Magazine article National Defense

Defense Contractor Partnerships Could Spur Innovation

Magazine article National Defense

Defense Contractor Partnerships Could Spur Innovation

Article excerpt

With Army and Marine Corps officials seeking commercial technology to spin into vehicle programs, a top defense contractor is seizing the opportunity.

One major combat vehicle manufacturer, General Dynamics Land Systems, has opened a new 15,000-square foot facility in Michigan intended to foster the rapid development of innovative technology for military customers.

The "maneuver collaboration center" houses several labs where potential partners can test and evaluate their solutions in models and simulations to see how well the components might integrate onto existing or concept vehicles. Once the technology is ready for prime time, it is presented to military officials.

"There's no obligation on anyone's part/' said Joanne Cavanaugh. the center's director. "This is far left of any [request for proposal]. But it's an opportunity to illustrate to the defense leadership that we're serious about trying to find the technology that will eliminate their need to do a lot of design and development effort."

To ensure that the technology pursuits will satisfy actual requirements, the MC2, pronounced M-C squared, works with Army and Marine Corps officials and current military vehicle users to identify technology gaps. The center lists those needs on a website and member organizations that wish to pitch their solutions simply send in their proposals. The center so far has attracted more than 2,400 members, including more than 920 suppliers. Paticipants range from small businesses and General Dynamics sister organizations to other large prime contractors.

Once a proposal has been submitted, an MC2 team reviews it within 48 hours. If the idea does not pass muster, the submitting party is notified. But if it has potential, officials invite the proposer to begin collaborating. Within seven days, an initial meeting between the supplier and MC2 engineers takes place to add more technical depth to the solution.

"I'm really not interested in doing a lot of science projects here," said Cavanaugh. "I really want to do things that have value."

After that first meeting, the supplier within 30 days will commence working on the project and modeling and integrating the technology in the various laboratories. The facilities include a war fighter integration lab, where pitched concepts arc virtually incorporated into a vehicle and then tested for interference, space constraints and other measurements; a battle lab, where engineers can model complete systems in complex fighting scenarios that illustrate the costs associated with sustaining and operating the vehicle; and a vehicle center where live systems are brought into bays for hardwire integration of components. Suppliers also will have opportunities to meet with troops and other military customers.

"We have some great collaboration there before it even gets anywhere close to a purchase order," said Cavanaugh. "It allows us to give the suppliers that voice, that interaction with the military so they hear directly from them on what kinds of things they can do better."

After a month or two of that collaboration, General Dynamics officials will present the solution to military customers for approval or redirection.

Cavanaugh said so far they have presented about a dozen innovations that have been accepted by military customers who will finance them and incorporate them onto their vehicles.

"The average process for those was 54 days," she said. "That's pretty quick. It's finding technologies already out there--proven, tested, fielded--that can be used on military weapons."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The same procedure via the traditional acquisition cycle usually takes anywhere from six months to two years.

Most of the accepted solutions resided in the area of soldier survivability--safety innovations that would enhance troops' comfort inside vehicle cabins when they are strapped down for roadside bomb blasts. …

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