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Equipping Our Marines

MCB Quantico, Va.
RS JPO provides warfighters with technological advantages

By Chris Williams | | April 1, 2010

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(Editor’s Note: This story is reposted with permission from the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center’s Global Vehicles Systems Engineering and Technology News. It was originally posted at http://www.tardec.info/gvsetnews/article.cfm?iID=0702&aid=04.)

Warren, Mich. -- At a recent Great Lakes Chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) meeting in Warren, Mich., the newly installed Program Manager (PM) for the Robotic Systems Joint Program Office (RS JPO), Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel David Thompson, shared his vision for the role his office will play in supporting warfighters. One of his top priorities will be to work with associates throughout RS JPO to improve and expedite the acquisition process and provide quality life cycle management to the more than 6,500 RS JPO systems in support of warfighters.

“I’m a pragmatist, and I know that acquisition is very complicated,” Thompson stated. “I’m willing to negotiate when it comes to putting together an agreement for the best way to acquire a system for the warfighter, but the focus always has to be on what’s best for the warfighter. I believe that a good solution fielded quickly is better than a perfect solution fielded too late.”

Thompson stated that his experiences throughout his military career have prepared him for his work as PM RS JPO. After several years as a helicopter pilot, Thompson received a master’s degree in acquisition systems management from the Naval Postgraduate School and went to work acquiring the systems that would protect his fellow Marines in the H-1 helicopter program. He served in various areas throughout the Marine Corps acquisition community before undertaking his current position with RS JPO.

As RS JPO’s role expands and the number of systems fielded increases, the organization will need to continue its close partnerships with industry and academia to meet current requirements, improve capabilities and provide complete life cycle management to its robotics systems.

His previous position gave him “a unique perspective on the acquisition process because here I was, taking the skills I had learned in school and helping the guys who I had just left,” Thompson explained. “I knew the guys who were flying the aircraft that I was working on and the guys who were receiving the systems that we were procuring — it was that connection that really helped me understand the acquisition process that much more. I’ve seen how the acquisition process benefits the warfighter. I’ve flown in the aircraft that I’ve helped equip and was confident and comfortable that the systems were going to work because of the professionalism of the men and women in my office and the men and women in industry that I worked with to get those systems to the warfighter.”

Meeting Warfighter Needs
Before taking charge of RS JPO, Thompson traveled to Afghanistan to speak with warfighters and gain an understanding of their battlefield needs. He explained that warfighters need assistance navigating treacherous and harsh terrain and depend on the systems fielded by RS JPO and its partners in government, industry and academia to keep them out of harm’s way.

“They are looking for help right now. As they travel those long, winding roads in Afghanistan, culverts are one of the biggest dangers that they face on a day-to-day basis,” he stated. “They were very frank about how they use our systems and what they like and don’t like about our systems, but it was primarily praise. They were happy to have these types of systems that gave them standoff capability. It doesn’t take them out of harm’s way but, rather, increases that distance between them and the harm. In some cases, it helps them do their jobs better and in others even saves lives. That’s the highest compliment that RS JPO can get.

“I believe that a good solution fielded quickly is better than a perfect solution fielded too late,” the PM added.

As RS JPO’s role expands and the number of systems fielded increases, the organization will need to continue its close partnerships with industry and academia to meet current requirements, improve capabilities and provide complete life cycle management to its robotics systems. Thompson stated that decreased weight, improved capabilities and increased interoperability will continue to be major RS JPO and partner focuses.

“We need to get the equipment lighter, faster, more powerful and better for the operator,” Thompson stated. “Those are all areas that we’re looking to expand on. This is big, overarching picture stuff, and each of you has a lane that you’re working on with that. My responsibility will be to look at the big picture and make sure that the systems we have fielded, or are fielding now or are fielding in the future have these big picture issues considered and that we’re incorporating them, and if we’re not, why aren’t we?”

Thompson encouraged AUVSI members to continue the work they do in partnering with RS JPO and organizations like the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center to improve the systems that will keep Soldiers out of harm’s way and effectively complete their missions. He stated that the work done in improving the military’s fleet of intelligent ground vehicle systems will continue to play a crucial role in bringing warfighters home safe and sound.


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