Profile: Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office
One in a series, ASA(ALT) at Work, which looks into ASA(ALT) organizations, what they do and where they do it.
In a dynamic world where technology is evolving at an ever-increasing pace, the Army needs options and needs them fast. The Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) can deliver just that. Uniquely chartered to continuously reevaluate the threat environment, pivot if needed, and find rapid solutions to the nation’s highest-priority capability gaps, the RCCTO delivers prototypes at a speed that can inform decisions and make an immediate difference.
Led by Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood and headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, the RCCTO is chartered to develop rapid experimental prototypes and field residual combat capabilities to Soldiers. Reporting to a board of directors composed of Army senior leadership, the RCCTO works closely with other Army organizations such as the U.S. Army Futures Command and the program executive offices to deliver critical capabilities that meet the Army’s modernization priorities. Currently, the RCCTO focus is on the areas of hypersonics and directed energy, while it continues to execute existing missions and explore disruptive technologies.
“Our potential adversaries are demonstrating the rapid development, and in some cases deployment, of hypersonics and directed energy weapons,” Thurgood said. “The RCCTO is now executing a strategy that will deliver new prototypes in both hypersonics and directed energy to operational units. In developing these prototypes for the U.S. Army, we are changing the outcome for our nation.”
What should we know about the Army RCCTO?
- We are a uniquely chartered organization, with built-in contracting authority, reporting to the Army board of directors, led by the secretary of the Army and including the Army chief of staff, the undersecretary of the Army, the vice chief of staff of the Army, the Army acquisition executive and the commander of Army Futures Command.
- We develop rapid experimental prototypes and deliver residual combat capabilities, aiming to avoid what is known as the “valley of death” by fusing what the science and technology community can do with what the program-of-record community can do.
- While hypersonics and directed energy are our top priorities, we are also executing existing missions and exploring disruptive technologies in areas such as the Bradley electric vehicle, counter-small unmanned aerial systems (UAS), weapon system cyber resiliency and adaptable UAS.
What are your recent wins?
- In 2019, the RCCTO accelerated the development of the Army’s ground-based offensive hypersonic weapon, including award of the first contracts to prototype the system and groundbreaking on a state-of-the-art production facility in Courtland, Alabama. This will lead to the fielding of the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon prototype, which will provide residual combat capability to Soldiers by fiscal year 2023.
- In 2019, the RCCTO accelerated development of the Army’s first combat-capable laser weapon system, which will provide a 50 kilowatt-class laser on a Stryker platform, including award of a competitive contract to prototype the system. The RCCTO will field four of these prototype combat vehicles, known as Directed Energy – Maneuver Short Range Air Defense (DE-MSHORAD), to an operational unit no later than fiscal year 2022.
- The RCCTO held its second innovation day Feb. 11-12 in Austin, Texas, in partnership with the Army Futures Command’s Army Applications Laboratory. These events, which resemble a commercial investor “pitch day,” are designed to accelerate the transition of emerging technology to Soldiers. The first innovation day, held in September, resulted in 42 presentations, with nine innovative concepts approved for prototyping efforts with the RCCTO.
How is the RCCTO unique, or different from a PEO?
The RCCTO is chartered to develop rapid experimental prototypes that provide residual combat capabilities. The RCCTO’s unique charter allows rapid navigation, or exemption from many of the traditional processes that govern a program of record. The RCCTO rapid prototyping mission enables adaptation to changing conditions and threats—we start and finish prototypes in five years or less. Additionally, the RCCTO reports to and accepts assignments through its Army board of directors.
- The Army accelerated its hypersonics program by two years.
- Building the RCCTO team to execute a very challenging mission on compressed timelines.
- The Army accelerated its directed energy capabilities by six years.
The Army’s new strategies for hypersonics and directed energy were made possible, in large part, by the solid foundation of science and technology development that occurred over the past decade in government laboratories and in commercial industry. The challenge now is to scale up existing technologies into combat-capable prototypes and quickly deliver residual combat capabilities to Soldiers in order to compete with our adversaries. For hypersonics, this includes creating a new industrial base and leading production of the Common Hypersonic Glide Body, which will be used by all the services. For directed energy, the challenge is leveraging proven high-energy laser technologies and increasing their power while adapting the technology for use on Army vehicles.
What’s ahead for the RCCTO?
We are moving both hypersonics and directed energy out of government labs and into prototype development. This includes completing design, integration and fielding to operational units. Although not meant to be perfect solutions, the prototypes will get fielded to Soldiers who can start to test, train and learn how to fight with these first-ever capabilities. At the same time, we are establishing an industrial base for both hypersonics and directed energy, giving Army senior leaders options on moving the capabilities into programs of record. The Army must modernize to enable the United States to win in a great power competition. Playing a key part in that modernization strategy is the RCCTO:
- Starting this year, the Army, with the joint services, plans to conduct hypersonic flight tests focusing on range, environmental extremes, operational considerations and contested environments.
- In late 2020, two vendors will produce a 50 kilowatt-class laser subsystem, integrate it onto a Stryker platform and complete a competitive performance down-select on a live test range against various threats. This effort will lead to the fielding of four experimental DE-MSHORAD prototype combat vehicles in fiscal year 2022.
- Army senior leadership assigned the RCCTO as the materiel and acquisition support for the newly formed Joint Counter-small Unmanned Aerial Systems (C-sUAS) Office. The office is now conducting acquisition planning for a joint approach to support materiel equipping decisions on the “best of breed” for C-sUAS.
What role do Soldiers play in the organization?
“Soldier-centered design is at the heart of prototyping,” said Thurgood. “Early and recurring interactions with Soldiers are critically important to the development of prototypes with residual combat capability, especially in critical strategic areas like hypersonics. Soldiers train with the systems, become familiar with operating them, and provide feedback on improvements so we can deliver the best possible outcome for them and our nation.”
This article is published in the Spring 2020 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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