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The Manned Mounted Platform Radiological Detection System represents an alternative acquisition approach with uncommon collaboration across stakeholders, early and often.

by Mr. Valentin Novikov and Lt. Col. Kelley Litzner

Army logistics has long been burdened with supporting radiological and nuclear sensing equipment that dates back to the Cold War. It is no longer feasible to continue supporting these systems in the field, given the negative balance of spare systems and repair parts in Army depots. Two teams within the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense (JPEO-CBD) and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) are resolving these obsolescence issues by providing Army units with new systems that are ruggedized and networkable for both radiological-nuclear point detection and mobile standoff detection. This partnership between JPEO-CBD and DTRA ushers in a new type of intergovernmental technology transition.

Manned Mounted Platform Radiological Detection System (M2PRDS) program officials carved out a process that bypasses the stagnation that typically accompanies the acquisition of transformational technologies, usually attributable to budget constraints, to accelerate the acquisition of new radiological-nuclear capabilities for the Army’s mounted forces, in the same vein as the concept of “middle tier” acquisition pathways established in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016. The Joint Product Leader for Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPDL-RND), in collaboration with DTRA’s Research and Development Enterprise Nuclear Technologies Division (DTRA-NTD), is executing this middle tier strategy to develop and accelerate the acquisition of enhanced radiological and nuclear detection and reconnaissance capabilities for the Army’s mounted forces. (See Figure 1.) This streamlined acquisition approach enables JPDL-RND, assigned to the Joint Project Manager for Guardian, to produce the M2PRDS a year sooner than through the standard approach because it facilitates rapid prototyping and rapid fielding.


This streamlined acquisition approach enabled the product team to produce the M2PRDS a year sooner than the standard approach because it freed up the team to prototype and field quickly. The approach requires early involvement of all stakeholders, as well as constant communication. (SOURCE: “Future Foundry: A New Strategic Approach to Military-Technical Advantage,” by Ben FitzGerald, Alexandra Sander and Jacqueline Parziale, Center for a New American Security, Dec. 14, 2016)

An exceptional degree of partnership made possible the design, development and testing of the detection and reconnaissance prototypes and their transition to JPDL-RND, along with the technical data packages. Specifically, the effort featured the direct contributions of not only the acquisition program manager but also the combat developers, traditionally not part of a typical science and technology (S&T) project. All stakeholders took part in decisions on the design, test strategy and transition plan, while DTRA-NTD funded the prototype development.

DTRA-NTD spearheaded the rapid maturation of the M2PRDS internal point-detection sensor, a smaller and more sensitive radiation detector that resembles the currently fielded AN/VDR-2 detector. The sensor is slated for use across military ground vehicle platforms and provides vehicle crew protection through early warning of radiological-nuclear hazards. DTRA-NTD also developed an externally mounted radiological-nuclear sensor that provides vehicle crews with warning of radiological-nuclear hazards and situational awareness of threats from outside their vehicles through standoff radiological detection, threat localization, isotope identification, visualization and mapping. These sensors are known, respectively, as the Vehicle Integrated Platform Enhanced Radiation Detection, Indication, and Computation (VIPER RADIAC or VIPER) and the Mounted Enhanced RADIAC Long-Range Imaging Networkable (MERLIN) system. MERLIN has two subsystems: the MERLIN-Imager (MERLIN-I) and the MERLIN-Applique (MERLIN-A).

The MERLIN-I and MERLIN-A sensors are complementary but operate independently of each other. The MERLIN-I sensor, mounted on the outside of the vehicle, enables rapid stationary standoff radioisotope detection and provides source location and imaging of radioactive hot spots. MERLIN-A, which consists of four sensors mounted on the corners of a vehicle, enables on-the-move standoff detection and identification with source location and mapping of the radiation field. VIPER is the internal point sensor and is specifically tailored for mounted operations in radiological-nuclear environments. It has a wide operating range compared with the legacy AN/VDR-2 it is replacing; it provides warning and situational awareness for vehicle crews and supports vehicle-mounted reconnaissance and surveillance operations. MERLIN and VIPER are part of the Stryker Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle (NBCRV) Sensor Suite Upgrade program. Only VIPER is slated for use across military vehicle platforms.


This side-by-side illustration compares the performance of the previous radiological-nuclear point detector, VDR-2, and the MERLIN VIPER. Both performed a reconnaissance run in an urban village training area, and MERLIN VIPER provided Soldiers with a more detailed picture of radiological-nuclear hazards in much less time. (SOURCE: the authors)


DTRA-NTD and JPDL-RND worked with several partners on the collaborative rapid prototyping effort: combat developers from the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; the joint staff’s Joint Requirements Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense; the Stryker NBCRV sensor suite product manager and the Stryker Brigade Combat Team project manager. The Radiation Detection Branch of DTRA-NTD initiated three key parallel elements to meet the relatively short 18-month acquisition timeline required to produce 12 viable prototypes by existing deadlines to upgrade the NBCRV sensor suite.

First, as the basis for each detection system, DTRA-NTD made an initial decision to leverage 10 years’ worth of agency research and development efforts in imaging and radiological-nuclear detection technology for countering weapons of mass destruction. This required using the original contractors (Alion Science and Technology Corp., H3D Inc. and Loco Labs LLC) to mitigate risk and ensure a rapid test-model-test framework with experienced staff.

Additionally, DTRA-NTD project officers worked closely with the DTRA contracting office to elevate MERLIN-I to a top priority. The buy-in from the contracting office prevented schedule and project changes from delaying the overall effort throughout the development process. Similarly, the division’s program manager used technology designed through a partnership with the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command to repurpose and repackage hardened versions of the sensors, allowing DTRA-NTD to meet standoff detection requirements for the MERLIN-A sensors as well as internal dose, dose rate and spectroscopic requirements for the VIPER sensor in the time allotted. (See Figure 2.)

The second element involved coordinating and marketing the concept with all stakeholders, including users. In addition to those already discussed, DTRA representatives worked with members of the Army staff responsible for chemical, biological, nuclear, radiological and explosive (CBRNE) programs for funding, size and acquisition parameters; the U.S. Army CBRNE Agency to develop new, realistic scenarios for testing and evaluating never-before-fielded sensors; and multiple Army chemical battalions and combatant commands for real-world field testing and user feedback. (See Figure 3.)

Constant communication with all member organizations by the joint DTRA and JPDL-RND teams ensured that the effort remained flexible enough to accommodate changes while informing stakeholders when key design decisions became permanent. This unity of effort, involving nearly every office and staff element with a current or future role in fielding the equipment, smoothed the path for transition from DTRA to JPDL-RND and eventually to end users.

The third element involves the DTRA-NTD program office’s early commitment to using as many government off-the-shelf materials as possible for prototype development, including newly designed sensors and inventory parts already in production. Additionally, project officers established ground rules for physical and electronic hardening so that all detector casings and internal components could withstand harsh, contaminated military environments with minimal maintenance needs. DTRA-NTD invested early in modeling scenarios and computer-aided drafting designs to determine optimal detector configurations and vehicle emplacements, maximizing detection capability while minimizing the use of expensive components. DTRA-NTD’s modeling and design efforts, coupled with extensive prototyping and testing with government materials, mitigated production risks and maximized cost benefits for future production models.


VIPER, MERLIN-A and MERLIN-I on a Stryker NBCRV. The inset is a first-of-its-kind distributed source image from tests conducted in late 2017 at Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The project team committed to repurposing as much existing government technology and research as possible to speed fielding and cut costs. (SOURCE: the authors)


Ensuring an acquisition path to field DTRA-NTD’s technology solutions rapidly required new approaches for JPEO-CBD. In contrast to traditional models for technology transition, JPDL-RND initiated an acquisition product office for the M2PRDS program at the same time as the kickoff of the dedicated S&T efforts. Rather than having separate research and acquisition teams, members of the acquisition product office and members of the S&T office functioned as a single program team with separate focus areas.

Such close partnering necessitated modifying standard processes for both organizations. This entailed building a common language where similar terms historically had had different interpretations. For example, the team developed a heavily tailored set of technical reviews and used that as the protocol for accelerating the development of M2PRDS. The team eliminated the use of conventional names such as “preliminary design review” and “critical design review.” Instead, the focus was on determining up front where the parallel efforts needed to be in sync and how best to assess whether those objectives had been met successfully. These technical reviews provided decision points and the opportunity for each organization to revise their processes if needed based on assessment of risk.

Test and evaluation also required modification of language and processes. The JPEO-CBD is seeking to reduce the amount of retesting that occurs after technology transitions. For M2PRDS, the research and acquisition team had to reach a common understanding of differences in concepts such as iterative versus phased builds and what that means for the ability to receive formal evaluation of any testing.

The program developed a concept in which DTRA provides its assessment when experimentation has progressed to the point where a viable prototype could be built. Concept validation demonstrations conducted in the field have more of an S&T bent and are both flexible and informal. Lastly, justification demonstrations are conducted with increased formality, with the objective of creating prototypes for developmental testing.

Neither phase is identical to traditional, strictly S&T-style or acquisition-style concepts. This new concept represents a common ground for compromise in future efforts, making it possible to leverage data gathered by the S&T community without fully burdening research teams with the strictures of acquisition.

In the fourth quarter of FY18, the JPDL-RND will receive hardware, technical data packages, test data and other information products from DTRA. These will support the path to rapid fielding developed by JPDL-RND and made possible by the collaborative, upfront user evaluations, mature technologies, early platform risk-reduction events and open involvement of diverse acquisition stakeholders. VIPER is scheduled for fielding as early as FY20, resolving long-standing logistical challenges associated with legacy equipment. MERLIN is prepared for inclusion in the pending upgrade of the NBCRV’s sensor suite, years ahead of what the program managers could accomplish using a traditional technology maturation and risk reduction approach.


Soldiers with the 83d Chemical Battalion gather at Fort Stewart, Georgia, where they provided troop support for a field experiment involving the MERLIN Imager and Applique. With them are civilians supporting the development of the new MERLIN sensors, including Jeffery Musk, chief, research and development, DTRA; Megan Hower, acquisition product manager for M2PRDS, JPDL-RND; Maj. Kurt Gerfen, MERLIN/VIPER project manager, DTRA; Karen Bowen, acting deputy JPDL-RND; and Robert Carter, logistics management specialist for M2PRDS, JPDL-RND. (Photo by Richard Kroger, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command Systems Center Pacific)


The innovative acquisition approach for the M2PRDS program demonstrates the value of intergovernmental collaboration and improved business processes to accelerate acquisition and fielding of cutting-edge technology to upgrade the Army’s radiological and nuclear detection and reconnaissance capabilities. One of the many advantages of this new approach is the way that JPDL-RND and DTRA leveraged prototyping, experimentation and other critical developmental activities to mitigate the technical risks inherent in systems acquisition.

Beyond the CBRNE community, though, this new approach to acquisition provides other program executive offices with a successful example of how to improve efficiency by reallocating resources from business operations and redundant testing to technology development, thus enabling the acquisition community to field superior technology to the warfighter quickly and at a more affordable cost.

For more information, go to the JPEO-CBD website at or contact Steve Lusher, JPEO-CBT public affairs officer, at

VALENTIN NOVIKOV is the joint product leader for radiological and nuclear defense at JPEO-CBD, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. He retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 2006 while serving as the director for joint chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear combat developments for the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence. He holds a master of science in engineering degree in operations research and industrial engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, an M.A. in national security and strategic studies from the U.S. Naval War College and B.S. degrees in computer science and business administration from Hawaii Pacific University. He is Level III certified in program management and systems engineering.

COL. KELLEY LITZNER is chief of radiation detection in DTRA’s Nuclear Detection Division. He served eight years as an infantry officer, culminating with command of a light infantry company in Paktika Province, Afghanistan. He then transitioned to become a functional area 52 (nuclear and counterproliferation) officer. He served as chief of the Physics Branch in DTRA’s Nuclear Weapons Effects Office before taking over as chief of radiation detection. He holds an M.S. in applied physics from Columbia University, an MBA from New York University and a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the United States Military Academy at West Point.

This article is published in the April – June 2018 issue of Army AL&T magazine.

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