ARL scientist Kang Xu is one of the inventors responsible for a 30-percent increase in energy density in lithium batteries. (U.S. Army photo by Conrad Johnson)
Army researchers, scientists and engineers offer technology solutions to complex problems. But, they don’t do it alone. Through an intricate web of agreements, alliances and collaborative efforts, The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command extends its reach, expands its potential and gets the job done.
RDECOM has six research centers, three international forward element commands and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. The forward element commands conduct technology searches across the globe and providing combatant commanders with science advisors.
Ten years ago, the Army established RDECOM to improve integration. The goal was to reduce the time for technology to transition from laboratories to Soldiers. Since then, the command has worked to increase agility and take advantage of technology opportunities to solve immediate operational problems.
“RDECOM is the Army’s go-to organization for scientific and engineering expertise that defines the space between the state of the art and the art of the possible,” said RDECOM Director Dale A. Ormond. “We deliver innovative technology solutions to ensure the United States maintains global battlefield dominance.”
Ormond said his organization provides engineering services and support to program executive offices, program managers, the Army’s Life Cycle Management Commands, known as LCMCs, and other customers.
“We develop technical specifications, administer contractual efforts, provide technical oversight of programs, engineer configuration management and much more,” he said. “Our largest mission is engineering. RDECOM has a strategic approach to identify, prioritize and resource critical engineering requirements.
Rapid prototyping is another engineering service provided by RDECOM. Prototype Integration Facilities, known as PIFs, develop concepts and engineering designs for rapid conversion into prototypes for immediate use by Soldiers, or for transition to full-scale production.
Most of RDECOM’s research centers have either a special facility that is designated as a PIF or have the capability. The PIFs focus on the development and fabrication of prototypes in limited quantities rather than mass production.
“Predominately funded by customer reimbursable dollars, the goal of each PIF is to produce results as quickly as possible at the lowest possible cost,” Ormond explained.
Providing these engineering services and prototyping capabilities from a workforce that has developed technical expertise through hands on bench work and development of cutting edge technologies allows the Army materiel acquisition community to be a Smart Buyer, as defined in the Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009.
RDECOM Business Model
RDECOM operates in the Army acquisition process in three distinct areas:
- Science and technology development
- Program engineering and acquisition
- Sustainment engineering
ARL researchers lead the process through discovery and innovation. At this stage, RDECOM partners with industry and academia to form Collaborative Technology Alliances.
One example is the Flexible Display Center at Arizona State University. More than 10 years ago, U.S. Army researchers saw potential in flexible displays. With nothing in the marketplace, the Army decided to partner with industry and academia to create the Flexible Display Center.
Industry partners, such as Raytheon, Corning, HP and LG, work with academic partners, such as Oregon State University, Lehigh University and ASU and RDECOM research centers to achieve a leadership position in the emerging flexible electronics industry.
Once technology solutions have matured they enter an advanced development stage and transition to one of RDECOM’s six research centers. The centers cover all the bases with research in lethality, Soldier systems, ground vehicles, chemical-biological, aviation and missile, and communications-electronics. Researchers and engineers work with PEOs and PMs to move technology solutions to the engineering and production phase.
Finally as products are fielded to the force, RDECOM engineers work with LCMCs to provide sustainment engineering. One example would be providing upgrades to fielded equipment, like the AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopter, which was delivered to Soldiers in January 2013.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness — technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment — to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.