Army to conquer soldier tech challenges with greater innovation

Agile approach needed to keep up with rapid pace of technological change

In an era of asymmetrical warfare in conflict and fluid budget conditions at home, the military is finding itself in need of nontraditional answers to a new, evolving crop of questions and problems. The Army is seeking new approaches that bridge conventional doctrine and the modern requirements of deploying troops, including holistic views and better collaboration.

“We’re not just looking at technically how you make radio A talk to radio B, although that’s important. We’re looking beyond that,” said Richard Cozby, deputy director, Systems of Systems Integration, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. “We’re looking at what else you need to get together so you can make that unit battle-ready on the day it’s equipped, in the United States before it goes to theater, so that you’re not integrating capabilities while the soldier is being asked to fight a war.”

Cozby spoke Jan. 24 as part of a panel at the Soldier Technology 2012 conference in Arlington, Va.

A major part of the challenge lies with outdated requirements development and acquisition cycles, Cozby said. He stressed the need for an agile approach that can accommodate the rapid pace of technological change and needs of today’s combat.

Increasingly, that means shifting focus to widespread, immediate needs and employing a team mentality to achieve real results, said Marilyn Freeman, deputy assistant secretary of Army Research and Technology.

“Instead of focusing on the stovepipe, we need to be focusing on real, honest-to-God problems,” she said. “When you do that, you figure out the fact that you can’t do it all yourself, the fact that you need to rely on a team and the fact that you need to have priorities.”

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Program managers need to be collaborating in person to achieve a synergy that produces real, applicable solutions, Freeman said.

She likened challenges to a jigsaw puzzle; one solution won’t solve entire problems, but problems are related and so are their potential resolutions. As such, program managers need to coordinate to determine how issues and answers affect each other and are connected.

“You have to look at the problems together and reward synergy,” she said, using the Army’s Network Integration Evaluation and some activities at various centers of excellence as good examples.

The goal is an Armywide ability to alleviate the most pressing needs as quickly and as affordably as possible.

“We want to get inside that 18-month precision cycle so that if we field a radio this October, it’ll be with technology that’s available and mature and ready to be deployed this October. A year from now, we’re still going to be fielding that basic radio functionality, but we expect that it will be lighter, faster and cheaper, and we want to incorporate that next-generation technology into these units,” he said. “That’s what we mean when we say we want to buy less more often.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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