep Soldiers safe,” said Ryan Petillo, Armaments Center engineer.
Many of the ADAPT projects have dual use applications or they can be modified for commercial application. DOD mentors work with STEM scholars on ADAPT projects when possible. This not only develops the DOD workforce including future mentors, but also builds relationships with strategic partners including the organic industrial base.
The Army’s ManTech program provided funding for several of the ADAPT prototypes, including the robotic canary. The ManTech program is executed by CCDC – a major subordinate command of the Army Futures Command – with oversight from the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology), Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Technology. By funding technologies in the ADAPT program, ManTech increases the manufacturing readiness level and helps transition the technology to a Program Executive Office. Soldiers benefit from the program because it addresses their immediate needs by rapidly developing a prototype.
“The teaming approach allows the DOD to meet its objectives while enabling industry and academic partners to further develop their expertise and relationships. Ultimately, this helps the DOD to be competitive and successful in the commercial world,” Zunino said.
Many of the ADAPT projects produce a prototype or technology demonstrator. A technology demonstrator is a pre-prototype that is built with existing capabilities as well as experimental capabilities, and it is constructed so that future technologies can be incorporated into it. ADAPT projects are selected to address Warfighter needs, Army modernization priorities and Cross Functional Team objectives. The CFTs, which align with the Army’s six plus two modernization priorities, are part of AFC; their goal is to deliver capabilities to Soldiers quickly.
Another project selected to be further designed and developed during the ADAPT workshop was a 40MM bola counter unmanned aerial system. A team of STEM scholars and CCDC Armaments Center mentors developed prototypes modeled from a bola – a type of weapon made of weights and interconnected cords used to capture animals – to counter small drones that fly over Forward Operating Bases, using a 3D printing process. The prototypes were tested in July 2019; live fire tests are scheduled this spring.
“The ADAPT consortia is a public, private and government consortium based on trust, co-development, collaboration and rapid and predictable outcomes. It illustrates how the sum is much larger than the individual parts,” Zunino said.
Several of the technologies and technology demonstrators were tested by Soldiers in exercises and training scenarios, including the Rim of the Pacific Exercise, the Maneuver, Support, Sustainment and Protection Integration Experiments, and the Army Warfighting Assessment 18 and 19. The Army plans to use Soldier touch points to test ADAPT solutions in upcoming exercises and demonstrations.
The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC), formerly known as the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), has the mission to lead in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our Nation’s wars and come home safely. The command collaborates across the Future Force Modernization Enterprise and its own global network of domestic and international partners in academia, industry and other government agencies to accomplish this mission. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.