WASHINGTON — Army Test and Evaluation Command is looking to cut live-fire tests by one-third by 2030 to save money, increase efficiency and accelerate development schedules, according to James Amato, ATEC’s executive technical director.
“There’s some fundamental changes that we’ve grown to appreciate in terms of how we need to do test and evaluation under the umbrella of this multi-domain operations [concept],” Amato told an audience during a recent conference in Arlington, Virginia, focused on Active Protection Systems for vehicles.
He said an increasingly dynamic battlefield means the U.S. military has a shorter window to decide how to react to attacks.
“So how do you go about conducting a realistic, adequate operational test in a multidomain environment?” he asked. “It is a real challenge for us to be able to simultaneously simulate kinetic effects coming in on the Blue Force [Tracker] in a jammed environment, in a contested environment [with] electronic warfare while we’re generating a cyber attack.”
Blue Force Tracker is a GPS capability that shows information about friendly and hostile military forces location and activity.
Additionally, as the Army looks to test longer range systems — like long-range precision fires — actual test ranges in the U.S. are limited. Access to larger ranges drives up the testing cost.
More testing must move to the digital world, Amato said. “We’re going to have to figure out how to do this with digital twinning, model-based systems engineering, [modeling and simulation]. You pick the digitized word that you want to use, but we’ve got to figure it out,” he said.
Amato said he has challenged ATEC to reduce the live-fire testing of full-up systems — not components — by one-third by 2030 and two-thirds by 2035. “Now that’s a stretch goal,” he said. “I don’t have any illusions that I’m actually going to make that, but that’s what we put out.”
ATEC is already using more modeling and simulation capability to augment live-fire testing, an Army spokesperson told Defense News in a July 6 statement. Testing of a completed design tends to be the most expensive part of the test and evaluation process.
“The quantity and quality of the live-fire shots (data) drives the confidence in the model output,” the spokesperson added.
To reduce live-fire testing at that phase, the Army may turn more to earlier live-fire testing to support system design and development and to improve modeling and simulation fidelity, the spokesperson said. That testing is much less expensive than a full-up system-level live-fire test.
Cost savings generated by reducing later live-fire testing depend on the weapons system in development and testing, the spokesperson said, and it is too soon to calculate potential savings.
While modeling and simulation cannot completely replace live-fire testing, it can reduce the need for it, the spokesperson said. “A prime example of that is improvements in software and hardware in the loop technology and controlled damage experimentation,” the spokesperson said.
Reducing live-fire testing, Amato stressed at the conference last month, also doesn’t mean ATEC is going to go away. “That just means we’re going to do a lot more with our partners, a lot more in the digital world and a lot more learning in the digital space before we do things live.”
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.