PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- About six years ago, senior leaders of the largest organization at Picatinny Arsenal gathered about 40 to 50 managers to discuss two goals: How to be more proactive in recognizing the U.S. Army’s emerging technology and armaments requirements, and how to strengthen relationships with Army operational units around the world.
The Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center had a clear intent for the meetings, crystalized by the slogan, Don’t just “answer the mail,” but also “write it!”
"They didn’t want us just waiting for a project manager--or now with Army Futures Command or Cross Functional Teams--to tell us what their requirements are,” recalled Raymond Carr, one of the managers at the early meetings. “They wanted us thinking ahead and developing concepts that enable us to inform, or even predict, what the requirements will be before they even show up at our doorstep.”
The Armaments Center did not, however, have a formal organizational structure to pursue those ends. Carr, who began taking notes and sending meeting minutes to participants, would eventually play an active role in organizing what would be known as the Fusion Cell, and serving as its first director.
The cell’s mission is to “fuse” global threat intelligence and operational information with the expertise of the Armaments Center workforce. The intent is to nurture a proactive culture that responds rapidly to support the nation’s defense needs.
The Armaments Center is the Army’s primary research and development center for new and existing armament systems. It provides technology for more than 90 percent of the Army’s lethality, with a focus on advanced weapons, ammunition, and fire-control systems. The Armaments Center is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, or DEVCOM, which is under the Army Futures Command.
For Carr, his previous job as director of the Combating Terrorism Technology Team provided the vital underpinnings of experience, perspective, and confidence that would provide potent impetus in directing the Fusion Cell.
“It definitely shaped my thinking in how to take the Fusion Cell where it needed to go,” Carr said. “It allowed me to escape from the traditional acquisition practices, and taught me how to pay attention to the operational needs as articulated by the Soldiers.
“I knew that I was impacting the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we made some great contributions to the Soldiers who were fighting those wars,” Carr remembers.
The dynamics of the Combating Terrorism Technology Team also demonstrated how a deeper knowledge of both adversary threats and Army operations could be a catalyst for developing and implementing solutions.
“It showed how it was possible to meld that information together with a diverse engineering and science talent pool to solve problems quickly, as they were emerging, or even look at trends and predict and anticipate changes in the threat,” Carr noted.
“That job also instilled in me not only a sense of urgency that you don't experience with most standard acquisition projects during peace time, but also a sense of the possibilities that our community here at Armaments Center can create when they're motivated and provided the opportunity and the flexibility to field something.”
Carr said the team could advance from concept to limited production and fielding with some items anywhere between six months and two years, whereas the typical timetable is closer to five to 10 years.
“So the confidence in our capability that that position built for me was tremendous,” Carr said. “It really shaped my whole attitude about what we can do to accelerate acquisition and field products to the Soldier in a smarter, faster way.”
While Carr had the background and enthusiasm for creating what was to become the Fusion Cell, an organization still had to be built, largely from scratch. The authorization from upper management to hire people for the cell established a firm foundation.
“They were all new positions,” Carr said. “There was no existing organization to fall in on, so we created a structure and then I had to begin hiring people into it.”
Today, the Fusion Cell has Desk Officers assigned to each of the geographic Combatant Commands. The officers maintain global situational awareness of threats, operational needs, theater-specific challenges and environments, along with warfighting concepts.
A key function of the Fusion Cells is to bring Armaments Center experts into a variety of situations, such as war games, tabletop, full-scale and live-fire exercises managed by entities like the Joint Staff or Office of the Secretary of Defense, along with Army and Combatant Commands.
Exposing Armaments Center experts to such events is a way to jump-start innovation and collaboration, Carr said. “The subject matter experts here are the most important part of the whole process. It's all about providing them the opportunity to shine.
“These events examine how technology could influence a warfighting concept, or how a desired warfighting concept would create new technology requirements,” Carr added. “So it's an invaluable interaction between the technologist and the warfighters--to evolve that combination of our warfighting methods and the technology that's used to defeat evolving adversary methods.
“Basically, we're informing the whole requirements process,” Carr explained. “It may help set priorities within the Office of the Secretary of Defense or the Army for certain investments. It’s all about moving even further ahead in the requirements-generation process, beyond materiel requirements, to influence warfighting concepts and to inform OSD and Army concept developers on the art of the possible for armaments.”
The various exercises are also venues to convey the capabilities that reside at the Armaments Center. “Warfighters might not otherwise have heard of them because we just weren't playing in those planning sessions in the past,“ Carr noted.
“And, at the same time, it’s a way to gain advocacy from the Army Service Component Commands, who would actually be fighting the war in a particular region of the world,” Carr added. “So we would be sparking innovation, gaining advocacy and affecting long-range plans.”
Carr, who retired at the end of 2021, said the most rewarding periods of his 38-year career were the Combating Terrorism Technology Team, along with the Armaments Center Fusion Cell.