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Archive for the ‘Disruptive Tech’ Category

New DoD Policy Prohibits GPS Tracking in Deployed Settings

Monday, August 13th, 2018

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan recently issued a memorandum prohibits the use of GPS enabled personal devices while deployed. These include physical fitness aids, applications in phones that track locations, and other devices and apps that pinpoint and track the location of individuals.

During a media event last week, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Robert Manning III told reporters, “Effective immediately, Defense Department personnel are prohibited from using geolocation features and functionality on government and nongovernment-issued devices, applications and services while in locations designated as operational areas,” adding they, “potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission.”

Commanders may apply the rule to other areas as well but may also make exceptions, but only after conducting a thorough risk assessment.

The concern is that the data collected by these devices is vulnerable to access and exploitation by unauthorized personnel. These could be criminal threats as well as enemy.

Textron Systems To Develop Prototype For US Army’s Next-Generation Squad Automatic Weapon

Friday, July 13th, 2018

Textron Systems has over 14 of experience developing Case-Telescoped weapons and ammunition.

In fact, it’s their Lightweight Small Arms Technology demonstrator (6.5mm box fed version seen below) which served as the inspiration for the US Army’s Next-Generation Squad Automatic Rifle program.

Earlier this year, the Army released a Production Opportunity Notice for NGSAR, which is intended to replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon in Brigade Combat Teams. Based on program requirements, the prototype must weigh less than 12 pounds, with ammunition weighing 20 percent less than an equivalent brass case.

Textron Systems is one of six companies selected by the Army to develop a weapon under the PON. Textron Systems’ prototype will be an intermediate caliber, high-velocity, magazine-fed system.

This builds upon two related awards that Textron Systems recently received from the Army for advanced weapons and fire control technologies; one for Next Generation Squad Weapon Technologies (NGSW-T), and another for fire control capability development.

On a final note, I’d like to point out that this is an answer and not the answer to the Army’s requirement. There are several other solutions which will be looked at which include ammunition. What’s more, there will be a couple more times at bat before the Army picks its solution.

NGSAR is the most ambitious small arms program ever. A lot will be learned and much can happen in the ensuing years; new materials developed and scientific breakthroughs. On the other hand, new priorities may take hold in the years it will take to develop this requirement and solution.


Friday, June 1st, 2018


SURUS (Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure) is a collaboration between the US Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center and General Motor’s Hydrotec.


SURUS is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, offering low temperature, silent, zero-emissions operation. Additionally, it can be configured for autonomous operation with LIDAR sensors embedded at the sides.


This Gen 2 fuel cell system combines a Hydrogen storage system capable of more than 400 miles of range with a Lithium-ion battery system, offering Exportable Power Takeoff (EPTO) where high-voltage DC from the fuel cell stack could be converted to both high- and low-voltage AC to power tools or equipment.

SURUS features two advanced electric drive units along with Four-wheel steering to get in and out of tight spaces.


While configured here as a cargo carrier, there are other modules such as weapons stations, troop carriers, medical, and even hydrogen power generator sets which offer up to 100kW of portable power. Additionally, a cab can be fitted for manned operation as a more traditional cargo vehicle.

goTenna Pro – A New Solution For Tactical Partner-Force Comms

Friday, May 18th, 2018

I was an early adopter of goTenna, having participated in their crowdfunding campaign. When I saw the new goTenna Pro At SHOT Show in TSSi’s Booth, I was immediately excited about the possibilities it offers due to its integration with USSOCOM’s Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK) and a a wide variety of commercial personal cellular devices such as smart phones. These three components combine to provide a new practical solution for partner force communications interoperability.

Chest mounted ATAK
The challenge of establishing secure interoperable communications with partner/coalition forces has been a problem since the advent of wireless communications over a hundred years ago.

The historical intractability of this problem has been rooted in the fact that it is not just one issue that needs to be solved, but a whole host of interweaving problems push and pull against each other in a tangled mess that has never truly been solved.

Fundamentally the barriers to truly operational interoperable communications systems are rooted in security, training/logistics, and budget disparities that come into play when dissimilar forces have to work together.

To illustrate the example, lets take a generic unnamed Type-1 secure tactical radio from US. Should an American force need to interoperate with a friendly partner force, they would be completely unable to for the following reasons:

1. Due to security policy restrictions (ITAR and more), US forces simply cannot provide the radio outside of their direct US command, no matter how trusted they may be.

2. These kinds of radios are complex and require hands-on training and experience to operate, and in an expeditionary environment its entirely possible, if not likely, that the partner would have no idea how to use the radio, even if it could be handed over to them.

3. The waveform run on these radios is usually restricted or highly technical to set up as well, making connection to a different radio system over the air impossible or disallowed.

4. These radios, at least the most advanced mesh networking ones, cost at least $15,000 a unit, and there is little chance any command is going to let a $15K piece of equipment get handed out to an outside party – even if they were allowed to do so.

Attempts to solve these issues have circled just about every possible path, from trying to make interoperable waveforms (never truly pulled off), or simply turning to commercial solutions like LTE or WiFi to try to bring in outside partners and then segregate them on the backend with digital firewalls – again not unlike a traditional internet model.

This turning to consumer products has actually worked well however, but the limits of LTE and WiFi are well known for any program office. They are an affordable, mature, and deployable technology when operating against a highly disadvantaged enemy, as were the most recent combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, but against any kind of peer or near-peer adversary, the thought of relying on LTE and WiFi on the battlefield isn’t considered realistic by anyone.  Therein the continued need for advanced standalone digital tactical radios, particularly cognitive mesh networking radios that can flexibly combat the countermeasures to be expected from a technologically advanced adversary.

But these radios are precisely the ones that offer the largest barrier to any kind of realistic partner-force interoperability, or at least, they use to be. There is a new interesting player in the field that, perhaps coincidentally, is also a cross-over from the consumer/commercial market, goTenna.

A small Brooklyn-based startup, goTenna started 5 years ago as a consumer radio system designed for hikers and skiers to keep in touch with each other with their smartphones while out doing activities in remote environments where there was no cell service.  They designed a unique radio system which thanks to its unique focus on just communicating short bursts of data for texting and location tracking (they explicitly do not try to support energy and spectrum hungry transmissions like video which bloat other systems), resulted in providing a robust long-distance secure digital data transfer in a form factor that was radically smaller, lighter, and perhaps most importantly, radically less costly than any other legacy radio system.

goTenna Pro mounted to PALS webbing
In 2016 USSOCOM’s Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK) program took notice of this little REI and Amazon.com product, and used their SDK to integrate it into their battle management application. The integration was not able to support all the features in ATAK, but the funny coincidence was that the consumer use case closely mirrored the most important features within ATAK, specifically:

• Blue force tracking (for consumers, find my friends)

• Cursor on target (for consumers, map pins)

• Command/control via chat (no difference, text messaging)

Those three simple features could all be supported within goTenna’s short bursts of data, and thus provided support the overwhelming bulk of ATAK’s core situational awareness and command/control features in an off-grid secure digital radio network, but now within a bearer that was radically smaller, unrestricted, and perhaps most importantly only a few hundred dollars.

This combination of the ATAK platform and the goTenna consumer product provided an answer to the elusive partner force communications problem, and that answer boiled down to an almost comically simple solution, “Just hand the radios out to partners.”

That was it.

Instead of trying to establish interoperable coalition communications with complex RF waveform synchronization or convoluted data security firewalls the answer ended up being “interoperability through ubiquity” as goTenna likes to call it.


After removing the security policy restrictions (all goTenna security is run at the app level, not hardware, and thus have no ITAR or export controls), if one can cut the cost of secure mesh-networking radio system to only $499, the cost of their new upgraded goTenna Pro version, then simply carrying a stock of spare radios for handing out to partners on the fly when you need them to work with you is a practical and immediately deployable solution.

At that price point, if the partner were to break, steal, or otherwise do something you don’t want them to do to your radio, the cost of loss is negligible and you can just move on. Not something one could say when spending $15,000 or more a radio.

As an added bonus, all these communications on the goTenna/ATAK network also automatically bridge and backhaul back over any other data networks either within another tactical radio system (or Wifi, LTE, etc), or all the way back to the TAK server – offering a very interesting ability to mix and match different radio systems in powerful hub-and-spoke type architectures that can leverage goTenna’s small size, cost, and unrestricted status to expand the tactical edge in a meaningful and practically accessible manner.

Considering the increasing prominence of partner/indigenous force interoperation in today’s modern proxied conflicts, the criticality of finding a way to solve the interoperability issue is of utmost importance, and this model of using ATAK and goTenna for both blue force and green force communications has proven itself in Iraq, Afghanistan, and more locations of on-going conflict.

goTenna can accurately be called, at least for now, the world’s first and only hyper-low cost narrowband tactical mesh networking radio, which is something to be really thought about.  It is not every day that entirely new classes of radios are invented, it happens perhaps every 20 or 30 years, but when it does happen, these innovations present a powerful opportunity to radically change up legacy thinking about what might be possible at the tactical communications edge. Although it is still early, we are already starting to see how things might change as many major program offices around the world begin to turn their eye towards the example set by the SOF community already.

Be sure to check them out at SOFIC, in booth #1535, in the main hallway.

Need It Fast? Marines Can Print It

Saturday, April 28th, 2018


In the last few years, the Marine Corps has increased its exploration of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, to quickly replace parts for weapons, vehicles and equipment.

Most recently, Marines at the Mountain Warfare Training Center and the AM Team at Marine Corps Systems Command came up with a solution to print out same-day snowshoe clips.

Marines at the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California, train in freezing temperatures to get comfortable with their gear and prepare for future missions. MWTC Marines worked with the Additive Manufacturing Team at Marine Corps Systems Command to print out same-day replacement clips for their snowshoes. (Courtesy photo)

The MWTC, located in northern California, is tasked with the mission of training Marines in mountain and cold weather operations. During the winter season, snow accumulation can reach six to eight feet with temperatures as cold as 20 degrees below zero.

“If a Marine is attacking a position in the snow while in combat, and the clip on their boot breaks, it makes it difficult for the Marine to run forward with a rifle uphill to complete the mission,” said Capt. Matthew Friedell, AM project officer in MCSC’s Systems Engineering and Acquisition Logistics. “If he or she has a 3D printed clip in their pocket, they can quickly replace it and continue charging ahead.”

MWTC and MCSC worked together to print a newly designed snowshoe clip made out of strong and flexible resin at a cost of only five cents per clip. The team created and printed the clip within three business days of the request.

“The capability that a 3D printer brings to us on scene saves the Marine Corps time and money by providing same-day replacements if needed,” said Capt. Jonathan Swafford, AM officer at MWTC. “It makes us faster than our peer adversaries because we can design whatever we need right when we need it, instead of ordering a replacement part and waiting for it to ship.”

Another innovative product the team created for MWTC is an insulated radio cover. The radios the Corps uses have lithium ion batteries that die quickly in the cold, so the AM Team designed a 3D printed cover to keep the batteries warmer and help the charge last longer in cold temperatures.

“Just like the Commandant says, it’s important we continue innovating at all levels to remain ahead of our adversaries,” said Swafford. “Even our youngest Marines should be focused on innovation. The more of us who know how to use and design with this process, the better off we will be.”

AM Marines collaborate and share files using the Marine Makerwebsite. They communicate and share ideas so other Marines can easily build upon them, Swafford said.

In addition to creating replacement parts, additive manufacturing is used to design models and prototypes. Before the Modified Full Width Mine Plow prototype was developed, the AM Team created a 3D model with foldable tines to demonstrate how the Assault Breacher Vehicle could more easily deploy from a Navy Landing Craft Utility boat onto the shore.

“More than ever before, we are able to use 3D printing as a catalyst to spark everyone’s imagination for quick-fix solutions,” said Friedell. “The Marine Corps is leading the way in additive manufacturing, and we have to continue to use AM in every level of our warfare to fix equipment and weapons faster than the enemy and stay in the fight.”

By Kaitlin Kelly, MCSC Office of Public Affairs and Communication | Marine Corps Systems Command

Every Crisis Is An Opportunity

Friday, April 6th, 2018

Opportunity is everywhere. Thanks Nick for reminding me.

Innovation Showdown awards top prizes to Bounce Imaging, Veterans MFG and DetectaChem

Saturday, March 31st, 2018

COLLEGE STATION – Three companies won the top prizes in the “Under Fire Response Innovation Showdown,” an event which drew 20 innovative public safety technologies to College Station and Disaster City®. The winners were Bounce Imaging, Veterans MFG and DetectaChem. They were among the nine companies who made it to the final round in the two-day competition, and demonstrated their technologies for first responders at Disaster City.


The Product Development Center at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) hosted the event, which invited 20 companies from 11 states and Switzerland to pitch their products before a panel of judges on March 8-9 and compete for cash prizes.

First place winner was Bounce Imaging of Buffalo, NY, which has developed a softball-sized, 360-degree camera that first responders could toss into a hostage situation or other hostile event to give them an inside view of the incident.


Veterans MFG of Katy, TX, has developed lightweight body armor and bullet-resistant products for first responders.

DetectaChem of Stafford, TX, has a product that detects trace amounts of a drug using a swab kit and a smartphone application, allowing responders to analyze a drug sample in the field.

In addition to the top prizes, three companies were awarded in-kind services by Esri, Paragon Innovations and Ricochet Manufacturing. The companies who won those awards are RSQ Systems, HAAS Alert and Veterans MFG.

Many company spokespersons said they were excited about the opportunity to showcase their product’s capabilities in front of potential users of the technology.

“It was an open forum for a wide variety of technologies,” said Caleb Holt, Manager of the Product Development Center. “The event focused on technologies that are targeted to provide first responders with a way to complete their tasks faster, more efficiently and/or safer for both the responders and citizens.”

He said the goals of the event were to expose first responders to emerging technologies that they could use in the real world to make their jobs easier and safer, to show companies the resources and facilities available at TEEX’s Disaster City, and to build the Product Development Center’s network of partners throughout the industry and first responder communities.

The next Under Fire event is being planned for March 2019.

About the TEEX Product Development Center

The Product Development Center, a center within the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, helps manufacturers, product developers, inventors, entrepreneurs, and businesses move products from an idea or concept to the global marketplace. The Center serves as a gateway to the engineering expertise, experienced market analysts, laboratories, and real-world facilities of The Texas A&M University System in order to ensure a product or technology stays on the path to commercialization. Using the proven process of THINK | BUILD | SELL, the PDC helps companies develop methodologies, recruit subject-matter experts, assess partnerships, and test and evaluate their products. The Center also offers TEEX TESTED™, a third-party, unbiased testing and validation that a technology performs reliably in real-world conditions.  teexpdc.com

FirstSpear Friday Focus – Disruptive Technology

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

In January 2012 FirstSpear introduced the first production tactical vest with a laser cut MOLLE compatible platform along with Tubes, a new standard for rapidly donning and doffing ballistic protection.  Since then the technology has been fielded with assets of the United States Department of Defense, State and Federal Law Enforcement Agencies and early adopters from the international special operations community.


Ronnie Fowlkes, VP Business Development – “Everyone said the technology wouldn’t work when we first released it and thought we were crazy when we said we were discontinuing MOLLE permanently. Now, everyone else is trying to catch up and move this direction.”

Today, we take a look at some of these vests after more than five years of continuous field use.

Lieutenant Dan Colasanto heads up the Garland Police Department and SWAT Team and was one of the first teams to test, evaluate, and field the original Strandhögg plate carrier system more than 5 years ago. Those original vests are still in service with the Garland PD today. According to Dan, “Through heavy use and long continuous hours we have had zero issues with the carriers and they have exceeded our expectations.”


Garland SWAT Vest

We have been FirstSpear customers since the company started. The 6/12 system provides superior performance and durability compared to other carriers I have used in my 25 years of service in law enforcement and 22 years of SWAT. –Lt. Dan Colasanto – Garland Police Department

Tubes single hand operation was a game changer all on its own and the perfect complement to 6/12. When the two technologies are used together they can afford the operator about 40% reduction in weight compared to vests with the same features.

With increased demand from end users and adoption by operators within the US DOD, FirstSpear has agreements in place with industry leading manufacturers and OEM partners to license FirstSpear laser cutting technology and integrate Tubes into systems supporting the warfighter, law enforcement and security professionals. An enormous amount of energy was put forth to bring these disruptive technologies to the front lines and FS welcomes additional equipment manufacturers to expand upon the success of Tubes and laser cutting technology for their own equipment solutions.


Scott Carver, President & CEO – “After years of investment and development in new technology, we’ve demonstrated lighter weight, improved performance, and now real world durability at a level never seen before. In an effort to get this technology to the men and women who need it as rapidly as possible, we are actively working with other domestic manufacturers to help them integrate laser cutting and Tubes in to their vest systems.”

FirstSpear was founded in 2010 by a team of former service members and industry professionals dedicated to building the most advanced load bearing equipment and armor platforms for todays armed professional.