Keeping design on target

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PM Soldier Weapons teams with ARL’s Human Research and Engineering Directorate and the Maneuver CoE to incorporate human systems integration early in weapon system development, to ensure that weapons are designed to work in harmony with other systems and equipment.

By Dr. Gabriella Brick Larkin, Mr. Joshua Charm,
Maj. Aron Hauquitz and Maj. Adam Patten

Technology may advance in leaps and bounds, but the physical and cognitive abilities of people who use technology stay much the same. History tells us the performance of new products is better when human performance is among the factors considered during the design and development process.

What does this mean to the military materiel developer? Military products, including weapon systems, perform better when we consider and accommodate a Soldier’s physical and cognitive skills during design and development. We do this within an engineering process called human systems integration (HSI).

Product capabilities do not exist in isolation. They interact with and affect—while being affected by—the user as well as other products. HSI is the concept of ensuring that system designs are an extension of the user rather than an addition. When the user, the Soldier, is the dynamic center of a system of systems in military materiel development, HSI ensures that system designs continuously account for and involve the Soldier-user. These considerations include the Soldier’s inherent capabilities and limitations, the environment, other equipment and systems, squad members and the mission. Optimizing any given materiel solution depends on the extent to which its design optimizes the functions of the overarching system of systems.


A Soldier from the 3rd Infantry Division, fitted with biomechanical sensors, fires a test weapon in August at Fort Benning, Georgia, to evaluate the impact of different calibers on felt-recoil and marksmanship. Because a weapon system is only as good as a Soldier’s ability to use it effectively, HSI focuses on developing a system that augments Soldier capabilities and mitigates performance limitations. (U.S. Army photo by Sam Ortega, ARL)

At Project Manager Soldier Weapons (PM SW), assigned to Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier, one aim of weapon development programs is to produce and field adaptive and agile technology advances to the asymmetric battlefield. PM SW approaches all acquisition programs with this in mind. The organization strives to reduce acquisition time and improve product effectiveness by introducing Soldier performance into the equation early in the overall process.

Focusing on lightening the Soldier’s load and other strategies for optimization aren’t new per se. The Army HSI Program, formerly called MANPRINT, has existed since the 1950s. However, specifically integrating HSI into system requirements and source selection is a relatively new approach for project management offices. PM SW takes a particularly progressive approach to using dedicated, integrated HSI support.

Battlefield overmatch, the condition in which one side’s capabilities and resources far outweigh the adversary’s, is not simply an outcome of superior firepower. Overmatch derives from the superiority and dominance of the stronger force’s war­fighters in conjunction with the advanced weapon systems they use.

Thus, HSI factors pertaining to usability, situational awareness and maneuverability are driving forces in achieving overmatch. A weapon system is only as good as a Soldier’s ability to use it effectively. HSI enables the Army to develop a system that augments Soldier capabilities and mitigates performance limitations.

PM SW routinely uses a Soldier-system strategy and not just a systems-strategy approach. This kind of strategy helps define parameters needed to support the operational capability of any materiel solution. For example, a rifle’s operational capability is based on its accuracy, ballistic effect, reliability and rate of fire. Traditionally, the definition of accuracy has been in terms of target effects (e.g., a weapon in a stand must meet a 5-inch mean radius impact at 300 meters). While this kind of measurement is necessary, it fails to consider HSI.

A Soldier-system-centric approach also defines accuracy as the extent to which rifle designs facilitate aim stabilization and mitigate the effect of recoil for follow-on shots. Thus, accuracy includes:

  • The degree to which a weapon’s fire selector is easily accessible to right- and left-handed Soldiers with hand sizes ranging from the 5th to 95th percentile.
  • The extent to which the size, shape, weight and center of gravity of the rifle’s design facilitate mobility and manipulation when transitioning between targets or maneuvering through small areas.
  • The ease of maintenance requirements and malfunction procedures.
  • The round capacity, trajectory of the ammunition used and the ease of changing the magazine.
  • The compatibility with enabling systems and the operational capability of the enabler itself.

This definition, combined with the specifications for target effects, is a ­Soldier-system-centric way of determining accuracy.


The Army’s HSI program considers optimization in multiple domains that affect total system performance. Each domain constitutes a piece of the larger HSI picture. (SOURCE: Human Systems Integration office, HQDA G-1)

Current policy requires an Army HSI assessment for each acquisition milestone, beginning at Milestone B. However, PM SW recognizes the importance of establishing underlying design parameters for systems that bridge the operational—not simply the technical—capability gaps.

This calls for maintaining productive partnerships with other organizations involved in the process. For PM SW, they include most notably the Lethality Branch, Soldier Division, of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE) at U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory Human Research and Engineering Directorate (ARL-HRED) of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM).

PM SW works closely with ARL-HRED and MCoE to support upfront assessment and experimentation that are geared toward defining these parameters, integrating HSI earlier in the PM’s acquisition efforts and providing HSI support to the requirements process. Thus the focus of acquisition efforts broadens from system-centric to Soldier-system-centric.

ARL-HRED is the lead for the Army HSI Program (AR 602-2, “Human Systems Integration in the System Acquisition Process”). For maximum effectiveness, we must consider HSI far earlier than when an HSI assessment is required. Being able to identify and investigate HSI considerations in concept development, thereby influencing requirements generation and science and technology (S&T) processes, should result in the transition to a program of record that addresses underlying capability gaps in the manner needed. HQDA G-1 termed the idea of performing HSI work earlier than required “moving human systems integration to the left.” ­TRADOC, the Decker-Wagner Army Acquisition Review and Army Acquisition Policy endorse this practice, recognizing that early, integrated HSI can provide return on investment across a product’s entire life cycle.

PM SW has worked with ARL-HRED and MCoE to develop a progressive strategy incorporating HSI in other nontraditional ways as well. Whereas ARL-HRED provides expertise in HSI and the behavioral sciences, MCoE ensures that this expertise is applied in an operationally relevant context. PM SW uses the results of this collaboration in several ways, such as influencing source selection of new products.


An 82nd Airborne Division Soldier fires at close-range targets on ARL-HRED’s M-Range at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, in March as part of a study to inform requirements for a Squad Designated Marksman Rifle. M-Range targets provide automated data on engagement time and quality of hit to allow a meaningful analysis of the impact of different materiel solutions on Soldier-system performance. (U.S. Army photo by Ron Carty, ARL)

The partnership among PM SW, MCoE and ARL-HRED is critical to this process. Open and continuous discussion and collaboration to define scenarios and Soldier-system performance metrics ensure that evaluation of HSI is experimentally reliable and operationally valid. This application drives results for PM SW’s acquisition efforts, which optimizes Soldier-system performance and maximizes Soldier acceptance of fielded systems. PM SW considers the needs of each particular program and effort when tailoring an HSI program to the item.

The following examples illustrate how the three organizations have used HSI effectively:

  • Research: PM SW funds HSI studies, designed and conducted by ARL-HRED in collaboration with MCoE, to evaluate the impact of different materiel solutions on Soldier-system performance. PM SW uses the results to inform requirements or engineering change proposals. In one such study, results indicated that currently available solutions that can technically meet the requirement may fail to support functional needs. As a result, PM SW incorporated modifications to the requirement language. ARL-HRED is now pursuing a collaborative research and development agreement with industry partners to further this initiative.
  • Soldier acceptance: PM SW funded ARL-HRED support to MCoE to identify critical functional needs that underlie Soldier acceptance and general usability of an end product. ARL-HRED, PM SW and members of the Picatinny Arsenal legal and procurement communities developed a qualitative research design (QRD). With the QRD, ARL-HRED will use Soldier acceptance events as criteria for down-selecting in source selection competitions. This ensures that the final product not only meets all product specifications but also truly reflects what the Soldier wants and needs in the field.
  • Review of lessons learned: PM SW and MCoE use this exercise to support requirements generation. Just as new technology incorporates what already exists, it must also draw upon lessons learned from previous development and acquisition efforts. These lessons come from rigorous reviews of operational testing, post-combat survey data, HSI assessments and other Soldier feedback and Soldier-system performance sources. MCoE incorporates these lessons in new and sometimes existing requirement documents (e.g., through memos of clarification), and uses them to inform test and evaluation strategy in order to ensure assessment of the system’s functional performance.

Industry has successfully applied HSI early in product development for quite some time, but PM SW is the only project management office currently using it as a regular part of source selection and other nontraditional applications within the Army.

It has introduced HSI to several programs currently in the early stages of acquisition—including the Grenadier Sighting System, Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System, XM-17 Modular Handgun System and Small Arms Fire Control—and to the Improved Weapons Cleaning Kit, which has been fielded. Analysis and documentation of the return on investment will follow product fielding.

An integrated HSI program supports requirements development, testing and procurement processes. HSI helps create an acquisition program that bridges the gaps between operational needs, requirements, S&T and products. PM SW is broadening the focus to Soldier-system performance and system-of-systems considerations. It is leveraging information from the field and capitalizing on ongoing S&T investments and research efforts by the government, industry and academia.

Making transformational advances in small arms requires learning from and leveraging past and current Army investments. Program managers must reach across organizational lines to best develop and procure materiel solutions that operationally support an underlying capability gap. Widening the focus of priorities from system performance to Soldier-system performance facilitates an adaptive and agile operational capability and yields a better return on acquisition investment. Incorporating HSI within the PM SW portfolio is critical for future investments in Army systems that will augment Soldier capabilities and mitigate Soldier limitations to achieve battlefield overmatch.


A Soldier from 2nd Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment traverses the Army’s Load Effects Assessment Program obstacle course in December 2014 at Fort Benning, Georgia, during a usability evaluation of weapon slings. In military materiel development, the Soldier must be the dynamic center of a system of systems; product capabilities do not exist in isolation. (U.S. Army photo by Sam Napier, ARL)

For more information, contact Dr. Gabriella Brick Larkin at

DR. GABRIELLA BRICK LARKIN is the human factors lead for Project Manager Soldier Weapons and an employee of the Human Factors Integration Division of ARL-HRED. She holds a Ph.D. in experimental psychology (mind, brain and behavior) from the City University of New York and a B.S. in psychology from Brooklyn College.

MR. JOSHUA CHARM is the chief systems engineer for PM SW. He holds an executive master’s in technology management from the University of Pennsylvania, a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Stevens Institute of Technology and a B.S.E. in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan. He is Level III certified in engineering and in production, quality and manufacturing, and is a member of the Army Acquisition Corps.

MAJ ARON HAUQUITZ is the assistant program manager for ammunition and weapons at the U.S. Special Operations Command. He previously served as chief of MCoE’s Lethality Branch. He holds a master of military studies degree in unconventional warfare from American Military University, an MBA from Columbus State University and a B.A. in history from Shippensburg University. He served as an infantry officer with four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and two company commands in the 82nd Airborne Division. He is a member of the Army Acquisition Workforce.

MAJ ADAM PATTEN is MCoE’s Small Arms Branch chief, Soldier Division, responsible for requirements development in support of the Army’s small arms modernization efforts. A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point with a B.S. in human and regional geography, he most recently served as a company commander and assistant brigade S3 plans officer with the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division before transitioning to the Army Acquisition Workforce.

This article was originally published in the October – December 2015 issue of Army AL&T magazine.

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