Army must remove next-gen technology roadblocks, vice chief says

New ways needed to smoothly navigate acquisition and development processes

As the Army acquires and develops new technologies, it will have to get a lot smarter about how it selects and tests them. The service needs to come up with new ways to navigate its challenging acquisition and development environment, according to Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli. 

Speaking at this week’s Network Enabled Operations conference in Arlington, Va., Chiarelli highlighted the current state of Army network modernization and network strategy. He said that in the current cost constrained fiscal environment, there is a need to get equipment out to troops more quickly. Because of the high speed of operations, Chiarelli said that many systems in high demand are often purchased from commercial vendors. He added that this situation exists because it can take a decade or more for some systems to be fielded.

But the Army can’t wait that long, Chiarelli warned. He maintained that the Army must make needed improvements to what he described as its archaic acquisition process. However, he added that this will probably be a challenge, because the military is resistant to new changes.

Chiarelli supported claims made by another conference speaker, Maj. Gen. Mark Bowman, about the delays caused by the testing community for needed battlefield electronics. He cited the example of the Tactical Ground Reporting (TIGR) device used to provide soldiers on the ground with tactical data from a variety of sources such as real time video from overhead aircraft. He noted that the device was fielded despite objections from within the Army.

TIGR is not a perfect solution to warfighters' needs, more like a 75 percent solution, Chiarelli said.  But it meets needs and serves as an example of the need to get new capabilities out to troops as soon as possible, he said.

One challenge is how the Army goes about determining its technical requirements for new equipment and software. Chiarelli described this as the difference between a fill-in-the-blanks test and a multiple choice test. Current Army procedures resemble a fill in the blanks exercise because too much is left up to interpretation. This can lead to overloading a device with too many requirements.

A multiple choice example is more efficient because it offers commanders with a set of choices. Multiple choice offerings always lead to an answer, only the parameters need to be chosen, he said. Using this methodology, Chiarelli said that the Army could host an annual network test/competition and select the best candidates. The test would feature achievable performance thresholds that would allow firms to compete and the Army to effectively buy equipment, he said.

This type of competition would be very useful for selecting software and electronics systems that are mostly based on commercial technology, Chiarelli said. However, he cautioned that such an approach would not work for all types of platforms, such as aircraft.  But he emphasized that out of the box thinking needed to be encouraged within the Army’s ranks while the commercial community needed to provide more test- and procurement-ready technology.

The Army is already taking some steps to dynamically test and evaluate new equipment, Chiarelli said. The new approach represents a holistic network strategy that fundamentally changes how the service fields new technology. He explained that in 2012, the Army will have a process in place to get new capabilities, such as smart phones, out to its units.

A key part of the new process is the launch of the Center for Network Integration at Fort Bliss, Texas. This will support the Army Evaluation Task Force, which is the service’s main test unit for putting new technology through its paces. He noted that the unit is currently being restructured as a full brigade combat team to better test networking and battle command technologies. The unit will be equipped with every piece of hardware and software that will be issued to the service’s brigade combat teams and it will serve as a clearinghouse for testing network capabilities.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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