U.S. Army science and technology leaders need to deepen their relationships with the doctrine and war fighter communities so that together they can better define the Army’s science and technology priorities, senior leaders said April 18 during a panel discussion.
Marilyn M. Freeman, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for research and technology, led the dialogue among six officials from across the Army’s scientific community, including Research, Development and Engineering Command Director Dale A. Ormond.
About 250 military and industry representatives attended the session “Technology Bridging Strategies in the Current Environment,” at the National Defense Industrial Association’s 13th Annual Science and Engineering Technology Conference held here this week.
Reduced R&D budgets
Freeman stressed that Army research centers and laboratories will require more focus and direction to develop improved capabilities for Soldiers with reduced funding.
“Budgets are going to be coming down. We are going to be in a more constrained environment for the next several years,” she said. “We need to have our priorities straight.
“It’s not going to be enough to say, ‘We’re going to protect S&T,’ which the administration has said, and a lot of us say. Protecting it means we know what we’re going to do, we do it, and we deliver on what we say we’re going to do.”
Ask difficult questions
Freeman and her director for basic research, Jeff Singleton, said the Army is undergoing a comprehensive review of its research portfolio.
“We have to come up with a defendable justification to Army senior leadership, [Department of Defense], [Office of the Secretary of Defense], and Congress on where we’re investing money and why the Army should be invested in a particular research area,” Singleton said.
The Army should focus on research areas that industry, academia and international partners are not likely to pursue, said Singleton and Nancy Harned, executive director of strategic plans and program planning, known as DASA(R&T).
“Invest where we must, and leverage everything else,” Harned said.
Singleton said the Army must ask difficult questions to maintain a relevant portfolio.
“What investment in R&D should the Army focus on that no one else will do? What is important to the Army? What are the big problems that we need to address?” he asked.
Freeman introduced a mechanism in 2011 to review the Army’s research and development priorities – Technology-Enabled Capability Demonstrations, or TECDs.
The TECDs are two-to-three-year efforts that encompass technology development, technology demonstration and operational evaluation. A decision is then made whether the demonstrated capability will be fielded, transitioned to a program of record or terminated.
TECDs are centered on near-term technologies brought together to demonstrate a meaningful operational improvement.
“We are telling everyone what our priorities are and the process by which we are setting priorities. We really haven’t had priorities in Army S&T,” Freeman said. “We’ve had colors of money. We’ve had organizations that have different capabilities and competencies, which is wonderful. What we haven’t had is a way to make a decision: ‘Do I do this, or do I do this?’ “
Focus on small units
Panel members agreed that the focus for new capabilities should be on small units of soldiers.
“Over the last decade, we learned it’s the small unit and individual soldier and the capabilities we give them where we need to focus,” Freeman said. “That’s where the boots are on the ground, where it all happens.”
“We were paying more attention to the big-ticket items than to the small units of soldiers. The focus for Army S&T, which has been approved by four-star [generals] all across the Army, will be the small units. We will continue to give capabilities to those small units that make our formations more flexible, more agile and more adaptable.”
Ormond said his scientists and engineers are focused on transforming cutting-edge technology into solutions for Soldiers’ problems.
“We understand what the leading edge of technology is and are working daily to convert those things into capabilities that support the war fighter in the things they need to do,” Ormond said. “We really live in the space between the state of the art and the art of the possible. The state of the art is the leading edge, and the art of the possible is two things: helping [the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command] define what requirements are actually achievable and affordable when they write requirement statements to get after solving their problems. The other part is being able to help them understand, based on our understanding of the state of the art, what those capabilities could be turned into to help them solve their challenges.”
Ormond gave two examples of emerging technologies from RDECOM research centers that place an improved capability into the hands of the individual Soldier.
RDECOM’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., developed the Vital Infrared Sensor Technology Acceleration program to help Soldiers maintain their edge as our adversaries acquire older night-vision technologies.
“This is a new [technology] that does infrared better, cheaper, faster, with better resolution. This is something that has tremendous potential, one of those things that could be a game-changer in giving our war fighters at the tip of the spear a new capability,” Ormond said.
Ormond also discussed a new rifle, the Lightweight Small Arms Technologies, developed at RDECOM’s Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center in Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.
“It’s significantly lighter, and it seems to have the capabilities the Soldier needs. With a 1,000-round ammunition load, this particular version reduces the Soldier’s weight burden by about 20 pounds,” Ormond said. “For these guys carrying 40-50-60-70-pound packs up and down mountains, dropping 20 pounds off their load will help the Soldier in a small unit be more effective and more efficient in executing their mission.”
Finding and developing the next round of game-changing technologies will take interaction between the doctrine writers, War fighters and the science and technology communities, he said.
“I think one of the real challenges is that the Army needs to invest in sending its best and brightest war fighters back to TRADOC so that the problems and challenges they’re having can be articulated so that we can understand them,” Ormond explained. “Our challenge is to embed more of our technologists into their Capability Integration Centers so that we can help them define their challenges and enable us to develop and apply the right technologies to help them be successful. We have to bridge these challenge together.”