When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, working remotely became the new normal. While employees continued to communicate through emails and phone calls, other types of communication moved to the forefront as a substitute for face-to-face interaction.
The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command-Atlantic organization, which has an International Technology Center in United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Israel, quickly pivoted to Microsoft Teams to conduct engagements planned before the pandemic started. ITCs serve as the forward deployed “eyes and ears” for the Army Science and Technology enterprise.
“As much of the world went into lockdown this spring, it looked like the workshops and tours we were planning would have to be postponed indefinitely. However, with so much time and effort already invested in the groundwork, coordination, and relationship building, I felt compelled to keep the momentum going,” said Amanda Napier, technical director for the ITC-Southern Europe in Paris.
Napier introduced a new concept for connecting leading international organizations with a broad – but focused – audience of DoD subject matter experts and stakeholders through a series of Virtual Exchanges, or VirtExes, in a defined technical area. International organizations presented their capabilities and research & development activities to nucleate discussions and collaborations with DoD SMEs and stakeholders.
The CCDC-Atlantic ITC-SE team recently completed the first series through the Advanced Materials & Enabling Technologies for Extreme Environments initiative. This inaugural series, which spanned eight weeks, included participants from CCDC, other Army organizations, Missile Defense Agency, Navy, Air Force, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, U.S. Transportation Command, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and NASA.
“Amanda developed the VirtEx concept and AMETEE initiative as an innovative approach to conduct technology outreach. By embracing new platforms like Microsoft Teams, we were able to showcase the best that the international community can offer in advanced materials. Given the positive response to AMETEE, we are adopting this model for other Army S&T priority areas, such as integrated AI and robotics, quantum information science, or Soldier performance. This model allows us to reach a much broader audience than by traditional means and helps set the stage for future face-to-face engagements when travel is possible again,” said Lt. Col. Simeon Wood, ITC-SE director.
The AMETEE Initiative, now dubbed a “Focused International VirtEx Series,” or FIVES, included eight virtual exchanges with organizations from France, Italy, United Kingdom, and Switzerland, as well as two that were U.S.-only events. The topics included materials and enabling technologies for applications such as high-speed structures, turbine engine components, and ballistic armor.
The format for each VirtEx, which averaged 70 participants, included a brief welcome and introduction from the CCDC-Atlantic team, a presentation from the European organization, and a Q&A session. Many of the organizations that participated had existing relationships with the CCDC-Atlantic team, while others were identified through targeted scouting and outreach after the AMETEE Initiative concept was developed.
“Virtual meetings can be incredibly useful, but they will never replace the relationship building that takes place in person. Successfully launching the AMETEE initiative required relationships and networks on both sides of the Atlantic – in addition to a good deal of preparatory work, communication, and coordination. CCDC’s forward international presence will remain critical for organizing future FIVES,” Napier said.
CCDC ITCs are located in Europe, Asia, South America and North America. The ITCs continuously scout and identify state-of-the-art research and foreign technologies that support the U.S. Army’s modernization priorities. The ITCs, which are managed by the CCDC’s three CCDC Forward Element Commands (CFEC-Atlantic, CFEC-Americas, and CFEC-Indo-Pacific) are part of the CCDC Global Enterprise.
A critical part of the ITCs’ mission is to promote collaborative opportunities with foreign academia and industry. The virtual AMETEE framework allowed European organizations to reach a broader DoD audience, enabling potential near-term collaborations while building a foundation for future bilateral engagements. It also presented an opportunity for subject matter experts from across the command and DoD to find commonality among projects – all at minimal cost since participants did not need to travel.
“AMETEE is better than a conference, provides more return on investment than a one trip international journey, and is just short of a global tour in terms of benefit. At a fraction of the travel time and travel cost to get the results, and the audience for the presenting company is significantly higher value product than just hosting a U.S. delegation site visit in their facility space for part of a day. This approach provides much more significant return on the investment for the company being asked to present their content. I find an immense degree of value in the product to date and foresee this creating linkages and opportunities for my teams exploring the field,” Dr. James M. Sands, chief, Composite and Hybrid Materials Branch, CCDC Army Research Laboratory.
The CCDC-Atlantic team will hold a fall AMETEE 2020 VirtEx series, tentatively set to begin in November. In addition to Belgium, Switzerland, and Germany, CCDC-Atlantic plans to invite other countries within its area of responsibility, which includes Europe and Africa.
CCDC-Atlantic ITC-SE intends to continue the momentum from the AMETEE initiative in 2021. Dr. Kelly Risko, CCDC-Atlantic Aviation and Missile science advisor, will lead a FIVES on Artificial Intelligence – a modernization priority for both CCDC S&T and Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. Future FIVES may also include other topics, as well as CCDC’s two other CFECs, CFEC-Americas and CFEC-Indo-Pacific.