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RDECOM Director Dale Ormond Eyes Art of the Possible

RDECOM Director Dale Ormond speaks at the Detroit Arsenal during the Assumption of Leadership Ceremony for newly installed TARDEC Director Dr. Paul Rogers. RDECOM Director Dale Ormond speaks at the Detroit Arsenal during the Assumption of Leadership Ceremony for newly installed TARDEC Director Dr. Paul Rogers on Aug. 13, 2012. Ormond also spoke the following day at the 2012 GVSETS in Troy, MI. (U.S. Army TARDEC photos.)

The U.S. Army established the Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) to coordinate its science and technology (S&T) activities just eight years ago, but Director Dale Ormond recently declared that the organization already faces its first crossroads.

“We have made progress in last eight years while the country’s been at war, and the Command’s developed the ability to generate a great deal of quick turnaround support for our warfighters, but there is more to do,” stated Ormond in his speech at the Ground Vehicle Systems Engineering and Technology Symposium (GVSETS) in Troy, MI, held Aug. 14-16, 2012. “There is more to achieve in our ability to deliver decisive technologies and capabilities in the coming era to smaller armies and with lower budgets. This is the challenge we face today.”

As global conditions evolve, RDECOM must coordinate its research and development efforts to create fully integrated products that enable the Army to remain dominant in future conflicts. “This will force more, not less, innovation if we are to be successful.” Ormond stated. “RDECOM is well positioned to be an excellent partner in this area.”

As a subordinate command under Army Materiel Command (AMC), RDECOM manages seven different R&D centers and laboratories employing 16,000 people and, in partnership with industry, spans the technical spectrum from ground vehicles, to ground systems equipment, to communication and electronics technology, to Soldier gear, to armaments, missiles, and chemical and biological elements. Ormond delivered his comments to an influential group of government, industry and academic leaders who comprise the military technology, research and manufacturing enterprise.

“I think this group is quite familiar with the expression, ‘if it shoots, moves or communicates.’ Now and in the future, RDECOM is focused on the research, development and engineering that makes it a reality. And affordability keeps us on leading edge,” he told them.

“Our vision centers on the phrase ‘knowing the state-of-the-art and the art of the possible.’ That sums up what we bring to Army— we are at the leading edge of the materiel process, making scientific discoveries and innovations that define state of the art. We then turn innovative ideas into technologies that we can put into hands of Soldiers. We move these technologies into development and then the product phase and continue on through the acquisition process.”

RDECOM also embeds S&T advisors in combat zones where they hear direct feedback from Soldiers and Marines on how to improve their ground vehicles, equipment and firepower.

“We bring those [battlefield] lessons learned back into the laboratories to make things better,” Ormond explained. “No other organization can bring together the expertise of those who make the scientific discoveries with those who build the capability from it and those who support it through its life cycle, including scientists and engineers.”

Shifting Strategies

To foster innovation, and keep the results affordable, further collaboration with private industry and academic experts will be imperative.

“Partnership will become more important going forward, not just because it brings new perspectives and capabilities to bear on technical problems but because our Army is shrinking while our enemies continue to challenge our nation and our allies all around the world,” Ormond observed. “Beyond the partnership and collaboration, we will need to rely on our allies to work with us.

“The nonlinear battlefield, in which a whole country is a war zone, has erased any distinctions between vehicles built to protect the infantry and those built to move supplies. Combined with an all-out emphasis on force protection, this is a challenge that calls for nothing less than a complete rethinking of how we build vehicles.”

The Army’s vehicle designers have already adopted a new design palette, referred to as the occupant-centric platform. Rather than developing vehicles and putting Soldiers in them, they focus on the Soldier first and design vehicles around them.

“We’re using 2010 and ’11 field data on mobility injuries and other factors as a baseline,” Ormond explained. “Between this fiscal year and 2015, the Army expects to invest more than $180 million on the effort to design and formulate a science and technology program to improve existing platforms or develop new platforms that increase protection from current and emerging threats, optimize space for Soldiers and gear, decrease platform weight, maintain maneuverability and design for all operations.”

To accomplish this goal, Ormond has directed RDECOM’s centers and labs to work in conjunction with each other. He described the comprehensive collection of abilities available in RDECOM’s agencies.

“In order to build something to put our Soldiers in, one must consider what the Soldier wears and carries, how to protect Soldiers inside the vehicle and how to detect and respond to threats outside the vehicle,” he explained. “So the overall design makes us immediately think of the tank automotive center [TARDEC]. The focus on the Soldier means collaborating with our Soldier center [NSRDEC]. Materials means our research laboratory [ARL], sensing and defending against threats means our communications and electronics center [CERDEC] and our chemical-biological center [Edgewood]. For an armed vehicle — now we’re in the armaments center [ARDEC]. Arm the vehicle with missiles, and now you’re in the domain of our aviation missiles center [AMRDEC]. This breakdown just scratches the surface of what our centers across RDECOM can contribute to a wide-ranging project.”

Fueling Solutions

In addition to designing vehicles with full integration of capabilities around the Soldier and crew, RDECOM must apply its expertise to boosting fuel efficiency.

RDECOM’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) made important strides in this arena with the Fuel Efficient ground vehicle Demonstrator (FED) program — funded by the Office of the Secretary of Defense at the urging of the Pentagon’s Energy Security Task Force. The FED teams took advantage of dual-use technologies to reduce fuel consumption and increase energy efficiency in light tactical vehicles, developing FED Alpha and FED Bravo demonstrator models capable of performing the same operational mission as a HMMWV but with up to 90 percent better fuel efficiency. They also trained the next generation of engineers in fuel efficiency processes and tools.

“The FED program has leveraged TARDEC’s internal modeling and simulation experts to quickly and inexpensively understand the [vehicle’s] capabilities and predict performance,” Ormond commented. “This [collaborative] relationship also allowed us to transition successful fuel-efficient technologies to vehicles across the Department of Defense.”

Ormond acknowledged that energy advances aren’t simply cost-effective — they benefit Soldiers assigned to guard fuel resupply convoys when they “could and should be doing other things.”

“In today’s non-linear battlefield, supply lines mean convoys that are vulnerable to ambushes and IEDs, and once those Soldiers are stopped, they’re vulnerable to the same threats that dismounted infantry has traditionally faced,” Ormond stated. “Every gallon of fuel saved is an important one for an Army that deploys tens of thousands of vehicles in every kind of location from hostile urban centers to isolated mountain passes. It means fewer vulnerabilities and a greater strategic and tactical freedom.”

This supply line risk is compounded by the accessibility of modern technology. During the course of recent operations, enemies have acquired new capabilities, such as night vision devices and precision-guided munitions.

“Technology is becoming increasingly ubiquitous,” Ormond observed. “It enables our enemies to adjust faster than ever before. We have to design vehicles that can operate inside this constant cycle of move and counter-move. Our adversaries, who cannot compete head-to-head with our military, specialize in adapting to our innovations. Commercialization of technology such as global positioning systems, mobile communication networks and the Internet lend individuals capabilities that few governments could boast of just a few decades ago.”

Mastering the skills for rapid adaptability means RDECOM scientists and engineers must also explore new initiatives. They must not lose their ability to innovate and try new concepts that could lead to the next battlefield breakthrough, Ormond noted.

“Henry Ford famously made this clear when he said, ‘If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.’” Ormond used the example of drones — unmanned aerial vehicles — which Army scientists began studying back in the 1980s.

“Military leaders at the time didn’t show a lot interest in what was then a laboratory experiment. But our researchers kept at it. The experiment became a prototype that become a fielded capability and now is one of our country’s premier intelligence collection and power-projection platforms. Drones now play a key role in everything from reconnaissance on the battlefield, to execution of the fight itself and, finally, to battle damage assessment.”

Even though RDECOM now faces the significant challenge of delivering smart technology and capabilities to a smaller Army with a smaller budget, it has the resources and versatility to find solutions.

“Collaboration will bring the contribution of our partners together and integrate our efforts into a single coherent pool that is greater than sum of its parts,” Ormond concluded. “We must find ways to collaborate at every opportunity. I believe at RDECOM we are moving in the direction of greater collaboration and a united effort. This is how we will achieve success now and in the future.”