It's a question that Steve Kimmel is asking “” from a business development point of view. As Kimmel sees it, government contractors have a significant role to play on two fronts. In addition to furthering the success of government customers, contractors can help promote the ultimate driver for economic growth: innovation.
“The stimulus package had its time and place “¦ now, let's start talking about the innovative things that we, as an industry, can help lead,“ says Kimmel, (right), senior vice president for corporate development at Alion Science and Technology, an employee-owned technology solutions company based in McLean, Va.
“Let's talk about the innovative things that we, as an industry, can help lead.“ “” Alion's Steve Kimmel
Kimmel's call to action comes at a critical time. Sixteen months after passage of the stimulus bill, President Obama is making a second urgent appeal for more funds. While the jury's still out as to whether sustained growth is in the works, pretty much everyone agrees on the role innovation can play in recovery efforts. President Obama said as much in April 2009: “Science is more essential for our prosperity, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been before.“
That's where Alion comes in. “In addition to the technological advances we develop daily for our customers, we have a very aggressive IRAD [internal research and development] program,“ says Kimmel. How aggressive? Recently, Kimmel offered an update on several areas in which the company is leaving its tech engineering mark on behalf of government “” and future “” markets.
Alion: Next generation solutions
In years past, government led milestones in innovation: take, ARPANET and GPS. “As a result of those strides, the American people prospered and our standard of living has improved,“ says Kimmel. “So, the operative question is, “˜What's next?'“
Alion aims to help government customers seek the next new technology solution. Much of the company's work involves modeling and simulation, often for training and experimentation, but also for other purposes, such as homeland security, infrastructure enhancements and operational efficiencies.
“We're looking at the next generation of creative ideas and solutions,“ says Kimmel. He cites the Alion-developed Mobile Parts Hospital, a transportable parts fabrication system that produces machined replacement. That technology, he says, is easily transferable to customers in a wide variety of areas. “Because of the technology's agility, it can be of benefit from the mountain tops of Afghanistan, to the deserts of Iraq, to the blistering heat of Haiti, to places along the hurricane coast where you need on-the-spot abilities to provide infrastructure repair and support,“ says Kimmel.
Here's a deeper look at other initiatives in the works:
1.) SNIM technology support. Information access is key to determining military operations success. With that in mind, Alion is focused on improving access, sharing, and security of information on behalf of the Department of Defense. Recently, the DoD awarded Alion, plus eight other primes, the Software, Networks, Information, Modeling, and Simulation (SNIM) contract, valued at up to $2 billion. “It's an expanded statement of work to provide viable solutions in the changing, high-tech area of information technology,“ says Kimmel. “This means developing solutions with interoperability and information assurance as core design elements.“
2.) Train simulation technology. Rail transportation systems across the United States are in pressing need of modernization. Alion's ability to help in that effort comes courtesy of the Cab Technology Laboratory (CTIL), a train simulation technology developed by the company for the Federal Railroad Administration.
The realistic environment ““ down to the mechanical and electronic controls ““ measures how the crew responds to their environment in the cab. “The CTIL's eye-tracking cameras and sophisticated assessment tools will help the FRA recommend changes to equipment and procedures to improve human performance, reduce fatigue, and prevent accidents,“ says Kimmel.
3.) Serious game solutions. New recruits, as well as many experienced warfighters, are familiar and comfortable with computer games. Using that same technology, Alion is helping the DoD introduce “serious games“ “” that is, video games that teach applicable skills. The Damage Control Trainer, developed for the Navy by Alion (working with Raytheon BBN technologies), gives recruits the skills to deal with a shipboard emergency situation. The results have been noteworthy: After just one hour with the trainer, errors were reduced by 50-to-80 percent.
“This is just the beginning, “says Kimmel. “We’ve also developed an immersive game for training the bridge crew of the Littoral Combat Ship, and we've used the same technology to develop other multi-player simulations … using operationally-accurate gaming systems can effectively train a technologically adept generation of recruits.“
4.) Radiological and nuclear threats simulation. Weapons of mass destruction remain a threat to homeland and national security, which is why Alion is researching and developing a complete modeling and simulation environment enabling researchers to represent new technologies aimed at detecting the presence of radiological and nuclear materials. The DoD contract asks the company to simulate many representative WMD scenarios.
The ultimate goal of this program is to evaluate technology solutions for WMD detection. “By simulating the environment and various sensor technologies, this solution will allow the DoD to determine which solutions can give warfighters the ability to quickly detect radiological WMDs in real-world situations,“ says Kimmel. “It's also cost-effective, as new ideas can be tested without building physical sensor networks … this research can help identify which technologies offer greater returns on investment.“
Looking ahead, Kimmel sees one central role for Alion. As he puts it: “To be a continued innovator of ideas “” and provider of innovative solutions “” for the next generation of society in national defense, as well as in homeland security, healthcare, and infrastructure areas.” He adds: “The current climate for government contractors is just that: the environment in which we do business. As a supplier of technical expertise and capability, our job is to help our customers succeed. Alion's value is in our ability to deliver solutions that are not only effective but practical “” that value is what keeps us growing.”
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