Army Rapid Capabilities Office embraces new projects, says farewell to its current director
By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest, Army Rapid Capabilities Office
Washington, D.C. (November 8, 2018) -- Even the cold, wet weather in Hohenfels, Germany couldn't dampen the enthusiasm of the Soldiers of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment. After all, they were demonstrating the Army's first electronic warfare prototypes for brigade and below to the Army Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO), which played a major role in delivering the new equipment.
The Soldiers and the RCO knew the equipment wasn't perfect. It wasn't meant to be. Yet, there they were. In less than one year after the initial concept, Soldiers were using the new prototypes, adapting their tactics to meet their mission and providing valuable feedback.
"What I found most interesting was that the Soldiers were able to take the system and leverage it for whatever their particular mission set was," said Tanya Skeen, the director of the RCO. "The dismounted system, for example, was rather heavy and we knew that. So they put it on an all-terrain vehicle, allowing them to offload the weight of the capability but also harness the electronic warfare effects."
It's that kind of feedback that the RCO thrives on. Instead of waiting to field a 100 percent solution to the entire Army, the RCO runs with the idea of sending out prototypes to select units, then incrementally phases in new technology based on Soldier feedback. It enables the Army to move faster than traditional acquisition has in the past, while providing new effects to meet immediate threats until the enduring capability can be fielded.
"It was great to see the equipment and see how they were implementing it in rigorous environments, but to also see how they were able to adapt - not so much the equipment but their tactics - to get a richer capability than they had originally," Skeen said. "It was incredibly insightful. Their feedback was honest and frank, 'here's what we would like to have and here's how to make it better.' We can take that and incorporate it into the next phases of the electronic warfare prototypes."
Now, as the small organization turns the corner on its third year it is saying goodbye to Skeen, who is leaving to serve as executive director of the Joint Program Office F-35 program. Although only at the helm of the organization for a short seven months, the momentum she started set a new course for the RCO.
"The RCO is really about delivering capabilities faster and better than anyone else," said Skeen, who came to the Army as a 10-year veteran of the Air Force RCO, on which the newer Army version was modeled. "Now, the organization is just going to keep going with the trajectory it is on and with the backing of the most senior of Army leadership."
Launched in August 2016 to take on the Army's most pressing capability gaps, the RCO initially focused on electronic warfare, cyber, and positioning, navigation and timing. Since taking the helm of the RCO last April, Skeen immediately aligned the organization's project teams with the Army's top six priorities, built its capacity to execute larger and more complex programs, and acquired several new projects. She initiated an update to the 2-year-old charter and demonstrated the opportunities that rapid acquisition presents for the Army Futures Command, and for an Army that is embracing a rebuild set on modernization.
Projects currently assigned to the RCO span almost 20, including Counter-UAS, Long Range Cannon and artificial intelligence for electronic warfare. Most recently, the Under Secretary of the Army directed the organization to take on aspects of hypersonics, space and directed energy.
As the mission grows, the RCO continues to partner with other agencies and Army organizations to make significant strides, just as it did with Project Manger Electronic Warfare & Cyber on the EW prototypes. This fall, the RCO delivered on its promise to double the range of towed cannon artillery. In doing so, it partnered with the Joint Program Office Project Manager Towed Artillery Systems to fire a modified M777 howitzer 60 kilometers, bringing the service one step closer to delivering the Long Range Cannon capability. In creating the prototype, the Army is combining an M777 Extended Range howitzer, a projectile tracking system radar, a surveying device and a variety of advanced projectiles. The demo also showed what a new "supercharge" element could do to achieve double the range of current unguided High Explosive projectiles. Moving forward this will harness that capability for different platforms and long range strategic affects for the Army.
Next up, the RCO is working to field new prototypes that will be demonstrated at the National Training Center in early 2019 and will add another cyber effect to the C-UAS arsenal. Then in the spring, the RCO will help support multi-domain operations when it partners with the Air Force RCO to execute a sensor-to-shooter demonstration. The demonstration will prototype an open architecture, machine-to-machine capability to integrate targeting solutions generated from Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms into Army long-range precision fires to dramatically shorten the kill chain.
With uniquely chartered acquisition authorities, the RCO will continue to deliver rapid prototyping by partnering with the Army Futures Command, the Cross Functional Teams and Program Executive Offices.
"You use an RCO to attack big problems where you are trying to take strategic risk to do things differently," Skeen said. "It's for major transformational capabilities that are done in just a different way. Very streamlined, reduced processes, reduced documentation, those kinds of things that enable us to be very agile. And when you do less documentation, when you have less oversight, when you have less process, that's a business risk in some respects, but it does allow us to deliver capabilities faster."
The Army is committed to filling Skeen's job as soon as possible. In the interim, Col. John Eggert will serve as acting director of the Army RCO.