Award-winning rapid electronic warfare capability ready for Phase 2
By Jacqueline M. Hames
ARLINGTON, Va. (April 9, 2019) -- Phase 2 electronic warfare prototype systems from the Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) and Project Manager (PM) Electronic Warfare & Cyber team will begin fielding this summer.
The team's innovative approach to acquisition won them the 2018 David Packard Excellence in Acquisition Award--and, more importantly, it gave Soldiers an integrated package of mounted, dismounted and command and control electronic warfare systems, from idea conception to usable equipment, in under a year. And that was just Phase 1.
"The team is extremely proud to be a part of delivering rapid capabilities that had not existed until now--capabilities that pace threats and directly impact Soldiers' lives," said Col. Kevin Finch, project manager, Electronic Warfare & Cyber.
A 2016 Operational Needs Statement from U.S. Army Europe described a need for critical capabilities in the Army: electronic warfare tools that would help Soldiers maneuver freely, even as adversaries bombarded their systems with electronic attacks. The RCCTO and PM Electronic Warfare & Cyber Team were tasked with delivering this electronic warfare solution. In partnership with the 2nd Calvary Regiment (2CR) and the 173rd Airborne Brigade, both units permanently stationed in Europe, they executed a rapid phased prototyping, experimentation and fielding approach that drove system design, performance, functionality and training to meet the operational needs of Soldiers now and in the future. The team fielded these new electronic warfare prototype systems to Soldiers in Germany in January and February 2018 as the culmination of Phase 1.
The rapid prototyping approach is built on the foundation of using feedback from users to provide enhanced mounted, dismounted and mission command electronic warfare capabilities to address operational needs, said Brandon Little-Darku, RCCTO project lead and systems engineer. It isn't dependent on the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System process to develop requirements the way traditional acquisition methods are, and it is more risk tolerant. The approach also includes integrating innovative technologies with the prototypes that have already been deployed, he added, and it incorporated Soldier feedback throughout the developmental process, delivered new equipment as it became available and provided incremental upgrades as needed.
"Scientists and engineers in our research and development centers helped perform lab- and field-based risk reduction efforts, and we brought several organizations together to the table to expedite the traditional acquisition process," said Finch, "including the electronic warfare officers, Army headquarters staff, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, and the Research, Development and Engineering Command."
Phase 1 equipment supports tactical operations at the brigade level and informs future Army programs of record, said Finch. "Soldiers have utilized the equipment at multiple exercises over the last year and their concepts of employment, manpower analysis, and materiel feedback are informing the EW [electronic warfare] community and are leading an EW 'Campaign of Learning,'" he continued. As the requirements community gains knowledge, current programs of record will be more adept at satisfying operational needs and ultimately provide overmatch in the electromagnetic domain, he said. Getting systems out in the field so early in the process helped the Army refine its doctrine, organization and training procedure for implementing these new systems in new ways, Finch continued.
Phase 1 showed the public, and the Army, that the acquisition process can be fast and adaptable. But what will Phase 2 bring?
The second phase will build on the success of the first, continuing to provide tailored solutions for the needs of units in U.S. Army Europe, Little-Darku said. "As with Phase 1, the rapid prototypes allow the program office and centers of excellence to learn from the development, testing and operational employment of the various capabilities in order to inform the program of record requirements as well as the respective acquisition strategies," he said.
"Communication and feedback from Phase 1 efforts have contributed to the development and next iteration of EW capabilities. The team continues to use prototyping and experimentation to develop Phase 2, which will provide greater capability for airborne EW, density for ground EW, and improved direction finding," Finch said.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning havebeen incorporated into Phase 2 to help users analyze the large quantities of data gathered by their sensors; it will also help mitigate the cognitive burden on the Soldier and increase timeliness for reporting signals of interest, Little-Darku said.
Also as part of Phase 2, the RCCTO sponsored the Rapid Equipping Force's Desert Horizon event in March 2018, which assessed multiple mounted sensors, Little-Darku said. The event, a "burn-off" demonstration at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, helped "inform the development of the Phase 2 mounted capability and provided market research for any potential future phases, as well as the program of record," he said.
The challenge in Phase 2 is "balancing the development and testing of the various systems with ensuring that their deployment to the user isn't delayed due to the typical deliberate process" of traditional acquisition programs, he said.
Starting in the summer of 2019, Phase 2 systems will be delivered to Soldiers with the 2CR and 173rd Airborne, and will include improved performance, simplified interfaces, extended ranges, and enhanced tactical mobility and survivability features, Finch said. The Joint Warfighting Assessment in the early summer and other events in 2019 will benefit the team and continue to assess experimental capabilities and shape future solutions, he added.
The rapid prototyping approach closed a strategic gap against a rapidly modernizing adversary until permanent programs of record are ready for fielding, Finch said. "These accomplishments provide an important deterrent to meet a combatant commander need and serve as a model for other Army rapid acquisition efforts," he said.