FORT SILL, Okla., — More than 40 systems, to include integrated programs of record, gathered on a hill on Fort Sill to experiment on ways to bridge the gap in Army capabilities. The event, the Maneuver Fires Integrated Experiment, took place from Dec. 4 until Dec. 14 and brought industry leaders together to join programs of record with emerging technology to experiment on possible solutions.
John Haithcock, director of the Fires Battle Lab at Fort Sill, said 43 Soldiers from across the Army and two representatives from the Coast Guard joined with 29 government organizations and 19 industry partners to experiment on the systems. Of the 40 systems, 21 were new systems and many focused on addressing counter unmanned aerial systems.
“As the environment we operate in continues to evolve, peer and near-peer threats have developed capabilities with the capacity to contest U.S. superiority,” Maj. Gen. Wilson Shoffner, commanding general of the Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill. “The future Army force must maintain overmatch against all threats, in an environment of fiscal austerity and uncertainty. Here at Fort Sill we are able to provide a unique environment where industry leaders can experiment on rapidly evolving technology. The benefit to the Army is that we save money in research and development while getting a first look at new developments. In fact our range at Thompson Hill is one of only a few in the U.S. certified to live-fire lasers.”
One of the platforms was the Harrier, a system originally designed to protect Air Force bases from birds but was adapted to meet a new mission. Returning to the stage was the Hunter and Killer vehicles, two platforms that were experimented on during the spring MFIX event. The systems provide Soldiers with multi-domain capabilities to defeat multiple targets quickly. Last year one of the objectives of MFIX was to study high-energy lasers. A laser mounted on a Stryker armored vehicle called the Mobile Expeditionary High Energy Laser (MEHEL) returned this year with updates to its abilities.
Also returning was the AUDS (anti-unmanned aerial vehicle defense system) which tracks, identifies and defeats drones, but now with the kinetic element of a mounted gun. Other systems included a boat from the Coast Guard, a PHASER (which uses microwaves) and the Hawk Eye, a 105 mm hybrid recoil howitzer on a Humvee.
Attending the event was Brig. Gen. David Komar, the director of the Capabilities Development directorate at Army Capabilities Integration Center. The directorate works closely with the centers of excellence throughout the year on the capability needs analysis.
“What that does is that looks across and identifies, based on the (Department of Defense) planning scenarios, what the Army has to be able to do,” said Komar. “Then we assess what it is we can do, either currently in the force or what we have programed for the near future.”
From there the organization answers the question “what is it we can’t do” and those are the capability gaps, said Komar. Those gaps are prioritized and focused on throughout the Army as part of the campaign of learning which helps look at how the Army can solve some of those capability gaps.
Fort Sill was chosen for these experiments because of its ability to experiment on electronic warfare and the permission to shoot above the horizon.
“Being able to go above the horizon here is really a very unique opportunity for us to learn certainly the capability gaps that the Army has in long-range fires and in maneuver short range air defense – two of the very highest capability gaps that the Army has. So what we can do to get and work those problems here at MFIX will go a long way to help the Army solve those gaps.”
MFIX allows Soldier to try their hand at the equipment with the intent to provide feedback on what worked and what didn’t. Douglas Wiltsie, director of the Army Rapid Capability Office said Soldiers provide feedback resulting in understanding performance, organizational force structure, training, and sustainment issues not otherwise discovered.
“Things like MFIX give us opportunities to see hardware demonstrated live with Soldiers,” said Wiltsie. “We love these things because they give us an ability to see equipment at whatever level of performance it is, and work that into the efforts that we’re doing.”
The next MFIX event is scheduled to take place in the fall of 2018. Meanwhile organizations have time to take the data gained from the event and improve their systems. Other uses of the data gained from MFIX include improving tactics, techniques and procedures, and enhancing training for service members.
“I think one of the great takeaways is looking at not only the maturity of each of the technologies we’re looking at, because in most instances that’s sort of the easy part, but it’s the maturity in which we can integrate these capabilities together,” said Komar. “Such as linking the sensor to the shooter in a real-time way, ensuring that we have complementary capabilities, that one capability doesn’t interfere with another. Our important thing to learn out here is that you can look at a lot of these in a lab but (it’s important to) get them out here and use them in a realistic scenario and get the Soldiers feedback. I think that’s really the huge benefit for this and a big takeaway.”