WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is turning to small business innovators to figure out a way to increase the rate of fire of self-propelled howitzers, according to an Aug. 25 service statement.

The effort is through an Army Small Business Innovation Research pilot that brings government and industry best practices to help drive innovative solutions, according to the release.

“This rate of fire aspect is more than just putting rounds in the back of the howitzers,” Brig. Gen. John Rafferty, who is in charge of the Army’s Long Range Precision Fires modernization efforts, said in the statement. “It’s also about asking, ‘where do we spend all of our time?’ We spend a lot of our time handling unpacking, unloading and downloading ammunition. If we can do that more efficiently we will become a more combat effective unit,” he said.

The program breaks down “long-standing barriers small businesses have face in working with the Army: transparency, access and capital,” the statement added.

The goal is to put small businesses on contract within a month of the close of the submission period, according to the statement.

Companies could receive up to $200,000 during the first phase of the effort, which is expected to last four months “with considerable increases for Phase II and beyond,” the statement read.

And these companies involved “also have the option to participate in a cohort program that grants them unparalleled access to the soldiers who will use their technologies and to Army problem owners,” the statement explained. “By working with these stakeholder groups, innovators can have confidence that the solution they design effectively matches Army needs.”

Earlier this year the Army’s Field Artillery Autonomous Resupply cohort run by the Army Applications Lab marked the first time the service gave companies a chance to “explore the problem and immerse themselves into the problem,” Rafferty said. “It has proven to be an effective process.”

The FAAR participants received $150,000 to complete a 12-week program ending in a pitch to the Army. The Army picked six companies to work on ways to improve the currently cumbersome, taxing and sometimes risky munitions resupply system for field artillery units operating M109 Paladin howitzers.

The Army is also working on an autoloader for the service’s future Extended-Range Cannon Artillery program and plans to field it by 2024. The service toyed with the idea of tapping non-traditional business to come up with a new autoloader but decided instead to go with a government-developed technology demonstrator, which has undergone testing at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona.

The Army shifted the cohort’s focus to improve the entire system that resupplies munitions to the guns.

Efforts included contributions to an entire resupply system from ordering, to a tracking system, to a transport method and even how ammunition is packaged in order to make resupply faster and more efficient.

The cohort was expected to wrap up capability presentations in April.

The Army is accepting applications for the effort it is calling “Fire Faster” between Sept. 18 and Oct. 6.

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.

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