Army, university, industry collaboration effort gets boost from new facilityStory
September 07, 2023
FirePoint Innovations – a partnership between Wichita State University (WSU) and the U.S. Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command, Aviation and Missile Center (DEVCOM, AvMC) – recently cut the ribbon on its Applied Innovation Center (AIC) in Huntsville, Alabama. The AIC is a brand-new collaboration, prototyping, and testbed facility aimed at accelerating technology discovery and adoption for U.S. Army aviation.
The original FirePoint Innovations Center at Wichita State University (WSU) in Kansas is an endeavor launched in 2017 between the university and the U.S. Army’s DEVCOM AvMC. Initially, the WSU program was set up to accelerate joint technology development, transfer, and commercialization between DEVCOM, universities, industries, and government organizations.
Steve Cyrus, executive director of FirePoint Innovations Center at WSU, stated in a 2022 university interview that all concerned with FirePoint regard it as a “force multiplier” for the U.S. Army and its technology development and integration.
Now, the center operates jointly with the Army: “We’re looking at Army technology and pushing it out – but then, also, we’re looking at what’s happening in the startup space and in the commercial sector and seeing what we can press into the aviation and missile center and on their mission to give technology and get technology to the warfighter,” Cyrus said.
Moreover, said Cyrus, the WSU Innovations Center’s effect on work force development within the university community has been profound, noting that WSU spends tens of millions of dollars each year paying wages to students working within its industry and defense programs – which includes FirePoint – ushering along ideas that target the Army’s modernization priorities. The Army’s declared areas of focus and improvement include combat vehicles, air and missile defense, soldier lethality, long-range precision fire, vertical lift, and networking.
The FirePoint Innovations team purposely located the newly christened Huntsville FirePoint AIC near the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal, according to the FirePoint announcement of the launch. Redstone is an Army installation commissioned in 1941 that serves as the host for a variety of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) tenant commands, the FBI, and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
The new Huntsville AIC is situated to enable Army aviation leaders to collaborate with emerging technology companies and also offers a way for smaller companies to get involved with the DoD and overcome some of the challenges nontraditional businesses face in the defense market. It is equipped with two prototyping and testing labs plus proximity to the resources the Army and the private-sector companies need for collaboration and technology development, the announcement noted.
Leading the team as AIC director is military and defense industry executive Matthew Pfrommer, who has experience on several fronts: He has worked in technology companies on design, development, and operational deployment of national asset mission systems, plus he has served as a senior DoD Acquisition Corps Member in multiple roles for U.S. Army acquisition.
In the Huntsville announcement, Pfrommer is quoted as saying that this DoD innovation program is a bit different because the AIC has both the capacity and expertise to actually facilitate the development, integration, and deployment of new technologies and solutions to address capability gaps in Army Aviation.
“This isn’t your typical ‘innovation theater’ program where both sides get together to discuss hypotheticals,” Pfrommer said. “The AIC is where DoD and private-sector engineers can bring their technologies, connect them up, experiment, and iterate to solve problems, rather than broadcasting corporate commitments to the latest buzz on social media or theorizing paper solutions in proposal documents. I’m excited to see the accelerated innovation that comes out of these partnerships.”
This kind of from-the-ground-up collaboration lowers risk for the parties involved: On one hand, Army aviation experts are able to scope out, integrate, and thoroughly test private-sector technologies to ensure compatibility prior to buying them; on the other hand, small businesses are able to shorten the often years-long process and lower the large cost of selling technologies to the Pentagon. Moreover, companies involved from the beginning of the process are better able to engineer specific solutions based on potential users’ ideas, needs, and directions.
The Huntsville Firepoint AIC website lists a number of areas of concentration, including outreach like community relations and industry roundtables; workforce development including training and mentoring; technology transfer including scouting and acceleration; program management including subcontracting and technology alignment; informing requirements, including research alignment with regulatory requirements; and consulting, which could include process assessments and standards development.
According to AIC director Pfrommer, the goal is to eventually establish AICs in other strategic locations around the U.S. to further connect the military, academia, and the defense industry.