The Army officer in charge of enhancing soldier lethality (SL) has praised an agile and non-traditional partnership with Microsoft for keeping the development of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) on schedule in spite of the challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Brig. Gen. David Hodne, the director of Army Future Command’s Soldier Lethality CFT, said the four weeks since the Army implemented strict measures to reduce the spread of the virus have been very telling. His CFT leads the modernisation enterprise developing the IVAS for the Close Combat Force and set out to keep the Soldiers and civilians working on the programme safe, without sacrificing time, in the aggressive pursuit of critical next generation modernisation technology. “A month ago, we didn’t know what to expect as far as the potential impacts of the virus,” Hodne said, “The situation was still new, and we were just beginning to anticipate an extended period of mitigating measures, like a quarantine and social distancing and telework. Today, we’re still on track to deliver on time because we employed some creative solutions and rearranged the schedule in such a way as to move some things to the left and some to the right to keep us on target.”
IVAS, an augmented and virtual reality goggle system based on Microsoft’s HoloLens, is the SL CFT’s signature modernisation effort. The “leap ahead technology” has made headlines since the concept was introduced when the Army partnered with Microsoft in November of 2018. New capabilities, a new approach to funding and acquisitions, all designed to return the force swiftly to a position of overmatch against peer threats in accordance with the National Defense Strategy, keeps IVAS in the crosshairs of skeptics. “Our processes have understandably made some uncomfortable, largely because they don’t fit in the traditional manner in which we’ve done things in the Army,” Hodne said, “But the agile processes we’ve used throughout this effort are also our strength and, frankly, how we’ve maintained momentum.” He added that with restrictions on travel and gatherings, the pandemic has revealed the value of the methodologies team IVAS has employed since its inception. Consisting of subject matter experts from the SL CFT, Program Executive Office Soldier, Army labs, Microsoft and the FORSCOM units who support the Soldier Touch Points (STPs) for which SL CFT has become known, the team is spread across the country. Members of each organisation come together regularly to host the STPs which are high visibility events, popular with senior military leaders, Congress and the media, while giving soldiers a critical voice in the process. As a result, the postponement of the much anticipated STP 3, from summer to fall, met with speculation that the fielding of IVAS to the troops would ultimately be delayed, but Hodne said, that’s not the way it works, as the development of IVAS has never been linear. “It’s precisely because we take a nimble approach to our processes that we can shift STP3 and still deliver all the same capabilities in the fall without impacting STP4 and the date we will equip that first unit. The team has always managed development across all the capability sets to capitalise on opportunities to accelerate technology or bring capabilities forward to get soldier feedback early on,” he said. “This is an agile acquisition process that matches the agility of industry.” That agility stems from the ability within the enterprises’ individual organisations to work concurrently on one aspect of the system or another – hardware, software, integration, etc.
A different approach
“We can work software remotely, we can test it remotely, and we can come together using collaborative tools for design reviews. What we cannot do is get together at a location where we can’t maintain a responsible separation. Those are the things that we’re having to work our way around today to figure out what can we substitute in place and figure out how to mitigate the impacts to the schedule when those touch points are delayed,” Hodne said. “The incremental approach we take, with user juries and studies and touch points, lends itself to adjustments at any point for any reason. We adjust, we adapt; it’s what we’ve always done. In this case, it happens to be COVID-19.” He added that some of the practices implemented across the national workforce because of the virus were already considered Team IVAS best practices, he said. “Teleworking and remote distributed operations from coast to coast were fairly unique to this programme and unique to this partnership before the pandemic made them commonplace, at least for the time being, in the national workforce. We’ve been operating in this mode for the last few years, and it so many ways it has been the key to our success.”
Though the pandemic situation remains dynamic, Hodne said, the experience has underscored the resilience of AFC’s innovative approach to modernisation. “COVID-19 is having an impact here as it as it is across the nation. But the (IVAS) team is driving on to the objective, and we absolutely have a plan to maintain our first unit equipped for IVAS in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 21,” Hodne said. “We’ve hit every mark. We’ve made every milestone. We’ve been able to provide even more capabilities than we had originally anticipated. It’s a rare programme, not only to go this fast, but for the collective team to accomplish so much in the face of so many challenges. And we really don’t see that changing here in the near future.” Hodne explained that the third STP, now scheduled to start in mid to late October, will put to the test the first ruggedised military form factor of the IVAS, to be followed by STP 4, in the early part of 2021, which will put IVAS to the test at the company level in a variety of combat scenarios to challenge system performance and network integration across multiple echelons.
Watch out for the interview with General John M. Murray, Commanding General, Futures Command, coming shortly in EUROPEAN SECURITY & DEFENCE.
Visit the Army Futures Command website at: https://www.army.mil/futures
For more information, email Bridgett Siter, Communications Director for the Soldier Lethality CFT and IVAS at: firstname.lastname@example.org