Army Wants More Funding for Weapon Prototyping
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Army leadership and Congress are supportive of the service’s long-term science and technology needs and have funded those accounts despite budget pressures. What’s missing, however, is money for prototypes that help mature developmental technology, an Army official said April 1.
“What we are lacking right now is that set of funding that allows you to do that prototyping of what should be the next generation of capability,” Mary Miller, deputy assistance secretary of the Army for research and technology, said during a panel at the Association of the U.S. Army’s global force symposium and exposition.
The research, development and acquisition accounts for the Army are down 34 percent this year from where the service predicted four years ago, Miller said. “That’s an incredible disruption to our plans. However, the Army leadership has protected the science and technology investment.”
Meanwhile, adversaries are acquiring technologies to counter U.S. strengths, she said. “What used to take our enemies months and years to disrupt may now take only days.”
Budget cuts are slowing modernization plans and delaying new-start programs, but S&T accounts have been largely spared, she said. In fact, Congress has often increased funding for research, development and engineering centers and their projects.
However, Miller said she worries that if sequestration returns in 2016, the Army will lose scientists and engineers. "It’s the really top notch people who can walk away very easily because they have jobs waiting.”
Although S&T has been less affected by budget cuts than other Army accounts, there have been some changes in how the service’s science and technology organizations conduct business, Miller said. They are collaborating more closely with acquisition and requirements officials to drive down risk and make products more affordable.
“We have to go further than before. We have to mature technology more robustly. We have to inform requirements,” she said.
Key to that is the long-range investment requirement and analysis process, often shortened to LIRA. Unlike a five-year program objective memorandum, a LIRA extends planning 30 years into the future. In the process, officials from the acquisition, requirements and science and technology team up to analyze the lifecycle of a product, including development, acquisition, production, sustainment and divestment.
“This is done to help us see strategically what decisions can and should be made to ensure that the Army remains affordable and brings the best capability it can to soldiers,” she said. “We lay it out and understand where technology insertions can and should happen, and where things become unaffordable."
One decision that emerged from the process was to cancel the ground combat vehicle.
This year’s LIRA will be released after the president’s fiscal year 2017 budget because of the influence it’s having on decisions that have yet to be announced, she added.
Brig. Gen. John Charlton, commanding general of Army Capabilities Integration Center’s Brigade Modernization Command, said the Army doesn’t put enough emphasis on rapid prototyping, which can allow the service to try out a new way of doing or making something and get immediate feedback.
“A lot of times … during the exercises at Fort Bliss, soldiers will say, ‘If you just change this and you just change that, this thing would be twice as good,’” he said during the panel. “If you had the ability to just change this and just change that right on the spot — or very quickly — and put it back in their hands, you could validate whether or not that feedback actually led to a more valued outcome.”