Grassroots image and "Collaboration and Transformation through Innovation"
DAC Innovation Program logo (Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Andrew Barnett) VIEW ORIGINAL

During the Command’s latest Town Hall, Maj. Gen. Miles Brown, commanding general of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, or DEVCOM, emphasized his priorities: innovate, engineer and protect solutions that solve critical problems within DEVCOM’s mission and key enabling domains. “The end state is securing persistent innovation for a modern Army,” he stated.

The DEVCOM Analysis Center, known as DAC, stands behind this innovative spirit. By piloting their unique Innovation Program in 2020, DAC is empowering their workforce with the freedom to pursue new ideas, take risks and expand knowledge through a collaborative and accessible format. Participating project leads are allotted up to 20 percent of their time to work on their projects as a panel of mentors help to break down barriers and bring innovative ideas to fruition.

Spearheaded by Andrew Barnett, chief of DAC’s Joint Data Branch, the program’s goal is to engage the passion, creativity and problem-solving skills of the workforce. The Innovation Program has kicked off its second year by selecting four new projects for funding.

Project pitches began in September 2021 and the Innovation Program panel selected projects by mid-November. The projects include exploration into micro-unmanned aerial vehicles for battlefield concealment, a motor pool information kiosk, quantitative methodology for human-systems integration trade space exploration, and an app to help automate preventive maintenance checks and services.

Following the same open format as the inaugural year, all project leads are paired with technical mentors to help brainstorm, troubleshoot and develop projects as needed. Mentors also provide professional guidance and connect project leads to other experts across the organization who can help.

Last year, during the program debut, Kathryn Loftis, biomedical engineer, joined the mentorship panel as a way to meet people across DAC and try something different. “I stayed on a second year because I enjoyed the interactions with others—the project leads and those within the mentorship panel. It’s interesting and valuable getting to know people in other areas of DAC with diverse interests.”

DAC Executive Technical Director, Suzanne Milchling, left, with Dr. Kathryn Loftis, right. (Photo Credit: Megan Paice, DAC Public Affairs) VIEW ORIGINAL
Like other panel members, Loftis describes the program as flexible and inspiring. “Participants can define what they want their project to look like. This program gives people the chance to work on what interests them, projects outside of the scope of the regular mission,” Loftis said. “Participants can take their expertise and apply it to think outside of the box, and use their skills learned in DAC to make their projects happen, often circling back to something DAC benefits from.”

Alejandro Gongora, electrical engineer, and Jose Lopez, computer engineer, were eager to begin their project: an investigation into the feasibility of novel battlefield concealment countermeasures to enhance Soldier survivability. “This idea I’ve had for years but there was no platform that allowed me to express and explore its feasibility before,” Gongora said. Now, the Innovation Program has created an opportunity for the workforce to not only share solutions but to also identify problems themselves that are more difficult to pinpoint in traditional bottom-down hierarchies.

“The ‘application’ process was fairly simple since no specific format was given to present our idea to the innovation program panel, and this was on purpose, so we could freely, informally and passionately discuss the potential benefits of our ideas,” Gongora said.

Describing the program as a unique way of fostering and encouraging direct workforce participation in pressing Army challenges, Gongora and Lopez commend DAC for its openness to grassroots change. “We think this program shows a smart approach by leadership by capitalizing on the knowledge and experience of the workforce by taking the extra step of listening to their ideas on how to improve Army activities, processes and technologies."

The Innovation Program culminates in end-of-year presentations with Army leadership surrounding lessons learned, applications and next steps. This past August, Maj. Gen. Brown and other DEVCOM leadership listened to the first year’s round of innovative project presentations in order to learn about new approaches to Army problems.

Previous projects from the first year included an augmented reality network visualization software, a web application for developmental opportunities, a technician’s Multi-Domain Operations troubleshooting kit for diagnostics and repairs, research into machine commands to general signals for cyber effects, and a deep dive into lethal effectiveness of intentional and non-traditional burst fire ammunition.

According to project leads and panel members, both cohorts represent a diverse array of topics and areas of expertise while the program remains supportive and encouraging.

“I’m looking forward to see how the program evolves over time,” Loftis said. “It generated interest at higher levels for applying this program to other areas in DEVCOM and AFC… It will be interesting to see how and where this program expands.”

The DEVCOM Analysis Center is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. DEVCOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. Visit the DEVCOM website at https://www.army.mil/devcom.