WASHINGTON — Defense contractors at the Association of the US Army's annual conference last week showed how they are breathing new life into already proven and fielded technology.
"Innovation" was a buzzword at the show, which is not surprising considering Defense Secretary Ash Carter has ramped up a push to seek outside input from outside of the defense world in order to be more innovative to boost innovations in defense. He's launched a number of initiatives to tie the department closer with Silicon Valley and other research centers.
The Army itself is striving to "win in a complex world" — the title of its now year-old operating concept, — and a key tenet of its concept which is to establish core competency in innovation.
"Innovation is the result of critical and creative thinking and the conversion of new ideas into valued outcomes. Innovation drives the development of new tools or methods that permit Army forces to anticipate future demands, stay ahead of determined enemies, and accomplish the mission," so the concept goes.
The showroom floor was dotted with examples of industry innovation new technologies from industry tailored to deal with emerging threats, showing innovation is not necessarily just Silicon Valley's game.
"If DoD is interested in mature off-the-shelf technology solutions, it should look not just to Silicon Valley, but into the [research and development] shops and development portfolios of its industrial base," said Jim Tinsley, a defense analyst and managing director of Avascent, told Defense News.
Oshkosh Defense debuted its Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV) 6x6, a technology demonstrator vehicle that provides protection and off-road capability at about half the cost of a wheeled armored personnel carrier, said John Bryant, Oshkosh senior vice president for defense programs, said. The company has a rich history in M-ATV building, having delivered over 10,000 M-ATV 4x4 vehicles worldwide, including with 8,700 of those for the US Army, he said.
"Our M-ATV 6x6 technology demonstrator was really done under Oshkosh internal research and development," Bryant said. "We did not do it in reaction to any particular US government program. What we looked at, though, was that we see worldwide many of our military customers are looking to mechanize their infantry."
Bryant added the new vehicle shows the company is "innovating on existing platforms" and "this is a great example of doing that."
With the US Army soon facing a surplus of hundreds of thousands of Humvees, Textron Systems developed a set of life-extending upgrades that will extend the life of for the iconic vehicles that it hopes will save troops' lives as well. Textron unveiled its Survivable Combat Tactical Vehicle (SCTV), which puts a monocoque hull and v-shaped hull onto existing vehicles, at the AUSA expo.
"This is basically a big brother of a Humvee," said Jonathan Dalrymple, vice president of business development with Textron Systems' marine and land systems unit. The modifications come in five kits, which the customer can hand pick for their preferred vehicle, but all five need to be installed before a vehicle can be properly called an SCTV.
BAE Systems also displayed a light tank developed for the Armored Gun System program that was canceled in 1997. The Army's new combat vehicle modernization strategy, revealed for the first time at AUSA, calls for mMobile pProtected fFirepower (MPF) capability and the vehicle, according to BAE, answers the call, BAE said. It combines an expeditionary, C-130 air-droppable, light tank based on technologies from the CV90 family of infantry fighting vehicles and the Bradley, as well as the M8 Armored Gun System.
The Army has put out a request for information for MPF, BAE's director of New & Amphibious Vehicles director, Deepak Bazaz, told Defense News said, and "the first thing the Army is going to do is look at what is available and we are responding to that with what we can do with the M8 vehicle," said BAE's New & Amphibious Vehicles director, Deepak Bazaz.
Byron Callan, a defense analyst at Capital Alpha, wrote in a memo last week that BAE's effort "could be an interesting program to watch in FY17-20. Again, with all Army programs, there will be a question of where the funding will come from, but it could take a competitor several $100s of millions to develop their own vehicle."
General Dynamics Land Systems also highlighted an M-1 tank in an SEP V3 configuration that which included new armor, an auxiliary power unit and line replaceable units for vehicle electronics, Callan noted. And the company showed a "Laser Stryker" capable of countering unmanned aircraft UAVs and counter-rockets, artillery and mortars, he added.
Both a Sikorsky-Boeing team and a Bell Helicopter-Lockheed Martin team showed how they are innovating already existing platforms for the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) technology demonstration program prior to the launch of the Army's Future Vertical Lift program of record. Bell is building a next-generation tiltrotor helicopter using its experience manufacturing the V-22 Osprey for the Marine Corps.
Bell and Lockheed also showed a new cockpit design for its the V280 Valor its the team is building for JMR with one big touch- screen spanning the entire front panel.
Sikorsky brought its flyable S-97 Raider coaxial helicopter which that expands on its X2 technology developed in the early 2000s, which broke a speed record in 2010. The company and Boeing are using the technology in X2 and Raider to build its a JMR demonstrator called Defiant.
Lockheed Martin also revealed at AUSA its ICARUS counter-UASV system at AUSA that uses electronic warfare and cyber capabilities against enemy or hostile drones.
And BAE's also brought its Battleview 360 agile situational awareness system, to the US for the first time that which allows soldiers wearing a helmet-mounted monocle to "see through" their armored vehicle, made its US debut at the show. The company used its advanced jet fighter technology from the Eurofighter Typhoon helmet to develop the system that consists of a monocle and touch-screen display. The monocle has the ability to see a video feed — both visual and infrared — from the vehicle's cameras and relevant symbology.
Avascent's Tinsley added that Investing in innovation based on existing platforms "would limit exposure to, and impacts of, major cancellations," as well Avascent's Tinsley said. "And it encourages industry innovation — it provides multiple entry points and incentives for company-funded R&D and demonstration." he said.
And while innovation was a big theme at AUSA, Capital Alpha's Callan questioned the real meaning of such a buzzword. "'Innovation' may prove to be as over-used and commandeered a word as was 'transformation.'"
Staff writer Andrew Clevenger contributed to this report.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.