A soldier’s technology roadmap to the future
One of the longstanding wishes of the Canadian defence industry is the opportunity for early involvement in the development of new equipment and technologies – the first steps of any procurement process. As National Defence (DND) and the army consider the equipment and technologies they will need for future soldier systems, they have adapted a practice well honed by Industry Canada – technology road mapping. Over the course of the 18 months between mid 2009 and the end of 2010, they will bring together industry, academia, the Canadian Forces, government and subject matter experts from the private sector to discuss and project future requirements and possible solutions.
In addition to the expertise of Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) and Public Works and Government Services Canada, the project has also received firm backing from the industry association, CADSI, and Technpôle Defence and Security. Running the gamut from power and energy to lethal and non-lethal weapons, to clothing, communications and sensors, the technology roadmap (TRM) is focused on giving direction to the military and industry well into the next decade.
Geoff Nimmo, manager of Industry Canada’s Technology Roadmap Secretariat, and LCol Michel Prud’homme, Director Soldier Systems Program Management Representative to the Technology Roadmap, spoke with Vanguard about the process and its potential for collaboration.
Industry Canada has a well-established process for facilitating technology roadmaps. How is the soldier systems TRM different?
GN: This is slightly different than the ones we’ve done with other sectors. A few years back, DND did a capability exercise looking at their future requirements and the type of technologies that might help DND get there. But they had only a limited idea as to which companies could produce those technologies and what the maturity level of those technologies potentially was and what it was projected to be. So we got involved in this exercise with DND. The process consists of a number of workshops, each of which is almost a miniature technology roadmap. First, DND and DRDC experts address their vision capability requirements. Industry and academia at the tables then discuss the presentation among themselves: is that vision complete or are there things that could be added to it? Next is a session about the technology challenges that the vision puts forward, followed by a session on possible technology alternatives, and finally one addressing priority technologies – thrust areas. At the end of the day, companies will have discussed the vision, the alternatives, and which ones they suggest as ways to move forward in a particular area. There will also be a report afterwards. And, as with all TRMs, all the information is made public; all of the roadmaps are posted on the website.
MP: It was modified to suit our purposes as a military. In this instance DND is the “demandeur” – we’re the ones who are going to use the information and apply it to future soldier systems. The common comment we heard from industry in the past is that they wanted to be involved earlier. Well, this is a way for them to be involved at the front end. At the end of this, we’ll have a capstone document on how we can use the synergies we’ve discovered together to propose a way ahead, to help us in the next phase – the implementation phase. We will have established to a greater or lesser extent what research and development is needed in industry, in collaboration with DND and DRDC such that, five, ten or fifteen years down the road, we will be able to fill the capability gaps in our solider system modernization efforts.
Since the workshops are open, how sure are you that you’ve got the right people from industry and academia represented – that there is not an assumption about getting in line for contracts?
GN: We make it very clear when we send out the invitation, whether through MERX or CADSI, what the TRM is about. This is an information gathering, visioning exercise. It’s not about procurement. Procurement is well into the future. You can’t tell companies who to send, but if they are going to take the time and expense to attend, we hope it would be someone who could contribute to the conversations. We make it clear that this involves roundtable discussions. They need to be prepared to contribute.
MP: This is not about acquisition and procurement; it’s about better planning. I’m interested in planning how we will identify and create the need for the R&D to bridge the capability gaps that will exist. The first two sessions, and prior to that the visioning exercise, drew about 600 participants. At the power and energy workshop in Vancouver; and at the lethal/non-lethal weapons workshop in Toronto, you could see the synergies, the networking, that was going on between those representatives from industry. It seems to me that with every workshop we’ve gotten better at creating a better plan for the future environment.
GN: There is a core of companies that tend to go to all of the workshops. And especially at the regional conferences, you get more small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs). And we’ve generally had the right type of person at each workshop. For power and energy, for example, we had companies involved in fuel cells and alternative energy areas.
From a technological point of view, do you find the companies open in sharing what they are doing? Some of it is pretty cutting edge.
GN: It is more open than you tend to think it might be. Companies know they are going into a collaborative process. They are not about to give away company secrets but they realize what we’re doing with this technology roadmap. We’re talking about information exchange; we’re talking about building up the type of knowledge that would perhaps be valuable for future procurement. We also have the Industry Collaboration Exchange Environment (ICEE) online. That software is set up so that on one side you’ve got DND and DRDC capability needs and the technologies that they’ve identified; and on the other side industry can enter details about their particular companies, projects or technologies, which is then part of a collaborative environment on the wiki. We’re trying to induce collaboration.
As the “demandeur” of the soldier system requirements, how much does DND want to steer this process? Are there specific technological solutions you’d like industry to consider?
MP: We leave the technological solutions to the participants and our DRDC experts to arrive at; they keep us technologically and operationally relevant. What we do is explain what we would like to be able to do and let them take it from there. Within the workshops held thus far, it was interesting to see that as the discussions were taking place, themes about further research requirements emerged. We also found that some was inter-related. For example, there was an obvious synergy between the discussions that took place at the power/energy workshop and comments made at the lethal/non lethal weapons one. There are significant challenges faced by the army with the physical load it places on its soldiers because of the number of different batteries required. How are we going to ensure/create energy in the future to power all that we ask our frontline soldier to do? How do we go about minimizing the load penalty? We’ve got to find a way to address this through new technology. We will bridge that gap. And, industry, academia and research experts are the people who will get us there.
GN: The synergy and the input from industry are critical in this roadmap. The large companies that follow defence issues perhaps know what DND is seeking in the future, but there are a number of SMEs with niche technologies that might not know or have any direct involvement with DND. Through this TRM, they can now enter into the discussions. With workshops on power and energy, lethal and non-lethal weapon systems, C4I/sensors, clothing, etc., a whole new ball game is opened. You’ve got life sciences and other non-defence companies with niche technologies that could be really critical. They can also participate through the ICEE and post their particular technology. DRDC can see it; other companies can see it and perhaps build on it and work with them on a collaborative basis.
What sorts of technologies or collaborations have come out of previous roadmaps? What can industry expect?
GN: We break that into collaborative R&D, strategic directions, networking and skills. One of the things we’ve never really investigated is what companies do on their own – we felt that was invasive. But in terms of collaborative R&D, for example, after the first aerospace TRM, the National Research Council set up a collaborative R&D shop. Following the composites roadmap in the aerospace sector, there were collaborative R&D initiatives with large aerospace companies. And the lean logistics TRM led to HRSDC’s sector councils being established, and that’s all about skills development. We’ve done evaluations of 10 technology roadmaps, and networking and partnerships always come out strongly. Companies get to know each other better. And they come away with new strategic directions – if you have a good TRM, you’ll have a good sense of where the market is going and what companies need to do. The final report is a valuable document not only for the companies, but also for government departments. In the case of NRC, they’ve used it in their strategic planning. The better the roadmap, the better the results for industry and government. In addition to a series of recommendations on skills and technologies, the TRM should also be a communications document. You should be able to take it to the highest levels of government and say, here’s a specific sector, we looked at our challenges for the future, and these are the skills and technologies we need in order to be more competitive in the future. Can you work with us? That’s the other aspect of the TRM.
It is still early in the process, but has anything come out of the Soldier Systems workshops that you did not expect?
GN: One of the things we’ve been really pleased with, and Michel alluded to it earlier, is the participation by industry. We’ve had excellent turnouts for the sessions; on average two-thirds of the participants have been from industry. We haven’t come to any implementation aspects yet, but we certainly have come to the networking and partnerships. The number of representatives popping out of the room for side discussions was significant. After Vancouver, we did a survey asking if any partnerships or relationships had developed and 15 responded positively, which is what we want.
Do you see this technology roadmap process being used to address other requirements within the Canadian Forces? Will you take this to the air force or navy in the future?
MP: This is a pilot project for the army but if this type of initiative works well for the specific soldier requirements, it will be beneficial to all three services. Coming from the air force myself, I can already see applications for it in terms of filling their future requirements. Modifications to, and acquisition of, new airframes, and all that is associated with them, for example, imply the need for a forward thinking systems approach.
GN: At the end of the day, DND and DRDC will do an evaluation of this, but if they want to use it for anything similar in the future, the blueprint is now laid out. But you’ve also got a couple of things that we didn’t have when we started this process. You’ll have the ICEE that you can use for any future
technology roadmaps. We’re also acquiring – we’re just doing the proof of proposal right now – road mapping software, which is an ongoing visual depiction of the development of the TRM. You see the technologies, what they lead to, the market demands and a time continuum across the top. We’ll have snapshots of the road mapping software up on the TRM website, so for SMEs who perhaps can’t make it to the workshops they’ll be able to see what types of technologies are leading to what types of products, to what type of market demands. The roadmap finishes in December 2010 but it will be an ongoing process after that. You’ll have these products in place for anything in the future.
MP: When it comes to road mapping, in the past perhaps we were all doing it intuitively within our own environments, but not to this extent, and perhaps not as well as we could have, through the use of facilitators like those provided by Industry Canada. Having a formal process that forces you to step away from everything else and sit at a table to discuss anticipated capability requirements with people who have an interest in getting us there makes our lives a lot of easier. We’re very good in the military and within DND at writing down lessons learned after the fact. Within this forum we can apply these lessons and in some instances avoid operating outside the realm of the possible.
An interview with Geoff Nimmo and LCol Michel Prud’homme