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Army forges ahead on EW, ISR prototypes borne from tech competition – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense

The Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) held their Army Strategic Rapid Acquisition (AStRA) 3 competition, inviting companies and academic institutions who wanted to share their best ideas for emerging military technology. (John Higgins/US Army)

WASHINGTON: The US Army’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office is nearing the final round of its rapid innovation competition, while the service pushes ahead with ideas in electronic warfare and ISR that came out of the RCCTO’s most recent intellectual tournament.

The RCCTO received over 52 white papers for the first phase of its fourth Army Strategic Rapid Acquisition (AStRA) Innovation Day, Brandon Little-Darku, acting deputy director for the RCCTO’s Advanced Concepts and Experimentation Project Office, told Breaking Defense earlier this month. For AStRA 4, the Army has an awards pool of $27 million and anticipates handing out between one and nine contracts.

“We recognize that innovation can come from anywhere and there may be more than one solution to help address any given topic area,” said Little-Darku in an emailed statement.

Related: ‘Elevating’ hidden ideas: Inside the Army’s Dragon’s Lair invention contest

AStRA 4 asked vendors to provide solutions to solve technology challenges for the Army’s future tactical network team at the Program Executive Office (PEO) Command, Control, Communication-Tactical (C3T), and the service’s PEO Combat Support and Combat Service Support (CS&CSS). PEO C3T is looking for new networking tools such as systems to ingest new data sources on the battlefield and improved radio batteries. Meanwhile PEO CS&CSS is looking for new power sources for different platforms.

With that competition nearing its end, winners can look forward to seeing if and how their projects progress towards real-world results, like the winners of the last iteration of the competition.

In that case the Army awarded eight different companies prototyping contracts for proposed systems that the service thought could fill capability gaps, including tactical edge processing devices, novel batteries and “cyber electromagnetic activities,” or CEMA, which is military jargon for cyber and electronic warfare. Those prototypes are now in development.

In the CEMA category, Perspecta Labs, which in May was acquired by defense giant Peraton, won the AStRA 3 competition with an idea to build resilience and help avoid enemy jamming on the electromagnetic spectrum. Perspecta will develop a capability for artificial intelligence/machine learning-based radio frequency resource management for service communications platforms that use the CMOSS standard.

CMOSS is one of those appallingly long Army embedded acronyms that stands for Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance/Electronic Warfare (C5ISR/EW) Modular Open Suite of Standards (MOSS). The aim of the standards is to enable the Army’s multi-domain operations.

Another winning company was called Scientific Systems Co., Inc., which won a prototyping contract to build a system that allows a soldier to request real-time intelligence data with the “same simplicity as requesting a rideshare from Uber or Lyft,” according to a company press release.

Under its contract, SSCI is working on an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform called Army Responsive Tactical ISR Technology (ARTIST), where it’s running a software that autonomously coordinates between unmanned systems like aerial drones and satellites. That software has already been demonstrated as part of the Space Development Agency’s Prototype On-Orbit Experimental Testbed (POET) project.

For the space layer of ARTIST, the software suite sits on a satellite and is receives ISR mission requests, from a ground user. It then automatically completes the mission, from the start of the mission to disseminating the intelligence collected back to the user, on the satellite “for highly responsive ISR,” the release said. That includes automatic target recognition and imagery.

“Ultimately the goal of ARTIST is to demonstrate a Soldier in the field can issue a MSR [mission service request]  from a smart phone to request intelligence data,” the release states. “The Soldier should receive the intelligence information required rapidly — with the same ease of  requesting a ride to the airport.”

Little-Darku said the RCCTO already plans to “use this to capability to help inform future requirements” for ISR capabilities.

AStRA 3 received 98 submissions from industry to tackle six categories last year and whittled that down to 14 companies for its pitch day last June. Eight companies were then asked to submit requests for prototype proposals.

The six other winning companies included: Raytheon Company, Phase Sensitive Innovations, Inc. (PSI), Collins Aerospace, Toyon Research Corporation, Amprius Technologies, Inc., and Physical Sciences Inc. The Army PEOs that created the requirements for the last AStRA competition were PEO Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors and PEO Soldier.

The AStRA contracts typically range between 18 to 24 months, Little-Darku said, but some run as long as 36 months depending on the technological complexity. The goal to mature the technology and transition it to the acquisition office.

“The intent is to transition those projects and associated technical data packages to the respective PEO in order to provide risk reduction and accelerate into existing programs of record or to begin a new program of record,” Little-Darku said.

Finalists for the latest AStRA will move on to the last round of selection at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina on Feb. 28.

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