A new Army program will obtain small quantities of new ground robotic equipment to help the service evaluate and field cutting-edge technology more quickly, Army officials said April 7.
The Robotic Enhancement Program (REP) will solicit and review industry proposals to test new hardware, software, payloads and accessories. It will then buy or lease the most promising items and try them out in its battle labs to see whether they would be useful to soldiers and should be acquired in greater numbers.
“It’s an additional opportunity to identify emergent capabilities,” said Scott Davis, program executive officer for the Army’s Combat Support & Combat Service Support portfolio, who spoke at a National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) conference on ground robotics.
The current process for setting capability requirements and acquiring new equipment to meet them can take years, which is often too long to keep pace with rapid advances in industry-developed technology, Army officials said.
According to an REP brochure, the Army is looking for proposals that address any of the following areas: protect the force, reduce warfighters’ workload, enable situational awareness, sustain the force, enable lethal and non-lethal engagements and reduce cost. Items must be commercial off-the-shelf, government off-the-shelf or non-developmental items.
A “council of colonels,” consisting of officers from combat development schools, will meet twice a year–in February and September–to review the results of REP lab tests and authorize new experiments. The first group of products to be tested will be determined before the next fiscal year begins Oct. 1, said Lt. Col. Larry Dring, Army product manager for unmanned ground vehicles.
Modeled after the Army PEO Soldier’s 25-year-old Soldier Enhancement Program, REP is starting with a “few million” dollars in research and development funding, part of which will cover industry costs, Dring said. “We’re not asking industry to do something for free,” he said.
Also at the conference, Davis said the Army plans to release a request for proposals (RFP) for the man-packable Common Robotic System-Individual (CRS-I) in the third quarter of fiscal year 2016. RFPs for two other systems–the Man Transportable Robotic System (MTRS) Increment II and the Route Clearance & Interrogation System (RCIS) Type 1–will be issued in the second and first quarters of FY 2016, respectively. An RFP for the Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport is expected sometime in FY 2018.