Agile processes are our strength, and frankly, it’s how we maintain momentum.”
– BG David Hodne, SL CFT Director Soldier Lethality CFT, Fort Benning, GA
The Army officer in charge of enhancing Soldier lethality praised an agile and nontraditional partnership with Microsoft for keeping the development of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) on schedule in spite of the challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The four weeks since the Army implemented strict measures to reduce the spread of the virus have been very telling, said Brig. Gen. David Hodne, the director of the Army Future Command’s Soldier Lethality Cross Functional Team, which leads the modernization enterprise developing the IVAS for the Close Combat Force. Team IVAS set out to keep the Soldiers and civilians working on the program safe without sacrificing time in the aggressive pursuit of critical next generation modernization technology.
“A month ago, we didn’t know what to expect as far as the potential impacts of the virus,” Hodne said. “The situation was still new, and we were just beginning to anticipate an extended period of mitigating measures, like a quarantine and social distancing and telework. Today, we’re still on track to deliver on time because we employed some creative solutions and rearranged the schedule in such a way as to move some things to the left and some to the right to keep us on target.”
IVAS, an augmented and virtual reality goggle system based on Microsoft’s HoloLens, is the SL CFT’s signature modernization effort. The “leap ahead technology” has made headlines since the concept was introduced when the Army partnered with Microsoft in November of 2018. New capabilities and a new approach to funding and acquisitions, all designed to return the force swiftly to a position of overmatch against peer threats in accordance with the National Defense Strategy, keeps IVAS in the crosshairs of skeptics.
“Our processes have understandably made some uncomfortable, largely because they don’t fit in the traditional manner in which we’ve done things in the Army,” Hodne said. “But the agile processes we’ve used throughout this effort are also our strength and, frankly, how we’ve maintained momentum.”
With restrictions on travel and gatherings, the pandemic has revealed the value of the methodologies Team IVAS has employed since inception, he said. The team consists of subject matter experts from the SL CFT, Program Executive Office Soldier, Army labs, Microsoft and the FORSCOM units who support the Soldier Touch Points (STPs) for which SL CFT has become known. The team is spread across the country, and members of each organization come together regularly to host the STPs that give Soldiers a critical voice in the process. STPs are high visibility events, popular with senior military leaders, Congress and the media, so the postponement of the much anticipated STP 3, from summer to fall, met with speculation that the fielding of IVAS to the troops would ultimately be delayed.
But that’s not the way it works, Hodne said. The development of IVAS has never been linear.
“It’s precisely because we take a nimble approach to our processes that we can shift Soldier Touch Point Three and still deliver all the same capabilities in the fall without impacting STP4 and the date we will equip that first unit. The team has always managed development across all the capability sets to capitalize on opportunities to accelerate technology or bring capabilities forward to get Soldier feedback early on,” he said. “This is an agile acquisition process that matches the agility of industry.”
That agility stems from the ability within the enterprises’ individual organizations to work concurrently on one aspect of the system or another – hardware, software, integration, etc.
“We can work software remotely, we can test it remotely, and we can come together using collaborative tools for design reviews. What we cannot do is get together at a location where we can’t maintain a responsible separation. Those are the things that we’re having to work our way around today to figure out what can we substitute in place and figure out how to mitigate the impacts to the schedule when those touch points are delayed,” Hodne said. “The incremental approach we take, with user juries and studies and touch points, lends itself to adjustments at any point for any reason. We adjust, we adapt; it’s what we’ve always done. In this case, it happens to be COVID-19.”
Some of the practices implemented across the national workforce because of the virus were already considered Team IVAS best practices, he said.
“Teleworking and remote distributed operations from coast to coast were fairly unique to this program and unique to this partnership before the pandemic made them commonplace, at least for the time being, in the national workforce. We’ve been operating in this mode for the last few years, and it so many ways it has been the key to our success.”
Though the pandemic situation remains dynamic, Hodne said, the experience has underscored the resilience of AFC’s innovative approach to modernization.
“COVID-19 is having an impact here as it as it is across the nation. But the (IVAS) team is driving on to the objective, and we absolutely have a plan to maintain our first unit equipped for IVAS in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 21,” Hodne said. “We’ve hit every mark. We’ve made every milestone. We’ve been able to provide even more capabilities than we had originally anticipated. It’s a rare program, not only to go this fast, but for the collective team to accomplish so much in the face of so many challenges. And we really don’t see that changing here in the near future.”
Hodne said the third STP, now scheduled to start in mid to late October, will put to the test the first ruggedized military form factor of the IVAS. STP 4, in the early part of 2021, will put IVAS to the test at the company level in a variety of combat scenarios to challenge system performance and network integration across multiple echelons.
For more information about Soldier Lethality CFT or IVAS, email firstname.lastname@example.org.