FORT BELVOIR, Va. – Undersecretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy continued his tour of the service’s research facilities to see in person development projects to help determine which technologies will be greenlit in the next fiscal year.
McCarthy visited Program Executive Officer Soldier (PEO Soldier) along with three Cross-Functional Team (CFT) leaders to see how the office and teams are pooling resources to develop technologies that can satisfy multiple requirements.
“We’re very encouraged,” he said. “I think the rigor behind the investment decision is better because you have the requirements community closer to the acquisition folks. There is much greater utility in investments and they are synchronized against capabilities.”
Also on hand were Maj. Gen. Peter Gallagher, head of the Network CFT; Maj. Gen. Maria Gervais, who leads the CFT focused on synthetic training environments, and Brig. Gen. Christopher Donahue, in charge of the Soldier Lethality CFT.
The three officers have collaborated to develop technologies, like advanced night-vision goggles, that can provide capabilities that tap into and enhance the Army’s battlefield network, soldier lethality and enable synthetic training, McCarthy said.
“The collaboration between synthetic training, soldier lethality and the network, the three of them came forward with that,” he said. “We didn’t push them.”
All eight CFT leaders, focused variously on the Army’s six modernization priorities - Long-Range Precision Fires, Next-Generation Combat Vehicles, Future Vertical Lift, Army Network, Air and Missile Defense, and Soldier Lethality – compare notes on a regular basis to see where efficiencies exist and where collaboration would be beneficial.
Seeing the technologies in the field and witnessing the multiple applications of gear like night vision goggles (NVG) helps McCarthy justify investment in those programs to Army budgeters and to Congress, McCarthy said.
“The utility is going to be greater and it makes it much easier to justify this, to understand how it lays in against the technological roadmap for future upgrades,” McCarthy said. “It makes it easier for me in a couple weeks when I have to look at a PowerPoint and start making decisions.”
The Army plans to begin fielding the first of about 90,000 sets of binocular night-vision goggles to troops this calendar year. Leaning on operational testing that Special Operations Command conducted on its two-tube NVGs, the Army is buying a more advanced pair at a lower price because it didn’t have to replicate that work.
Augmented reality cues and other information from Nett Warrior can be piped into those goggles so a soldier can identify the location of friendly forces and other information from within his field of view while wearing them.
McCarthy and Gervais want to fuse synthetic training into the new night-vision systems the Army is buying, effectively killing two birds with one stone by providing improved night-vision capability and at the same time allowing soldiers to train on the same equipment they will use in the field.
“It’s bringing a lot of what we do in the aviation community to the infantry,” he said. “And it, quite frankly, is much more cost effective – fewer tank miles, fewer bullets fired.”
Sitting in the back of a Stryker wheeled combat vehicle equipped with a slew-to-cue incoming fire detection system and a distributed aperture system, McCarthy asked whether the information those sensors provide could be piped into a commander’s helmet instead of the large touchscreens mounted inside the crew compartment. The system is similar to what AH-64 Apache pilots have on their helmet-mounted displays, or, more expensively, the augmented reality helmets worn by F-35 pilots.
“Cost will be a factor,” McCarthy said. “Those helmets cost a couple hundred thousand dollars. But the alternative is putting an RPG in that vehicle and killing everyone inside.”
Part of McCarthy’s fact-finding missions to CFT headquarters and program offices – he has visited most CFTs or seen their work since creating the teams about 6 months ago – is identifying the maturity of the technologies on offer. He continually asked engineers at PEO Soldier whether tech being demonstrated for him was funded with 6.1 dollars for basic research, 6.2 applied research funding or 6.3 advanced technology development funding.
“When I’m doing when I am looking at an investment project is trying to understand the maturity,” he said. “Because 6.2 is going to be something that is outside the FYDP. But if it’s 6.3 and I know I can get it into experimentation soon, I’m immediately lining it up, so when I look at it in a couple weeks, I know if something is more mature than others, because we are going to have to make choices.”
“We want to pull more capability as soon as possible, but there are choices that have to be made,” he said. “That’s why I immediately ask where it is in the scheme of investment and then you have to make these ultimate calls.”