The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) was stood up in the midst of war to bring the Army’s existing research labs and centers together and create an organic research and development capability across multiple domains.
As the ongoing war in Southwest Asia poured new requirements into the technology community and Army transformation and modernization underwent major restructuring, RDECOM also evolved. The most significant change was from each component focusing on a single system, platform, or technology to all working collaboratively to provide a horizontal view across command expertise to address the needs of a new capabilities-driven Army.
Brig. Gen. Harry Greene, RDECOM’s deputy commanding general and senior commander of the Soldier Systems Center, spoke with Faircount Media Group senior writer J.R. Wilson about how the command is continuing to evolve and positioning itself to support the Army’s new Brigade Combat Team (BCT) modernization plan.
J.R. Wilson: What is the status of BCT modernization, from the RDECOM perspective?
Brig. Gen. Harry Greene: RDECOM is supporting the BCT modernization effort by providing system of systems engineering support and bringing technologies into the force through that process. We are leveraging the work we’re doing for program managers and urgent needs in theater and in science and technology [S&T] development and developing Capability Packages and Capability Sets to rapidly insert technology into our force using the ARFORGEN [Army Force Generation] cycle.
What are those and how do they relate to each other and to RDECOM?
Capability Packages and Capability Sets are how the Army is changing from a structure with different readiness levels among units of the same type to one where we have rotational readiness as units move through a three-phase ARFORGEN process. RDECOM is trying to manage change while they are doing that by providing a set of networks and battle command systems – the Capability Sets – and upgrades that reflect both changes in technology and needs on the battlefield – Capability Packages.
That is very different from the past, where the Army managed change on an individual system basis. By now basing that on the ARFORGEN cycle and defining Capability Packages and Capability Sets on a two-year cycle, we can be more responsive. We’re not trying to modernize the entire Army at one time, but incrementally add capabilities as units come through that window.
How does that apply to the National Guard and Reserves?
The Guard and Reserves go through a similar three-phase model. The difference is, rather than go through it every three or four years, as the active Army is trying, they will be on a five- or six-year cycle. So they won’t go around the readiness wheel as fast, but will go through exactly the same process.
What’s built into the ARFORGEN model is a sustained capability to support the Army at any time the Army decides to generate about 20 Brigade Combat Teams with combat power, all similarly equipped, from across the active, Guard, and Reserve force. A Guard or Reserve unit that was not in the available pool might not have the most modern equipment, but as they move to deployment, they would be brought up to the same level. That means while they might not be on as tight a spin, when they get to the end of the cycle and deploy, they have the same capability as anybody else.
We’re not doing readiness by component – active, Guard, or Reserve – but where a unit is in the ARFORGEN model. It is truly cyclic readiness rather than tiered readiness, where an active unit normally might have different capability than a Guard or Reserve unit. But any unit coming through that process will get the defined set of kit, regardless of who they are.
From an RDECOM perspective, how would you define the concept of a “capabilities-based Army” – and how supporting that will change the way programs and acquisitions are handled in the future?
It involves looking horizontally across the many parts of the command and bringing them together. Where once we focused on capabilities derived from individual systems, now we take a much broader view, looking at all the possible solutions to gaining that capability and recommending the best solution to senior leadership. That has truly changed how we do business, from a focus on functional systems – aircraft, tanks, communications – to a focus on how to put a particular capability into a unit with an integrated solution.
RDECOM also is moving to a structure based on Technology Focus Teams (TFTs) and System Integration Domains (SIDs). What does that mean for the command and the Army?
TFTs focus on particular areas of technology. The idea is to have an expert who can serve as an honest broker in that technology area, identifying the state-of-the-art and how to use it across all applications. The SIDs are focused on how to integrate technologies recommended by the TFTs onto systems or programs to provide capabilities into the Army down the road. And both are task-organized, not just from one part of RDECOM, but across the command.
For the Army, that means we will be able to support the networked, interdependent force we are developing. Today, every system is in the network and all systems are interdependent. It is a completely different Army than what we had in the past.
Following up on the command’s work with Task Force 120 last year, what role will RDECOM play in future modifications to the overall BCT modernization effort? [Editor’s Note: Task Force 120 was created by the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) after Future Combat Systems cancellation to examine the future of Army modernization.]
For BCT modernization: system of systems engineering, technology honest broker functions and synchronization. For specific projects, we have organized the command to provide support from across RDECOM.
The challenge for the Army of the future is where, at one time, the point of integration was on a platform – tank, helicopter, infantry fighting vehicle – now the point of integration is the organizational structure and network. So we are finding interdependencies amongst our community and no product can come from just one. As a result, we have task-forced the command to provide a horizontally integrated solution where a combat platform relies on technologies derived from a lot of communities.
Looking specifically at the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV), what is considered more important to the GCV design, in terms of priority:
a. The ability to carry an entire squad
b. Fully protective armor
d. Delivery date
Those are really trade-offs that need to be made by the senior leadership, which is not our role. But we want all those things – full squad, blunt armor against any threat, lowest weight to support traffic mobility, fielding as soon as possible, cheap and scalable. Unfortunately, you can’t really do that.
What absolutely is our role is to identify the state-of-the-art today and the trades amongst these things. And where we can’t get to everything we want, take our core scientific programs developing future technologies and go find solutions so eventually we can get to all the Army’s goals for the GCV. That means making trade-offs today by defining the art of the possible, then developing technologies for the future so we can move closer to that end state. RDECOM is not setting the priorities, but enabling decision-makers to make decisions based on cogent technologies from an engineering perspective.
With the release of the new Request For Proposal, will GCV be able to get back on track and on schedule?
The Army is now focusing on the trades involved, as noted above, with an RFP that is executable and postured for success. RDECOM will help frame the forces available.
Looking back at the Future Combat System and initial concerns about GCV, is the “design for change” concept working – and how do you see it being applied as GCV and BCT modernization move forward?
We’re working on support decisions for the Army Materiel Enterprise across the entire ground combat fleet – not just GCV, but also the existing tank, infantry carrier fleet, Stryker fleet, and wheeled vehicle fleet. The Army has a number of decisions to make on whether to upgrade existing systems, what we pursue on the GCV and how fast. Our job is to provide the technology expertise, focusing on those capabilities with applicability across multiple platforms, taking an enterprise approach so we can provide cogent advice on the use of these technologies, whether to improve existing systems or the GCV or both.
Improved armor and protection systems, for example, clearly are applicable to the GCV, but also to the existing fleet. The Army will decide on which systems to add what capabilities; RDECOM will play an integral part in defining and delivering those capabilities.
How important are modeling and simulation to RDECOM’s role – past, present, and future – in BCT modernization and other Army programs and operations?
If you go back a ways, we’ve always done some kind of modeling and simulation, but that might be as simple as calculations done by an engineer in the design process. Over time, we built individual system models. Now we are integrating those models so we can look at the impact of capability changes, not just on a single system, but on a force structure and adjacent systems.
In the future, we will get higher resolution and, more importantly perhaps, fast turn times on our ability to model and simulate capabilities and systems. And that’s really important, because we are developing ever more interdependent systems with more capability, but [they are] also more expensive. So before we make those investments, we want to know as much as we can about the capabilities they bring, what costs are involved, and what the risks are. Modeling and simulation are an ever-growing factor in allowing us to do that.
How is RDECOM’s relationship with ASAALT (Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology) and TRADOC evolving?
We’re developing new relationships that support the new reality. We are maturing as a command, having been first stood up provisionally about eight years ago and formalized six years ago. So we are a relatively young command and now going through a period of rapidly maturing our processes and building new relationships in the ASAALT world. Where once we were tied closely to the S&T portfolio managers, now we are reaching out to the systems team and others in ASAALT.
The same is true with TRADOC, which also is maturing its processes with the Capabilities Integration Center, Centers of Excellence [CoEs], and the Future Force Integration Directorate. We have organized ourselves to support all of those, working well with the TRADOC CoEs and our focus teams aligning well with the Capabilities Integration Center.
So we have matured and kept in step with our major supports, which includes the PEOs [Program Executive Offices] under ASAALT. We have given them an entry point, but use the TFTs to keep ourselves honest across the board and not become focused on single functional areas. We do have to moderate the enthusiasm of our folks; we want them to be excited about the systems on which they are working, but in context with the larger system of systems.
That’s why we have people identified to serve multiple roles. We want folks working to make a particular system a success, but also to understand the context of doing that. We also want to provide an ability in the command to have other folks who can step back and take an objective, horizontal look across RDECOM and make hard recommendations to the Army leadership.
How is that going to benefit the Army as a whole and the individual warfighter in particular?
The first thing it does is allow us to leverage the capability of the entire command to support the individual warfighter, looking horizontally to employ the full power of the command to resolve their capability needs. Where in the past, we might have tried to bend the problem so one center could try to solve it alone, now we allow all our centers and the Army Research Lab to work on problems, along with our international partners. By getting all those broad views together, we can find better, faster, cheaper solutions which support both the warfighter at the pointy end of the spear as well as the Army as a whole.
We really have two customers in this command and the acquisitions world. One is the young soldier, sailor, airman, Marine; the other is the taxpayer, who is providing for the common defense. We owe it to both to take the broader view and leverage the entire talent of the command. Which means we have to keep away from the “not invented here” syndrome.
In what ways is system of systems engineering shaping the future of how RDECOM labs and centers interact with each other, with PMs and PEOs and with other Army commands?
It is requiring us to work much more closely than before, both amongst our labs and centers and with the PMs and PEOs. We really do have an interdependent Army today that networks the force structure. So to develop systems for it, you have to work in the construct of system of systems, where no system stands alone and there will be trade-offs amongst systems. We have to be able to frame those choices, not in terms of individual systems, as in times past, with a bottom-up approach, but using a top-down approach.
That’s why we set up the TFTs and SIDs, to provide the horizontal integration to support the needs of the PMs, PEOs, and Army. We’re unique in the Army acquisitions world, perhaps the only folks with a foot in every area – supporting logisticians, capability-based maintenance, all manner of PEOs and PMs. And to accomplish that, we bring together teams that look across all functional systems as they build that system of systems.
What remains to be done at RDECOM to support the move toward a networked, capabilities-based Army?
We need to continue to mature our processes. We’re a relatively young command, doing that while supporting an Army at war, supporting a lot of urgent needs. Now we are at a tipping point, where resourcing is becoming tighter; we have to make the best use of the dollars we’re given and need to better integrate urgent needs that have been fielded in recent years to make them enduring.
Even more than the processes, we are changing the culture to cause people to think about the system of systems, with a broader impact perspective. An engineer working on a system in the past would have been solely focused on that system; any interaction with other systems would have been secondary. Now that has to be moved up to at least parity, looking at the system of systems capabilities being brought to bear on the battlefield.
We have a lot of needs and we can’t get everything we want right away. To make the needed recommendations, our culture must embrace the idea of collaboration to provide the Army with the best information we can. And that is why we have changed from a particular focus on one system to a focus on capabilities and understanding there may be multiple ways to achieve that.
In what ways are these changes impacting – if only by example – RDE in other Army major commands, your sister services, joint commands, allies, and even other government agencies?
I think the world has watched what we’ve done the past few years as a result of OEF [Operation Enduring Freedom] and OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom] and how we’ve rapidly inserted technology, seeing that as a model for how to modernize forces in the future. RDECOM has a robust international engagement program and a number of countries have sent representatives here to see how we are managing this process so they might utilize it in their own processes.
We also now work more collaboratively with all of those other players. For example, there is a tremendous amount of interest in blast and ballistic protection for soldiers on the battlefield, both in vehicles and dismounted. So we have put together a working group, reaching out to the medical and geospatial communities, the Marines, Navy, and Air Force, the test and modeling and simulation communities, industry, and academia, bringing together the best expertise to find the best solutions available now to provide blast and ballistic protection to everyone, then develop better ones for the future.
Meanwhile, we’re trying to mature what we’ve learned, from core S&T and matrix support to major programs of record to institutionalizing urgent needs responses from Iraq and Afghanistan. I think we’ve done well in how we rapidly insert technology to meet warfighter needs as close to “right now” as possible, which has brought us closer to the warfighter.
During the past decade of combat, we’ve deployed S&T advisors forward, from colonels in Iraq and Afghanistan to five teams living and working with warfighters in both theaters, who feed information back to the command. That allows a much tighter cycle time between the warfighter identifying a need and something getting there for them to try out.
One lesson learned in the past nine years is to listen to the warfighter, let them tell you where you got things right and wrong, then feed solutions back to them in a very tight cycle. And we’ve done that, which is a huge change from how we used to do business. Now we are taking what has worked and nominating those to go into future Capability Packages and Capability Sets, so they go from an urgent need to something institutionalized in the Army.
That is very different from the processes we would have used 10 years ago and, frankly, has made us much smarter and more capable as a command, getting closer to the warfighter, getting into his head. Now we are looking at how we can develop and support other contingency plans so we can keep this going in any future contingency.
This article was first published in Defense: Land Forces Fall 2010 Edition.