Shaping Army Acquisitions
Human factors expert keeps Soldier weapons on target
April 10, 2014
By Joyce M. Conant, ARL Public Affairs
- Collaborative effort with the materiel developer, capabilities developer and HRED can benefit any acquisition program
- Investing both time and money on the front end to optimize a materiel solution for the Soldier will result in less time and money spent later
- We need to be thinking human factors upfront and early - Soldier acceptance is a significant goal for PM SW with all of their systems
Dr. Gabriella Larkin has worked for the U.S. Army Research Laboratory for more than five years as a research psychologist. She began her career in the Translational Neuroscience Branch of ARL's Human Research and Engineering Directorate at Aberdeen Proving Ground and transferred to the weapons branch a year later.
In October 2013, Larkin took a developmental assignment as human factors lead at Project Manager Soldier Weapons, at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey. Larkin's job is to ensure that a good Soldier-system integration strategy underscores small arms acquisition programs, with emphasis on requirements and program development.
"I work with PM SW's requirement developers in MCoE [U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence] on capturing capability gaps in the context of human performance metrics and using human factors best practices, literature, and studies to inform functional requirements and system evaluation criteria," said Larkin.
Larkin believes that a collaborative effort with the materiel developer, capabilities developer and HRED can benefit any acquisition program by using the "trade space" still available in the pre-milestone B phase of the Army acquisition process. Investing both time and money on the front end to optimize a materiel solution for the Soldier will result in less time and money spent later (e.g., correcting mistakes) and speeds the product transitions to the field. Ultimately, Larkin hopes to help make a permanent place for Soldier-system integration work in acquisition while also making a permanent place for acquisition needs in Soldier-system performance research.
Col. Scott Armstrong, Project Manager Soldier Weapons, is among the first of his PM colleagues to bring a human factors expert on staff. Armstrong brought Larkin to PM SW knowing just how important the interface between Soldiers and their weapon systems is in order for Soldiers to be effective on the battlefield.
"We need to be thinking human factors upfront and early," said Armstrong. "Having Dr. Larkin in house puts ARL expertise at the fingertips of my product directors in real time. Our team is able to integrate her feedback as we draft our acquisition documents and test plans to maximize Soldier-Weapon compatibility."
Wherever possible, Larkin leverages the expertise and work going on throughout HRED. For example, upon learning that the Dismounted Warrior Branch was conducting a study on the impact of rifle caliber on felt recoil measurements, Larkin secured some additional funds to include a third caliber condition.
"I socialized their work with product directors across the PM shop and there are multiple areas here interested and vested in the outcome of that experiment," said Larkin. "For example, the squad designated marksman rifle requirement currently in development is anticipated to be utilizing some the results of that study."
Sometimes Larkin determines that information critical to inform the requirement in need just doesn't exist. In those situations she collaborates with product directors, assistant product managers, requirement project officers at MCoE, and the right HRED colleagues to design and execute an applied study to address the information gaps. An example of this is a study conducted last August in support of the squad common optic requirement. The study was funded by PM SW and was taken on as a joint effort by the MCoE HRED field element, the MCoE project officer and the PM SW optics lead.
"The study results shaped the requirement and prompted an ARL technical note to go up the capability development document staffing chain at TRADOC/HQDA [U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Headquarters]," said Larkin. "However, there is a lot more information required for that effort, which lead to the advent of cooperative research and development agreement between ARL-HRED, Dismounted Warrior Branch and Leupold and Stevens Optics.
"Our goal is to determine the design parameters required to deliver a reflexive fire capability in any optic on a 1x setting. Almost all of my work is done pre-milestone B. If the requirement is informed by Soldier-system integration work then down select will be as well, resulting in a post-milestone B program with little to no MANPRINT issues. Soldier acceptance is a significant goal for PM SW with all of their systems."
Being married to a former combat engineer with the 82nd Airborne Division who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan makes the notion of "Soldier acceptance" personal for Larkin.
"My husband's service does inspire some of the passion that I have for my job - I think of him and our other friends who served; it puts a face on 'the Soldier' and truly makes you understand the importance of getting this right and giving them your best effort," said Larkin. "But, I am also fortunate to work for and with heroes every day and am inspired and humbled by all of them and their service. If the most I can ever do for them and for my country is my job, I need to make sure that I put my all into it."