The U.S. Army has confirmed that it selected FLIR Systems, a company that specializes in the production of thermal imaging cameras and Unmanned Systems, to produce the Common Robotic System – Heavy, or CRS-H, (pronounced “Chris-H”) to bolster EOD Soldiers’ protection by increasing standoff to interrogate hazardous devices in the range of military operations and in homeland defense applications.
Delivery of this modernized capability is slated to begin in the third quarter of Fiscal Year 2020. The contract is valued at $109 million, and the Army Acquisition Objective is 248, according to a recent service news release.
“The Army is modernizing robotic and autonomous capabilities with a family of enduring systems that leverage the best of available commercial technology critical to giving Soldiers overmatch in future contingencies,” explained Timothy G. Goddette, the Army’s program executive officer for Combat Support & Combat Service Support, headquartered here. “The current approach allows the Army to focus resources on fast-changing payload technology, rather than having to replace entire systems — meaning Soldiers can access new technology faster and can buy more of what the Army really requires.”
The Army’s release states that CRS-H’s basic operational capabilities include: platform speed – 6 mph; obstacle clearance – 32 inches (Jersey Barrier); platform endurance – 7 hours; weight – 700 lbs.; interoperability profile compliant; cyber hardened.
CRS-H’s special features will provide enhanced capability to detect, identify, access, render safe, exploit, and achieve final disposition of heavy explosive ordnance, including Improvised Explosive Devices, Vehicle Borne IEDs, and Weapons of Mass Destruction at safe standoff. CRS-H will field with these native payloads:
• Cameras (including pan, tilt, zoom)
• Secure radios
• One radio relay to extend operational range in urban and complex terrain
• Robust manipulator arm
• Cargo carrier rack
• Operator control unit.
With the CRS-H program, a phased, quicker acquisition plan allowed the Army to make informed program decisions based on direct Soldier feedback on commercially available technology — fielding equipment faster than typical processes allow. The system was developed under Other Transaction Authorities, or OTAs, during Phase I and Phase II efforts. An OTA is an authority of the Department of Defense to carry out certain prototype, research, testing and production projects. OTAs were created to give DoD the flexibility necessary to adopt and incorporate business practices that reflect commercial industry standards and best practices into its award instruments.
“Using an innovative acquisition strategy that involved close synchronized teaming with the Army EOD Capability Developer and Army G8, employment of the Army’s Robotic Enhancement Program and the OTAs, the CRS-H team awarded this contract within a year and a half of Capability Production Document approval. Using traditional acquisition processes, it could have taken as much as three and a half years to get to this point in a program,” said Lou Anulare, the Army’s product manager for Unmanned Ground Vehicles.
Soldier evaluation has truly been a critical part of the CRS-H program from the outset, and has helped compress the time it takes to field a modernized capability that meets the needs of the Soldier. “We develop equipment for Soldiers to use in demanding situations, and there is no substitute for their perspective in operating the system – their input is of utmost value,” said Maj. James Alfaro, chief EOD capability developer, Sustainment Capability Development and Integration Directorate, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
Anulare echoed Alfaro’s comments and explained the first Soldier “touchpoint” occurred during the program’s Phase I’s “fly off” in late 2018 at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. There, an EOD team conducted operations to utilize each of the three candidate CRS-H systems to simulate missions responding to complex explosive hazard threats — to include Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices and large ordnance items. Each EOD Soldier provided feedback on each system relative to each mission. The Army provided this feedback directly to each competing company, which was used to upgrade their systems prior to delivering hardware for the next fly off.
The second Soldier touchpoint took place during Fly Off #2 in May and June this year at a Military Operations on Urban Terrain site on Fort Hood, Texas. During this event, Anulare said three separate EOD teams evaluated each of the three candidate CRS-H systems. These teams conducted missions that replicated explosive hazard threat scenarios expected during large-scale combat operations. Each Soldier provided feedback through surveys assessing overall system performance of each of the candidate CRS-H systems. Ultimately, the Soldier feedback gained through experimentation proved to be a critical factor in the source selection process for the CRS-H production contract down-select announced Nov. 14.
The next steps in the CRS-H program call for using Phase II testing results to obtain a Safety Confirmation and Operational Test Agency Evaluation Report to allow for immediate fielding to EOD Teams under a Conditional Materiel Release with Commercial Off The Shelf technical manuals in the third quarter of Fiscal Year 2020. The Army will then complete additional logistics requirements, including maintainer manuals and Field Level Maintainer New Equipment Training necessary to achieve Full Materiel Release in Fiscal Year 2021.