How RDECOM is responding to the new modernization imperative.
by Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins
Central to the Army’s future is the decision by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley and then-Acting Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy to adopt a new modernization model, with the main focus on making Soldiers and Army units more lethal to win our nation’s wars and come home safely. The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s (RDECOM) part in this mission is to provide the research and development (R&D) for technologies that will enable the Army to dominate on the battlefield.
To support the new modernization model, the Army asked RDECOM, a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, to shift its focus from general R&D to the six modernization priority areas: long-range precision fires; next generation combat vehicle; future vertical lift; the network and command, control, communications and intelligence; air and missile defense; and Soldier lethality.
RDECOM’s road map
As the Army’s key science and technology (S&T) enabler, RDECOM responded with a series of S&T deep dives on the hundreds of projects that support the modernization priorities. Based on this information, RDECOM informed senior decision-makers on the state of the technical front, including a time frame when technologies that support the modernization priorities could be delivered.
Addressing metrics such as cost, schedule, technical performance and maturity, as well as transition planning with Army partners in the program executive office (PEO) community, RDECOM also ensured that funding was preserved for enabling technologies and potentially disruptive technologies that show promise for acceleration. To support the multidomain battle of the future, maintaining the right balance of technologies in development and keeping the technology pipeline full will be critical.
While we evaluated how to accelerate technologies to match the six modernization priorities, we also had to ensure that resources were available within the existing budgetary framework. That meant reviewing previously approved funding strategies and shifting the emphasis on planned and ongoing work to focus on the new modernization priorities.
Based on these discussions, the Army’s senior leaders made investment and divestment decisions that will affect all of the Army’s S&T accounts for fiscal years 2019 through 2023. This resulted in a shift of $1.2 billion with focus on the Army’s six modernization priorities. This major review and shift in resources with senior leadership laid a strategic S&T foundation for RDECOM and its hundreds of U.S. and international partners in industry, academia and other government agencies as it drives R&D internally.
As RDECOM adjusts its sights on the relatively distant target, the command’s S&T advisers are engaged with the Modernization Task Force and cross-functional teams as they explore the framework of an organization to specifically address Army modernization. The new futures command will leverage commercial innovations, cutting-edge S&T and warfighter feedback to develop modernization requirements, concept validation and experimental prototypes, and drive capabilities to Soldiers.
To support this effort, RDECOM’s scientists and engineers will provide the expertise and knowledge for the cross-functional teams to explore technology to build new capabilities and systems that will give Soldiers a decisive edge in battle.
AS TECHNOLOGY EVOLVES
Many Army technologies have evolved through the years, as Soldiers’ needs changed, along with how battles were fought. For example, Soldiers used the M1 combat helmet, also known as the “steel pot,” from World War II until 1985. While this helmet, made of manganese steel, was effective for many years, Soldiers needed more protection as weapons became more powerful and sophisticated and we better understood the effects of blast on the human body. As military operations became more complex and Soldiers needed to carry more equipment, which can vary from 80 to 100 pounds depending on the mission, the Army required a lighter helmet.
In response to this need and to provide better protection, the Advanced Combat Helmet was developed. The helmet, which uses Kevlar and is 24 percent lighter than the steel pot, provides greater protection and reduces fatigue and stress for Soldiers. Used in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Advanced Combat Helmet was replaced in 2014 by the Enhanced Combat Helmet, which incorporates lighter materials and provides enhanced ballistic protection. The lightweight helmet consists of a ballistic shell, suspension pads and a four-point strap, as well as a reversible helmet cover, a bracket for night vision goggles and attachments for additional hardware and devices.
Technologies often begin as prototypes. Prototypes enable us to refine technologies and mitigate technology gaps, eliminating the need to procure large quantities and avoiding the repetition of acquisition failures. By fielding the prototype, we use Soldier feedback to refine requirements for next-generation or future capabilities.
The Multi-Mission Launcher (MML), which began development in 2012, started as a prototype. A mobile, ground-based weapon system designed to defeat unmanned aircraft systems, cruise missiles, rockets, artillery and mortars, the MML was developed after the Indirect Fire Protection Capability Increment 2 – Intercept product office approached RDECOM to determine if such a capability was feasible from an engineering standpoint. Working together, RDECOM engineers and the product office moved the project forward and delivered two MML prototypes in 2015.
Focusing on the right technology is important, but it is equally important to integrate these technologies into systems. Technology integration will be critical in the multidomain battle, where joint forces will need to adapt swiftly to changes in the operational climate. By adding new capabilities to existing platforms, warfighters will have capabilities beyond what each technology offers; feedback from these capabilities will help develop new ones.
When we develop technology timelines, we incorporate maneuver space, the necessary “wiggle room” to ensure that the technology is moving in the right direction and at the right pace to meet or exceed the constant and changing threats of our adversaries. Maneuver space includes time to plan resources, cost, schedule, technical performance and maturity, as well as how and when the technology will transition to the PEOs.
Moving technology from initial S&T to a level of maturity for a PEO to further develop and procure requires close collaboration and planning. RDECOM works with hundreds of domestic and international industry and academia partners, as well as other Army organizations and DOD laboratories, to develop and test S&T efforts and then push them to a PEO or program management office. This process puts the most advanced technology in Soldiers’ hands.
Giving Soldiers the best technology is RDECOM’s mission and the result of teamwork across the command. To support this mission and the Army’s modernization strategy, RDECOM is syncing requirements with the cross-functional teams and providing the R&D needed for technology to become critical capabilities.
While some capabilities will start as prototypes that will enable us to refine requirements for next-generation technology, other technology, such as future vertical lift, will begin as a technology demonstrator that will incorporate existing and experimental capabilities.
As we continue to focus on next-generation technologies, we will continue to make new discoveries and develop new technologies to keep the pipeline full. These technologies, which may not be needed for many years, will allow the Army to dominate whatever challenge it faces whenever that challenge appears.
For more information, go to www.army.mil/rdecom or call the RDECOM Public Affairs Office at 443-395-3922.
MAJ. GEN. CEDRIC T. WINS is the commanding general of RDECOM. Wins graduated from the Virginia Military Institute and was commissioned in the field artillery in July 1985. His military education includes Field Artillery Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the National War College, where he earned an M.S. in national security and strategic studies. Wins holds an M.S. in management from the Florida Institute of Technology.
This article is published in the April – June 2018 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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