By William Norton, TARDEC
Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” This quote is often used to authenticate his successful development and innovation philosophy. Ford reinvented the basic concept of personal mobility by applying emerging technology, manufacturing and business techniques to allow his company to achieve his personal vision.
A similar philosophy has emerged in Army research and development.
The Modular Active Protection System, or MAPS, program is a Research, Development and Engineering Command-wide effort led by the Detroit Arsenal-based U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center.
The program’s evolution rivals the American consumers’ move to cars as its “faster horse.”
An active protection system, or APS, provides a military vehicle with automatic protection from armor penetrators and direct-fire threats such as rocket-propelled grenades and anti-tank guided missiles. An effective APS must include:
- sensing to detect potential threats
- high-speed processing to classify the threat and to derive a relevant fire control solution
- countermeasures to destroy the threat before the vehicle and its occupants are hit
To be successful, it must sense, classify and eliminate threats in a fraction of a second.
In the 1950s, the DOD demonstrated the realm of the possible when it began research and development on APS. Immature technology, component size and weight issues rendered the approach interesting but, ultimately, unfeasible.
Between 1980 and 2005, the Army re-engaged in active protection to defeat emerging threats. Army engineers demonstrated APS’ ability to defeat incoming threats, albeit on a limited basis. With today’s increased threats, focus has shifted from increasing performance to achieving capability transition to the Soldier via adequately described requirements for performance and a full, relevant operational environment.
This led the Army to the current MAPS program. MAPS is unique from the standpoint that it focuses on time to field integrated performance and time to upgrade. It reduces the likelihood of vendor lock. This modular and scalable approach will allow the Army to maximize value for current implementations while engineering in the necessary integration hooks required to facilitate long-term competition and upgrades.
The Army has long recognized the value for establishing a sound capability and performance technology baseline, but it is now focused on the ability to adapt and perform in an uncertain future. The requirements-driven MAPS will help the Army focus future science and technology investments on specific technology gaps and affordability.
The Army’s vision is to develop the government-owned framework to serve as the applicable interface standard facilitating competition at the subsystem level. This philosophy will help deliver reduced cost through an acquisition approach that streamlines investments.
Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall presented an overview in 2014 that was consistent with Ford’s manufacturing development philosophy.
“Continuous improvement is the best approach to improving the performance of the defense acquisition enterprise,” he said.
Kendall’s white paper focused on technology, affordability, open systems design and architecture. He stressed the goals for the acquisition and S&T communities to achieve affordable programs moving forward.
RDECOM and TARDEC are applying the concepts from Better Buying Power 3.0 to the MAPS program.
To achieve affordability goals, RDECOM’s labs and research, development and engineering centers are partnering to develop a U.S. government-owned, open architecture and processor with defined interface standards for subsystems and components ― sensors and countermeasures, among others ― for the MAPS program.
This will foster innovation and lower costs for different configurations based on operational environments and platform constraints. The open system design facilitates affordable technology refreshing and opportunities to employ performance-based logistics across the fleet.
A clearly defined, government-owned modular framework, central controller and subsystem requirements will allow DOD and industry to collaborate on current limitations and prioritize resources in ways previously not possible.
Ford implemented commonality, new technology investments and production and sustainment efficiencies in his early manufacturing processes. He would have likely embraced Better Buying Power 3.0 concepts and the simple design and efficient approach demonstrated by today’s MAPS program. The Army isn’t building a faster horse, just a more invincible one.
Editor’s note: William Norton serves as TARDEC Ground System Survivability, Chief Engineer, Hit Avoidance.
This article 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.