In today’s rapidly evolving mission environments, warfighters need new vehicles, weapons and other systems fielded quickly. Current design and development approaches, however, are unable to deliver those systems in a timely manner. To help overcome these challenges, DARPA’s Adaptive Vehicle Make (AVM) portfolio of programs is working to develop revolutionary approaches for the design, testing and manufacturing of complex defense systems, with the goal of shortening development timelines by five times or more. Thanks to strong early test results and a new opportunity to transition the technology, DARPA has decided to speed its current AVM successes to the defense industrial base in 2014—years earlier than originally planned.
Since DARPA announced the winners of AVM’s Fast, Adaptable, Next-Generation Ground Vehicle (FANG) 1 Challenge last April, initial test results show that AVM’s prototype design tools can produce viable designs and its manufacturing tools and processes can build those designs correctly and rapidly. DARPA continuously evaluates its programs, and in AVM’s case specifically evaluated the outcome of the FANG 1 Challenge as well as the program’s additional development since then.
“AVM is at a critical threshold,” said Army Lt. Col. Nathan Wiedenman, DARPA program manager. “The FANG 1 design and build experience reduced the adoption risk of the most-developed AVM technology enough for DARPA to feel confident that these elements were ready to transition outside the agency. In addition, current AVM performers will continue development of several research areas this year – involving system behavior verification tools, manufacturability analysis and design completeness – before transitioning these as well.”
DARPA intends to transition the AVM portfolio into the defense and commercial industry through the new Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII), one of the three institutes within President Obama’s National Network for Manufacturing and Innovation planned for launch in 2014. DMDII is designed to be a national resource for the U.S. industrial base and increase U.S. competitiveness by accelerating innovation in digital manufacturing. The Institute would focus on the development of novel model-based design methodologies, virtual manufacturing tools and sensor- and robotics-based manufacturing networks.
DARPA is working closely with the Department of Defense Manufacturing Technology Program (DoD ManTech) to incorporate AVM technology transition as a part of the Institute’s responsibilities. DARPA has coordinated with the government management team for DMDII to ensure that technologies developed within AVM are fully transitioned to the Institute for continued research, development, refinement and propagation. DARPA is mindful that even its most developed AVM software tools are not as mature as a commercial software product release, especially given the need to manage model and interface standards across many existing commercial tools. As a result, DARPA intends use relevant industry partners to stress test the most mature elements of AVM in the upcoming months to help speed industry access to the final products.
In conjunction with the planned transition to DMDII, DARPA has determined that the agency will not hold an open FANG 2 Challenge or FANG 3 Challenge as originally planned. While open prize competitions leverage tremendous public enthusiasm, military systems design requires specific engineering qualifications, as well as the consideration of sensitive materials and analysis not suited for the public domain. Overall, however, DARPA anticipates that delivering AVM technologies to DMDII would increase the availability of its technology and research and accelerate transition.
“Working with DMDII can expand the number of active participants in AVM technology development and help extend the potential application of AVM research to non-military domains,” Wiedenman said. “Sitting at the crossroads of government, industry and academia, DMDII offers the best possible chance for AVM technology to successfully transition to industry—to the ultimate benefit of warfighters—as quickly as possible.”