How do you create the most effective military technologies?
Ask the people that use them.
The U.S. military drives the innovation it needs by going straight to its members and asking: What do you need to meet your missions?
“It’s just unvarnished feedback. It’s truth-telling down to its very core,” said Tommy Boccardi, who works in business development at Raytheon Technologies Land Warfare Systems. “When you can have that conversation — when they’re touching it, feeling it, using it, employing it, training on it — that’s how the innovative spark happens.”
The businesses of Raytheon Technologies are using what the U.S. Army calls “soldier touchpoints” to get user feedback early in the prototype research and development process. Soldier touchpoints help validate that new technologies will do the job.
The meaning of user-friendly
In a fight, split-second decisions are needed. Those decisions depend on the quality of available information.
Enter the F-35 Gen III Helmet Mounted Display System.
The HMDS is more than just another heads-up display for pilots of the world's most advanced fighter. It displays flight, tactical and sensor information through the helmet visor. It also provides pilots with a view right through the bottom of the aircraft.
User feedback played a critical role in the development of the F-35 HDMS. The helmet is milled to fit perfectly. It knows where pilots are looking and augments their vision with 360-degree, real-time video. Pilots are “effusive about its performance,” according to Aviation Today.
And similar situational awareness is being developed for soldiers on the ground.
Night vision. Thermal vision. Navigation. All as handy as a pair of sunglasses. It’s called the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, designed to provide an immersive visual environment that can be connected to other devices in the field.
“Soldier touchpoints help us better demonstrate technology, like the IVAS ... the cross-functional team gets direct feedback — and if something fails — it fails early, and we learn from it,” said Gen. John Murray, commanding general of Army Futures Command.
The current state of IVAS technology was demonstrated last year in drills at Fort Pickett, Virginia, and in November for Congressional staffers and Army leadership.
Lightening the load
Raytheon Technologies surveyed ground forces about what they need most on the battlefield. The answer to that question was a resounding, “Lighten the load.”
With water, ammunition, batteries, body armor and an assault pack, the burden of combat weighs heavily — about 100 pounds — upon their shoulders. They are sometimes forced to choose between combat load and water.
In response, the company reduced the weight of its shoulder-fired Javelin missile command launch unit by 30%. It also doubled the visual range.
“Before the modifications, it was like carrying around a microwave,” said the company’s Baccardi, a veteran who deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Central America. “Now, it’s like carrying around a coffee pot.”
Revolutionizing a fighting vehicle
The Army is emphatically planning to use soldier touchpoints at every step in development of what it calls the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle, meant to replace the aging Army Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
The goal: “Soldier-centered design,” said Gen. Murray, according to Defense News.
Raytheon Technologies is working with the German firm Rheinmetall to offer a replacement based on the existing Lynx Infantry Fighting Vehicle, a prototype fighting vehicle built by Rheinmetall.
The two companies formed an integrated product team to better understand the Army’s needs. The IPT comprises former officers and enlisted soldiers like Pat McCormack, a former Bradley master gunner for the Army and now a capability analyst for Raytheon Technologies Land Warfare Systems.
“Our end user deserves better than our best guess,” said McCormack, who leads the IPT. “We want to provide them a solution that has been well thought out, has been internally debated and discussed using people who have that experience to help to make the decisions and provide the right product.”
The design will incorporate Raytheon Technologies’ systems for combat vehicles, including sights, sensors, fire-control systems and missiles. The Lynx will provide the foundation.
Defeating drones from afar
Finding new ways to stop hostile drones is a key priority for the United States and its allies, and the answers lie with military and industry collaboration.
“We’re constantly working with the end users, constantly soliciting their feedback, constantly asking what are we doing that we shouldn't be doing, or what are we not doing that we should be doing, and how can we collectively do it,” said Bill Rumble, who works in business development at Raytheon Technologies Land Warfare Systems.
Raytheon Technologies and the Army are developing new counter-drone technologies like the expanded use of the Stinger missile, originally developed to take down helicopters. Engineers added a proximity fuse to the missile that allows it to defeat drones by detonating near them.
“Oftentimes, the military doesn't understand what’s in the art of the possible to effect modernization,” said Rumble, who spent 24 years in the Marine Corps as a Stinger missile officer. “They are relying on us to exchange ideas, to talk to them about tactics, techniques and procedures. That’s why it’s so important for us to stay engaged.”