HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The Army is looking to increase the amount of system demonstrations to be conducted before committing to major investments, with plans to use that approach in an upcoming air-and-missile defense sensor competition, according to the Army's deputy for acquisition and systems management.
Critics have argued that defense acquisition doesn't move fast enough or keep pace with technology, so the Army, in some instances, is looking for ways to move more swiftly through the process.
"What the Army is looking for is trying to reduce the time in development, and so industry is taking advantage of that with their own dollars," Maj. Gen. Neil Thurgood told Defense News at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium Thursday. "So, rather than have a traditional program that goes so long, we have these 'knowledge points' and so demonstrations are one of these knowledge points. So if they are ready, let's go forward quickly, let's not wait."
The Army is going to use knowledge points like Thurgood described – where decisions are made to accelerate or stay the course -- for the Lower-Tier Air-and-Missile Defense Sensor (LTAMDS) competition expected to kick off in fiscal 2017. The new sensor will be a part of the Army's Integrated Air and Missile Defense system, IAMD.
The deadline for a request for information for the possible competition lapsed on Monday, and both Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have announced they responded to the request with designs and ideas for how the Army should move forward in the acquisition process of a new or upgraded radar.
The first "knowledge point" for the program will be a demonstration of industry radars that could meet the Army's requirement, Thurgood said. "Let's go out to the range, fire it up and use it," he told an audience at the conference.
And if all goes well and there are radars that meet the requirements, the program could potentially skip or dramatically shorten the technology-maturation and risk-reduction phase that would normally last about 18 months. Essentially, the program could go right into the engineering and manufacturing development phase.
"We are hoping that industry comes with a sensor," Thurgood said, "that they've listened to the Army's message, they know the long-term plan and they put their investment dollars -- if they believe they can be successful -- into that sensor development so that we don't have to start at ground zero with a blank piece of paper and build it, which is traditionally what we do."
Of course, "There will be some winners and some losers associated with that," Thurgood said. "Some companies will have invested and be ready because they were paying attention and some companies won't. We want it to be competitive in the market . . . so companies that took some risk in their corporate minds and built ahead of that, it will hopefully pay off for them."
What the Army won't do is slow down, Thurgood said. "We are going to make a competitive choice and go based on what we know."
It's always possible the demonstration would yield no technology fully ready to advance to the next level without a technology-maturation process, "so you have to keep marching through the more traditional model," Thurgood acknowledged.
Both Raytheon and Lockheed Martin have invested a significant amount of internal dollars toward ensuring they have a capable radar that meets predicted requirements going into a possible sensor competition, and both vendors have indicated for several years they would be ready should the Army come knocking.
Raytheon unveiled in March at the Association of the US Army's Global Force Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama, its newest Patriot Gallium Nitride (GaN) Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. The radar on display was an actual functioning radar that is currently undergoing technology risk-reduction testing, the company said.
And Lockheed Martin officials speaking at a media briefing at the start of the symposium on Monday expressed confidence that the timeline to field a radar could be much shorter than history has previously dictated.
For the Army's radar replacement, "We think we can deliver the radar pretty darn quick once we understand the requirements and go through the competition. It won't take the war-fighter seven years to get to it," Brad Hicks, company vice president for Mission Systems and Training at Lockheed Martin said.
Thurgood also noted that the Army is planning to conduct demonstrations as part of its acquisition strategy for the Long-Range Precision Fires program. "If you have a whole-up round, bring it, we are going to shoot it. If you have a warhead, bring it. Whatever piece you think you have . . . bring it," he said.
The two-star warned that not every program will see an acceleration. "We are not going to do that uninformed. We are not going to take uninformed risk because some piece of paper says we are ready. We are going to 'fly before you buy,'" he said. "That is where the Army is moving."
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.