Magazine article National Defense

Advanced Technology Demos Empower Warfighters with Tomorrow's Weapons

Magazine article National Defense

Advanced Technology Demos Empower Warfighters with Tomorrow's Weapons

Article excerpt

The Pentagon's nearly 50 advanced concept technology demonstration (ACTD) programs-spanning weapons, communications, and sensor platforms-are providing U.S. forces with agile systems in record time.

ACTDs are cutting through traditional acquisition processes and by so doing have placed a multitude of critical systems in the hands of troops serving in Bosnia, the Middle East, and other global hot spots.

"Our most vexing future adversary may be one who can use technology to make rapid improvements in military capabilities," according to Joint Vision 2010, the Joint Chiefs of Staff planning document. In such competitions, the military advantage will likely go to the side that can capture technology fasterand that is the purpose of a Defense Department's ACTD program. It is changing how defense operates on and off the battlefield.

A faster and more streamlined acquisition process has long been sought for defense. The reasons were best stated by the 1986 Packard Commission: "... too many of our weapon systems cost too much, take too long to develop, and-by the time they are fielded-incorporate obsolete technology." Recently, the Defense Science Board reached similar conclusions. The best evidence for reform, though, is the acquisition process itself.

"We are living in an era of very fastpaced change in technology" said Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen. In some cases, the turnover cycle for information technologies is 18 months. Troops are requesting new equipment to sustain their technological edge.

Meanwhile, the defense budget is likely to remain flat during the next few years. As Cohen said, "more modernization money has to go into product and not into process."

To help advance this reform, the Pentagon initiated the ACTD program in 1994. It is the "administration's approach to harnessing innovation for military use rapidly and at reduced cost," said the National Science and Technology Strategy.

Today, 46 ACTDs are under way or have been completed. Each ACTD is dedicated to examining the ability of a mature technology to meet an emerging need. The ACTD program is based on recommendations made by the Packard Commission, as well as the Defense Science Board.

As the Packard Commission said, the ACTD program seeks to "fly and know how much it will cost before we buy."

The greatest significance of the program is that it is focused on the customers-the joint warfighters. The program ensures the warfighters are involved throughout the ACTD.

This hasn't always been the case. In the past, many weapons systems would be provided to joint warfighters after development only to find the systems did not meet their needs. Today, the joint warfighters' needs drive the ACTD process.

One recently completed ACTD serves as an example:

The commander-in-chief of U.S. Forces Korea was faced with a formidable threat from North Korea's 240mm multiple rocket launchers. Within a 24-month period, an ACTD developed a concept and demonstrated the technology that would enable forces to more rapidly counter the MRL the precision/rapid counter-multiple rocket launch.

Essentially, it integrated surveillance, command and control, and weapons systems into a system-of-systems. In so doing, it reduced the sensor-to-shooter timelines and improved counter-fire accuracy.

This residual capability is currently operational in South Korea. The reason for its success was best expressed by Maj. Gen. Tommy Franks, USA, commander of the 2nd Infantry Division: "The soldiers have had a chance to play with it and influence the outcome...this is all about the user being involved up front."

ACTDs are significant from another standpoint.

They emphasize the integration of technology into an operational concept. As defense analyst Anthony Cordesman said, "Technology is only valuable to the extent it is integrated into an effective overall force structure. …

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