David McNally, ARL Public Affairs
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (April 6, 2016) — The U.S. Army seeks new ideas as it holds a second summit to inspire innovation. Military and civilian leaders, scientists and engineers gathered for a two-day conference at APG’s Mallet Hall, April 5-6.
“We live in a complex world with complex threats,” said Maj. Gen. John F. Wharton, commanding general of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command. “To recommend innovative solutions, we must prioritize our needs.”
Wharton, the host of the event, welcomed representatives from the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, other Army Materiel Command major subordinate commands and technology leaders from across the Army.
“Our goal is to foster innovation,” he said. “The Army Operating Concept defines innovation as the result of critical and creative thinking and the conversion of new ideas into valued outcomes.”
In November 2015, the first summit focused on concepts and requirements. It identified barriers to innovation and ideas on how to overcome them.
“The quarterly innovation summit program is a core component of the Army’s Innovation Campaign and an important medium for Army senior leader discussions,” Wharton said. “This is an opportunity to build upon the knowledge and insight gained during the first summit and discover new opportunities to refine solutions that will enhance Army innovation.”
Innovation is the introduction of new or significantly improved products, processes, organizational methods and marketing methods in internal business practices, said Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Stephen P. Welby who addressed the group April 5.
“The world has been changing over the last two decades,” he said. “The pace of change is visible in all of our daily lives. We see it in technology. We see it in business. We see it in the globalization of talent and technology. We see it shifting in terms of the nature of the threat we face in the future.”
Welby said innovation has many attributes.
“Innovation does not come from technology alone,” he said. “It emerges from evolutionary problem-solving directed at specific operational and tactical issues. It requires coherent frameworks of doctrine and concepts.”
Reaching outside the Army, organizers invited Dr. Paul Jaffe from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory to a panel discussion April 6. Jaffe told the group how the Navy is bringing innovation to the next level with a concept called Space Solar.
“Energy is critical for everything we do, not just in the military, but for modern life,” Jaffe said. “What if there was a way that we could provide clean, constant energy anywhere in the world — on demand — to the Soldier on the mountaintop, to farmers in the developing world, to children whose cities have been destroyed by tsunamis? There is a way to do this.”
The project involves capturing solar energy in space and then transferring that energy through microwaves to any place on Earth.
“This allows us enormous flexibility in the way we provide energy,” he said. “You can kind of think of this as a Hoover Dam in space.”
Jaffe characterized the Navy’s vision as a bold. He said whether fossil fuels run out in 10 years or 100 years, they will run out.
“One of our jobs is to think long-term, not just for next year,” he said. “We need to think long-term and this is a way to address that. “It’s hard to understate the implications if we follow through with this. It would truly enable the next American century.”
In another discussion during the panel, the Army showcased its partnership with the NFL to combat head trauma, which has led to an innovative solution for a novel tether with the potential to prevent injuries.
“There are elastic straps that are speed sensitive,” explained Dr. Eric Wetzel from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. “If you pull them slowly they stretch and relax without a lot of resistance, but if you attempt to pull them quickly they are very resistant to stretching.”
The implications of the tether could result in mitigation of injuries from head-to-ground impacts, he said.
Wetzel said the team’s next steps involve fabricating a first generation prototype, test performance and gather focus group evaluations. He is also hoping to develop and demonstrate Army-specific version of the technology and build partnerships with industry for further innovation, development and commercialization.
The event ended with break-out groups briefing Gen. Dennis L. Via, AMC commanding general, on develop specific proposals to overcome barriers to innovation.
The next summit is planned for August 2016 when organizers hope to expand collaboration with industry and academia to refine and implement the initiatives from the current summit, officials said.