Beyond using Soldier-centered design for its priorities of hypersonics and directed energy (see Every Minute Counts), the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) also hosts recurring innovation day events in various locations, to find new technology ideas and accelerate them into prototypes that could quickly reduce near- and mid-term operational risks.
At the center of these innovation days, which unfold like commercial-style “pitch” days to identify the most promising concepts, are Soldiers and other technical experts who participate on the judging panels. This expertise, applied before selection of the proposals, helps ensure the Army is not pursuing duplicate or unwanted technology. Even after an innovation day, Soldier feedback continues throughout the concept refinement and capability maturation process.
RCCTO held two innovation days, one in McLean, Virginia, in September 2019, and the other in Austin, Texas, in February. To qualify to participate, companies responded to a call for white paper submissions. Input grew substantially from the first innovation day, which had 185 submissions, to the second, which received more than 700 responses. Spanning topics as diverse as sensors, autonomy, predictive maintenance, cyber, electronic warfare and fueling options, the pitches heard on innovation day are narrowed down to the most promising efforts to rapidly prototype and deliver to Soldiers. During the two events, the RCCTO-led panels evaluated more than 80 pitches.
Of the pitches heard during both events, 21 are in the process of moving forward either in concept refinement or for a possible contract award, while two are already on contract to produce a rapid prototype.
One of those on contract from the first innovation day is TRX, a Maryland-based small business developing a prototype dismounted electronic warfare sensor. The capability provides a portable kit that enables alerts when electronic jamming or spoofing is detected and will provide a “rewind” navigation feature to estimate the user’s probable current position after jamming or spoofing has occurred.
At hands-on operational events this summer and fall, Soldiers will get a chance to try out the device and provide feedback before the final prototype is designed. To do this, they’ll work side-by-side with engineers who are empowered to make design changes along the way. Included are representatives from Project Manager Positioning, Navigation and Timing, where the capability could find a home if it transitions from prototype to program of record.
“These are quick turn adjustments, based on direct Soldier feedback while they are using the capability in an operational setting—putting those that can make changes side-by-side so we rapidly adjust based on that feedback,” said Rob Monto, director of RCCTO’s Advanced Concepts and Experimentation project office. “This is a 15-month effort from when we first put this technology on contract, to bringing users into the fold for feedback, to further refining the capability, to eventually delivering a new electronic warfare prototype at the Soldier level.”
The second contract resulting from the first innovation day went to Lockheed Martin Corporation after being signed in May.
Now, RCCTO is working with Lockheed Martin on its concept for a high power microwave-based counter-unmanned aerial system (C-UAS) interceptor, known as the Mobile Radio Frequency-Integrated Unmanned Aircraft System Suppressor, Tube-Launchable or MORFIUS-TL.
Already being tested with other DOD air-defense systems, this would be the first time MORFIUS-TL would be used by the Army for on the move counter-swarm capabilities.
To validate that MORFIUS-TL would be a good fit, RCCTO will conduct a four-part evaluation of the prototype. The evaluation is expected to culminate with a guided flight test where Soldiers would operate the full system in a field-based scenario and provide feedback on the suitability and effectiveness of the system and training materials.
The companies selected from innovation days to participate and advance their concepts represent a wide range of small, medium and large businesses, from both the defense sector and non-traditional vendor communities. For some, their 20-minute pitch was the first time they ever interacted with the Army or DOD.
The success of using innovation days to scout emerging technology that could make a difference on the battlefield in a one-to-three year timeframe also depends on Soldier participation early and often. Maj. Brian Owens, a cyberspace operations officer with the 915th Cyber Warfare Battalion, Army Cyber Command, served as a panelist for the cyber-focused pitches during Innovation Day 2. He said providing operational feedback before a technology is transitioned into a weapon system is crucial.
“Being in a venue like this, and being able to actually provide insight into what may come to be a new capability that could be fielded, has tremendous value,” Owens said. “To be able to shape it at this early stage, and say ‘This is how we can apply it, this is how we can shape the battlefield,’ if you will, it’s priceless.”
Other concepts advancing from innovation days are in the areas of command and control for multidomain operations, resilient communications, counter unmanned aerial systems and advanced defensive and offensive cyber protection.
RCCTO plans to hold a third innovation day in the late summer.
Read the full article in the Summer 2020 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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