FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- With topics as diverse as arctic survival infrastructure, handheld radio batteries, and novel engines, the fourth Army Strategic Rapid Acquisition (AStRA) pitch day event kicked off on March 1. The two-day event, which took place at Fort Bragg, N.C., brought 21 companies in to pitch their best ideas for emerging technology to a panel of Army experts. If selected, the participating companies could receive an Army contract to prototype their technology with the possibility of follow-on efforts.
“AStRA pitch days are set up to bring in companies of all sizes to present their ideas to a panel of experts,” said Mr. Stan Darbro, RCCTO Deputy Director. “Collaboration across our Army partners ensures the breakthrough technology they are presenting is something that is needed and can be transitioned for military utility.”
Each company had 20 minutes for their pitch, followed by 20 minutes for panel questions. For their efforts, they each received $5,000.
AStRA also includes participation from the Soldiers who could one day use this equipment on the battlefield. In this case, it meant bringing in Soldiers from Fort Bragg, N.C., Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and Fort Stewart, Ga. to hear and evaluate each pitch.
MAJ Gabriel Wood, the innovation director for the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), focused on identifying the importance behind each capability being pitched.
“It’s about a capability you are putting into the hands of Soldiers that we don’t have now,” said MAJ Wood. “Is it a capability that is enhancing, essential, or critical? Is it going to prevent a risk to the force or a risk to mission? How do you measure that in terms of cost? At the end of the day, I appreciated that everything we talked about was to help the warfighter.”
MAJ Robert Corless, a network engineer with the 3rd Infantry Division¸ said he saw first-hand how capabilities from AStRA can benefit Soldiers. His unit received a dismounted tactical Electronic Warfare kit prototype, which was the first contract awarded as a result of the inaugural AStRA event in 2019 when the event was known as Innovation Days. Now, MAJ Corless is serving as an AStRA panel member.
"Being able to come back and provide input into the prototyping solutions selected is incredibly beneficial," said MAJ Corless. "Ultimately it is going to save the Army time and money as we're able to put resources to capabilities that will help solve warfighter problem sets."
This is the second AStRA event that Dave Rolen, Futures Capabilities Liaison Officer for the 1st Special Forces Command, attended and he is once again serving as a panelist.
“If you want input that is mature and professional, but still on-the-ground tactical and unfiltered, you’ll have that from the Special Forces Command,” said Rolen.
Each AStRA event is held in a unique location with different partner organizations to provide the widest reach possible. For this installment of the AStRA Competition, the RCCTO is collaborating with the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), PEO Combat Support and Combat Service Support (PEO CS&CSS), Network Cross Functional Team under Army Futures Command, and the Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) Quartermaster School. The group identified a total of eight technology focus areas including network operations user interface, data management, vehicle mounted modular open standard radio systems, handheld radio batteries, arctic survival infrastructure, water monitoring, power electronics, and novel engines.
“Working with our RCCTO and Combat Development partners allows for rapid development, testing and procurement that ultimately yields equipment in the hands of Soldiers quicker,” said Steve Roberts, PEO CS&CSS Project Lead for Integration. “The Soldier involvement at all steps in this process is invaluable and ensures we are getting not only the best technology, but also, meeting their immediate and near-term needs.”
The first phase of the AStRA 4 event began in late 2021 with 52 white paper submissions. From those, the highest ranked submissions were invited to pitch, which is considered phase two.
“Our intent is to transition these projects and the associated technical data packages to our partner PEOs,” said Brandon Little-Darku, acting deputy director for the RCCTO’s Advanced Concepts and Experimentation Project Office. “That reduces risk and accelerates the prototype into an existing program of record or possibly help inform the creation of a new program of record.”
At the end of each pitch day, the panelists of Army specialists deliberated the pros and cons of each technology. Those given the highest rating will advance to phase three, where they submit a more detailed proposal package consisting of a Contractor Statement of Work that addresses the Government’s Statement of Objectives. Upon final evaluations and approval by Army senior leaders, phase three concludes with the award of an Other Transaction Authority agreement.
The AStRA competition is a successor to previously held Army RCCTO Innovation Days and is modeled after commercial investor "pitch" days. The RCCTO held three similar events, the first in September 2019, the second in February 2020, and the third in June 2021. Throughout, the RCCTO heard 94 concepts over the three events, with 29 awarded some level of funding.