Commentary: Army science, technology drive innovation

Maj. Gen. John F. Wharton commands the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

Maj. Gen. John F. Wharton commands the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

By Maj. Gen. John F. Wharton, Commanding General, U.S. Army RDECOM

Scientists and engineers from across government, industry and academia are searching for technology solutions to bring empower American warfighters.

Innovation is the fuel for the Army of the future.

Army leaders have described how future Soldiers will “prevent conflict, shape security environments, and win wars while operating as part of our Joint Force and working with multiple partners” in the recently released Army Operating Concept, or AOC.

The AOC is our foundation, and it’s driving our science and technology strategy.

“The AOC is a beginning point for the innovation we need to ensure that our Soldiers, leaders and teams are prepared to win in a complex world,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno wrote when he introduced the concept.

Innovation is critical for both the operational and institutional Army, he said.

The AOC points out that innovation is the result of “critical and creative thinking and the conversion of new ideas into valued outcomes.”

As the Army’s principle innovators we have worked hard to balance the goals of this mandate by developing strategic partnerships that trigger innovation and aligning the command to be able to capture the spark of new ideas and convert it into the organizational energy that drives the attainment of valued outcomes.

We continually reach out to our industry partners as we seek to maintain the Army’s decisive overmatch because we recognize the Department of Defense is not the sole source of key breakthrough technologies. Many groundbreaking technological innovations in robotics, advanced computing, miniaturization and 3-D printing come from the commercial sector. Collaboration with these innovators will breed new ideas and ensure our technological edge through the next several decades.

Our goal is to capture the benefit of those partnerships and fuse it with our own innovations. To tackle the Army’s most important objectives, we have aligned ourselves across the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Centers of Excellence. RDECOM’s technical staff now works in the same seven portfolio areas defined by the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology). All this is done under the Army Operating Concept philosophy to ensure our efforts address the Army’s warfighting challenges.

Accomplishing this means investing in our most innovative capabilities, such as our prototype integration facilities. Innovative research and development leads to advanced prototyping, which enables smart design, which leads to lowering sustainment costs. Increased funding in coming years will enable our engineering teams to turn ideas into prototypes and then innovate capabilities informed by that prototyping. It also opens up the opportunity to re-engineer existing technologies to use them in different ways or different contexts to deliver new capabilities to Soldiers.

We recognize there are no “silver bullet” technological solutions. It’s not about the technology or device but about enabling the Soldier. Our efforts incorporate innovative solutions to fill technology gaps and make our Soldiers safer, stronger and more situationally aware of their environments.

Innovation will ensure the United States maintains its technological edge. It counters challenges to our competitive advantages and focuses our investments while creating options for future leaders. The Army needs innovative methods to develop technologies that will optimize the capabilities of smaller units by increasing battlefield intuition, military judgment and decision making.

Across RDECOM, I applaud the research and development innovations that lead to technological advancements. Whether it is new sensors, better batteries, or stronger materials for armor protection, the goal is the same. We innovate because it’s all about supporting our Soldiers with the best possible technologies to help them accomplish their missions.

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This commentary appears in the July/August 2015 issue of Army Technology Magazine, which focuses on innovation. The magazine is available as an electronic download, or print publication. The magazine is an authorized, unofficial publication published under Army Regulation 360-1, for all members of the Department of Defense and the general public.