The Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) is holding a live fire demonstration in April that will explore interest in industry’s potential to provide counter-small drone capabilities “as a service,” the office’s director said Wednesday. 

“For a long time, we bought particular products and we provided those to soldiers. That’s been the model for a long time and maybe it’s time to change that model a little bit. Maybe what we need to do is have a company that we say [to them], ‘We want you to defend this area. You figure out what systems you need, and how much time and money you need to do that.’ And let’s see if we can use that model,” Lt. Gen. Neil Thurgood, the director of RCCTO, said during his address at the McAleese Conference. “It may not work in all environments. It may be really good in CONUS. It may be really bad in combat. We don’t know but we’re willing to try it.”

Soldiers from 5th Armored Brigade, First Army Division West, developed a course of instruction to counter the threat of commercial, off-the-shelf unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles at McGregor Range Complex, N.M. Photo: (Staff Sgt. Timothy Gray)

The upcoming live fire event at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona is part of a semi-annual demonstration series led by the Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (C-sUAS) Office (JCO), of which RCCTO is serving as the materiel arm to support capability efforts.

“This is about bringing what you have to the range. We’re going to do a live fire event. And if we like it, we’re going to buy it,” Thurgood said. “[This] allows all the services the opportunity to buy it based on what their mission set is.”

Thurgood noted RCCTO held a competitive white papers process with industry to participate in the demonstration, before selecting five companies who will showcase capabilities in the areas of  C-sUAS as-a-service, high-powered microwaves and high-energy lasers.

“They bring their kit they think is a good solution. We have a grading criteria that we give them beforehand. Here’s how we’re going to grade you. And we’re going to start a live fire. Sometimes they do really good and sometimes it’s a challenge for them,” Thurgood told reporters at the conference following his discussion. “At the end of that, we do an evaluation and if one or two of them does what we want them to do, what we need it do at the cost we need it, then we open a contract with them.”

On C-sUAS as-a-service, Thurgood said the upcoming engagement with industry will allow RCCTO assess how that model could potentially help get after cost savings by allowing industry to own the sustainment and upgrades for such capabilities.

“In some cases, why don’t we let a company find the solutions, keep the solutions sets modernized, let them pay for that bill internally or we can help them and then let them maintain that capability. Again, it’s an idea. It may not work everywhere. It may be really good within the boundaries of the United States if we needed to do it. It may not be good in combat,” Thurgood said. “The services are really excited about it. We’ll see if it’s cost-effective. Number one, it has to meet the mission. It’s got to be cheaper than the way we’re doing it now or there’s no sense in doing it. So it’s a good idea, we’ll see if it’s a great idea.”

RCCTO and the C-sUAS JCO are still working through selecting specific areas of interest for the second demonstration this year scheduled for September, according to Thurgood. 

Army Maj. Gen. Sean Gainey, director of the C-sUAS JCO, said in January he wants to take advantage of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to make it easier for the users of counter-drone systems to combat evolving threats (Defense Daily, Jan. 14).