The George H.W. Bush Combat Development Complex’s (BCDC) Innovation Proving Ground (IPG) team recently welcomed their first customer to the testing sites on The Texas A&M University System’s RELLIS Campus.
The United States Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Ground Vehicles Systems Center (GVSC) out of Warren, Michigan, traveled to Bryan in February to test a prototype for what could be the Army’s new Robotic Combat Vehicle-Light (RCV-Light).
GVSC received three prototype vehicles in December 2020, and they are the first integration prototype RCV-Light surrogate vehicles to demonstrate technology and generate data. The GVSC team was anxious to begin testing.
“There has been a big effort by the GVSC team to integrate the network, the autonomy, the control and to even just get down here to the IPG to do this testing,” said Maj. Dan Groller, science and technology advisor for the RCV Program.
GVSC has a small test area in Warren, so the team was able to exercise the vehicles a little bit, but not at the scale possible at the IPG. They were unable to get the RCVs up to 20 miles per hour or test the radios at-range.
“Coming down here gave us the room and the weather for optimal testing of these vehicles,” said Greg Colvin, RCV deputy chief engineer.
Testing the new Silvus radio network on the RCV-Light prototypes at range in phases has been a priority in testing, Colvin said.
Phase 1 of the network is the MP5 radio, which allows for one radio connection per RVC. Phase 2 meant switching to the Silvus radio and having one radio on the mission-enabled technology demonstrator (MetD) to control two RCVs simultaneously.
“A few highlights that we were able to test out here were reaching max speed on the RCV-Light surrogate – we are not able to do that on our test grounds; the off-road test area that we used here, we don’t have that at home either,” Colvin said. “And the radio testing, the ranges that we were able to hit direct line-of-sight on the runways here – there’s just nowhere that we have available to us to test that.”
Groller said that the support from the BCDC and RELLIS teams was invaluable because of all the moving pieces to make it possible for GVSC to be able to do their testing at the IPG.
“The flexibility of the team has been really helpful while we’ve been here on the ground,” Colvin said, giving an example of some early oversights that were quickly remedied by BCDC team members.
Col. (Ret). Brian McHugh, test planner for the IPG, said he and the IPG team were ready to accommodate GVSC’s growing testing needs and space requirements at a moment’s notice.
The availability of connecting test space allowed for the smooth transition from off-road and cross-country mobility to a fully operational former runway for testing on improved roads, and then being able to transition back to off-road again was key to GVSC’s test efforts.
“From my perspective, the agility of the IPG team and our supporting organizations were the real difference-makers,” McHugh said. “We had a great plan coming into the event, but as the test matured, the GVSC team’s requirements changed and, therefore, resource requirements grew.
“I am proud to say that we were agile enough to revise and, in some cases, totally revamp the plan and the resources to tailor the environment to their needs with zero impact to the test,” he added.
The IPG is focused on creating an ecosystem for test and evaluation and research that complements the Army’s current efforts in those areas. This means that it is a venue for the Army to send their newest prototypes and innovative technologies to be evaluated before they get deep into the military acquisition system. Through a combination of its state-of-the-art facilities, teams of experts in the areas of test planning and control, data methodology, cybersecurity, modeling and simulation, and teams of subject matter experts at Texas A&M University, the BCDC and IPG can vet technologies early for the Army.
“At the top end, this vetting allows the Army to identify the most promising technologies and move them forward in the system while not spending time or money on those that are least promising,” McHugh said. “At the lower end, the vetting allows the army to use our data and analysis to inform their testing efforts, thereby scaling back their testing efforts and focusing on specific key performance parameters that were not tested at the IPG. Either way, these efforts reduce the cost and amount of testing required which, obviously accelerates the modernization process.
While GVSC benefitted from testing their RCV prototypes, the IPG team learned from the visitors as well. McHugh explained that for the IPG team, the benefits were two-fold.
“First, it allowed us to actually exercise our processes and systems in an actual real-world test, which paid huge dividends as it allows us to learn lessons and incorporate changes to make the IPG even better in terms of a world-class, user-friendly facility,” he said. “Second, and maybe more importantly, it strengthened the already strong relationships we have with Army Futures Command and expanded them to outside organizations.”
The IPG’s testing space can accommodate a variety of testing efforts, not only vehicles.
“We aren’t just about solely supporting vehicles. In fact, our facilities are designed to support test and research in the realms of ground and air platforms, autonomy, network communications and cyber resiliency, both on platform and of the network and core itself,” McHugh said. “Additionally, we are postured to support early prototypes and technology testing to more mature programs and technologies and we can do this across multi-domains: air, ground and cyber.”
For GVSC, the testing space was crucial for their RCV-Light prototypes, which Groller said was “mission accomplished.”
“We had the ability to test these vehicles to the maximum extent that we can because of this space,” he said.
McHugh said the IPG’s versatility is a key attribute – it has the facilities to support highly technical testing and real-world testing for any customer.