ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (October 1, 2015) - Battle-tested and technologically savvy, today’s young Soldier is the most knowledgeable source available to provide relevant assessments and feedback on emerging Army platform systems. However, typical acquisition processes can delay how quickly Soldiers receive these technologies for testing.
To accelerate the process from concept to delivery, government organizations are collaborating with prototype integration facilities (PIFs), where engineers design and fabricate cutting-edge capabilities and integrate them onto military platforms. Engineers and their customers use an iterative development process to quickly transition ideas into testable prototypes, allowing Soldiers to validate cutting-edge capabilities relevant to the Army’s force much sooner than waiting for full-rate production and deployment.
Prototyping offers several advantages to the Army, from accelerating schedules to advancing technology and informing requirements. For example, the Program Manager for the Warfghter Information Network – Tactical (PM WIN-T) recently transitioned two prototypes into final solutions for its Enroute Mission Command Capability, (or EMC2), by working closely with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center to quickly fabricate airplane-worthy hardware components. The center’s Command, Power and Integration (CP&I) Directorate led the effort for CERDEC and leveraged its PIF to complete the requirements.
WIN-T and the PIF reside at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, enabling WIN-T project staff to maintain eyes-on status of their prototype during each phase of the process and allowing for course corrections prior to establishing requirements. At the end of any PIF engagement, customers such as WIN-T generally produce a small number of fielded products to help prove the concept, and then either help customers transition the product to an Army depot or provide a technical data package that the customer can use to solicit production from industry. In either case, by integrating the prototype up front, the technology is more mature and less susceptible to major redesign, saving both time and money.
Typically, when a product manager organization leads and manages its customer’s product development effort, it often outsources the specific product engineering work. However, by engaging directly with a PIF rather than spending the time and money to outsource, customers can accelerate their development schedules. WIN-T’s EMC2 project, also known as the “command post in the sky,” featured a C-17 aircraft integrated with full network and mission command capabilities—from takeoff to jump—to give paratroopers and their commanders reachback to their home station and eyes on the destination. These critical systems required protection from the powerful vibrations and aerodynamic forces that occur during a cargo aircraft’s flight. In addition, the communications equipment could not produce electromagnetic interference with other command-and-control or airplane systems, yet still had to be light enough to meet a four-man weight-lift limit per military standards.
CERDEC PIF engineers designed prototypes for ruggedized transit cases to house the systems and a modular workstation to provide a flexible workspace for the Soldiers. Seemingly small fabrications can make the difference in a product’s success or failure, and the key to ruggedizing the cases came down to creating specialized brackets to connect the cases to the racks. PIF engineers created plastic versions of the brackets on a 3-D printer to rapidly evaluate design revisions rather than expending valuable metal fabrication time for each revision. The design also allowed easy access to the equipment inside the cases and, most importantly, special filters integrated inside the cases blocked electromagnetic interference. For the workstation design, CERDEC PIF engineers fabricated a modular apparatus that is configurable for up to seven users, provides power and Internet connections and ties securely to the C-17 floor—yet collapses to create a clear exit path for paratroopers to facilitate their jumps. PIF engineers are currently designing separate video screens configured to hook directly onto the workstations to provide Soldiers with live, full-motion video feeds of their drop zone environment.
Most prototypes at the CERDEC PIF undergo testing in its environmental test lab. For the transit cases and work station, engineers performed rigorous pull and vibration tests to simulate extreme flying conditions for the C-17. The MIL-STD 810 testing lab is equipped to simulate many harsh environments, including shock, temperature, humidity, salt fog, altitude and immersion. In just nine months, the collaboration between CERDEC and PM WIN-T yielded a fielded capability that was successfully tested onboard a C-17 with the 50th Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 35th Signal Brigade, which supports the XVIII Airborne Corps’ Global Response Force.
Science and technology organizations also leverage PIF capabilities to support their mission areas. These organizations may be working with a more “fuzzy” set of requirements and thus require true research and development activities to prove what is possible. The PIF helps these customers advance their technology so that they can, in turn, develop specific solutions for their customers. For example, CERDEC’s Power Division required a mechanism to test its Energy Harvesting Assault Pack, a Soldier-wearable intelligent power manager that would generate electricity from the natural movements of the Soldier and power situational awareness capabilities such as Nett Warrior, GPS and radios. Should the prototype advance to a true requirement, Soldiers could obtain increased energy independence, reduced resupply logistics, on-the-move charging and biomechanical and ergonomic advantages. PIF engineers are designing the Warrior Torso Test Stand (WaTTS)/Large Kinetic Energy Harvester (LKEH) test apparatus, which will house a custom-built mannequin wearing the pack. Engineers will attach the mannequin to a linear actuator, which can simulate Soldiers’ movements in a variety of environments, at different speeds and angles, while carrying various payloads.
On a larger scale, the Army is using prototyping—via technology demonstrations— to help the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) inform requirements for overarching capability gaps. For example, TRADOC recently teamed with CERDEC to explore expeditionary command post concepts. The intent was to design, develop and demonstrate various command post prototypes from which TRADOC could derive and transition requirements to the Army’s proposed program of record for Command Post 2025.
The Expeditionary Command Post Capabilities program (ECPC), includes three separate technology demonstrators— a light vehicle, a tracked vehicle and an expandable shelter—designed to address the Army’s transition from fixed to maneuver-oriented command posts. In just nine months, PIF engineers and technicians designed and integrated tactical command post (TAC) components onto the three existing platforms, then shipped them to the Network Integration Evaluation to allow Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division to assess the systems during live exercises.
For brigade and below, ECPC introduced the Light-Mobile Command Post (L-MCP), which allows Soldiers to transform a High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) into a TAC within five minutes at-the-halt. Onboard vehicle power supports the integrated tactical network and mission command components, eliminating the need for the vehicle to tow a trailer-mounted generator and therefore adding another layer of expeditionary capability to the TAC. The L-MCP was developed to scale to the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, the Army’s longer-term light vehicle solution to replace the HMMWV, allowing the Army to retrofit its current fleet to provide expeditionary command post options.
ECPC also introduced the Combined Arms Battalion (CAB) Mobile TAC, which is an M1068 tracked vehicle with integrated mission command and radio capabilities, allowing commanders to “command from the hatch.” The CAB Mobile TAC prototype took into account another planned vehicle acquisition—the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle—to provide the Army with a viable option for today’s forces. WIN-T’s partnership with the PIF helped to facilitate the integration of WIN-T Increment 2 Point of Presence onto the vehicle to provide on-the-move network connectivity, both line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight.
The third component of ECPC addresses battalion through corps operations, and required engineers and technicians to integrate a prototype shelter structure that establishes the current operations cell. The Expeditionary Battalion Command Post (EXP BN CP), uses an expandable shelter system that requires two Soldiers just two minutes to expand each side, and approximately 30 minutes to set up the entire structure. It includes worktables, projectors, laptops, mission command systems and a preconfigured interior with power and Internet. PIF engineers designed the transit cases to house most of the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) components, and used other design techniques to ensure that all equipment required to run the current operations cell fit inside the unexpanded shelter for ease of transit.
In each of these three examples, developers leveraged PIF prototyping agility to answer the questions, “How can we enable Soldiers to command the fight from the fight?”; “What are the right components to establish expeditionary command post capabilities?”; and, most importantly, “What is possible?” When the results from this fall’s Network Integration Evaluation 16.1 are published, the Army will have clearer answers with which to draft validated requirements that address these questions.
Soldiers rely on the Army’s innovative solutions to achieve overmatch against their adversaries. The technological innovation they seek begins as ideas in the science and technology world, where engineers are not tied to specific requirements. The Army’s programs of record and other entities are tapping into this innovation by collaborating with CERDEC PIF’s in-house engineering, fabrication and integration staff to create prototypes for initial testing.
By implementing an iterative, government-to-government development process, engineers can experiment on a small scale to determine how best to design and integrate a solution onto a specific platform. The results of these efforts are stronger requirements, which, in turn, produce better products. By systematically maturing ideas into tangible, fielded technologies, the Army is quickly providing Soldiers with proven, state-of-the-art solutions to give them the technological edge they need to tackle both current and future threats to their missions.
MR. CHRISTOPHER P. MANNING is chief of the CERDEC CP&I Prototyping, Integration and Testing Division.
MR. JAMES G. SROCZYNSKI is the chief engineer for the CERDEC CP&I Prototyping, Integration and Testing Division.
This article originally appeared in the October-December 2015 edition of the Army AL&T Magazine.
Media inquiries may be directed to the CERDEC Corporate and Public Communication Office.