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New methods of solving the challenges of today and tomorrow

Everyone has been talking about innovation now for many years, just as they have been in the defence departments of this world. However, the many faces of innovation have a connecting element in the context of defence technologies. Unlike in the past, civilian technologies and applications are now leading to leaps in development. In many cases, these are only put to a second, military use subsequently. This is associated with reduced evolutionary development cycles geared to the civilian market as well as possible new bidders of solutions which have hitherto not been part of the traditional armament industry. In order to meet the challenges this poses, new alternative methods and approaches to finding solutions are needed.

Dr. Urs Böniger, Innovation and Processes, armasuisse Science and Technology

The following example is fictitious and purely illustrative and does not correspond to any current projects of the Swiss Armed Forces

Profile of a member of the Armed Forces wearing VR glasses.
The challenges of the DDPS can be met with innovation

Using the DDPS innovation environments, innovative and demand-driven solutions can be sought for existing challenges, such as current or future capability gaps. As the end users are involved from the beginning, misguided investments can be avoided. This results in a more sustainable solution for all parties involved.

The United Nations (UN) is forecasting that in the year 2050, almost 70% of the world’s population will live in cities. One driver of this development, according to the analyses by the UN, is that poverty is decreasing as urbanisation increases. This is because life in and around cities increases the chances of a job, the well-developed infrastructure enables a higher living standard and the productivity also increases. This trend contributes to the fact that cities, the longer the more, are taking on a key role in the functioning of a nation. Although conflicts were already fought out in the urban environment in the past, these will increasingly shift to urban areas according to estimates by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as well as security policymakers. But what does this mean for an army of the future and what does it have to do with innovation?

The path to innovation

These are precisely the questions with which Petra Schneider has been dealing with for some time. For more than ten years now, she has been in charge of the area for further development of reconnaissance and surveillance systems for the Swiss Armed Forces. However, she is currently faced with a major challenge. As threat scenarios are increasingly shifting from open to built-up terrain, new military skills need to be established. Traditional military systems which were designed primarily for combat in open terrain cannot really deploy their advantages in the urban canyons of the cities. How can we now meet the demands of the future?

To answer this question, Petra Schneider has meanwhile examined numerous commercial solutions in the armament industry – from motion sensors to networked optical sensors and many more – and knows their advantages and disadvantages. Nevertheless, from Petra’s point of view, these cannot be brought in line with the requirements and with the available budget. Due in particular to the developments in machine learning as well as the increasing networking of devices which can be observed on a daily basis in the civilian environment, she is not convinced by the previous solution options. It was precisely these doubts and the question of alternatives which made her aware of the DDPS innovation environments.

The DDPS innovation environments are procedures for enabling novel concepts and ideas to be developed and to possibly even incorporate unconventional solutions for procurement projects into the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport DDPS.


She contacts an employee of armasuisse Science and Technology (S+T). Together they discuss the possibility of an innovation environment. In an innovation environment, the definition of the specific military needs is also a basic condition for initialisation. In addition, one of the aims of the DDPS innovation environments is to harness the innovative capacity of national and international industry and academia for the DDPS. Specifically, the DDPS innovation environments consist of individual, self-contained instruments. They enable answers to be found for various different phases in a solution process, in order to subsequently incorporate these answers into the planning or the procurement process. However, which approach to the solution is the most advantageous is often unknown at the start of the process, or at least not obvious.

Convinced by the benefits of these innovation environments, Petra Schneider contacted the office responsible for the DDPS innovation environments. It was the exchange with colleagues from Armed Forces Planning and Doctrine as well as the military applications of the Joint Operations Command which contributed to once again refining the need for innovation and aligning it to the possibilities of the DDPS innovation environments. After just a short time, Petra Schneider was thus able to submit her application on the topic «Sensors and military capacity building for urban areas».

The path to the innovation environment

After just one week she received positive feedback – her application to initiate a DDPS innovation environment had been approved by the responsible committee Innovation Board V. This means that the assessment of the technological challenges as well as the potential for implementing an innovation environment had been recognised. A few weeks later, she found herself as a user in a workshop, together with the Armed Forces, the technology experts from S+T and the procurement unit. Now it was a question of analysing the needs once again on a holistic basis, defining the general conditions and selecting the suitable innovation environment. The innovation environments, as she was able to learn, were not physical rooms or projects, but specific instruments. These are used to find, develop and test solutions. Here, each environment pursues a different goal and contributes to providing answers to questions about finding solutions.

Based on the findings of this workshop, the group came to the conclusion that a competition would constitute the most suitable innovation environment. This is because a suitable solution for Ms. Schneider’s specific requirement is unknown or does not yet exist as such. In addition, competitions can be implemented in several stages and thus represent an attractive way of finding solutions. At the same time, the potential was also recognised that both the civilian as well as the extended security environments are confronted with similar issues and that even industry as well as universities could provide important contributions for a solution.

Activating the innovation environment

The next step was now to set up an independent panel of experts responsible for assessing the solutions, compiling the tender documents and preparing the communication. In particular, the development of the functional performance specification, with the philosophy of being as restrictive as necessary but as open as possible, was a very exciting and iterative process. This allowed the whole team to immerse themselves in the question once again, and they supplied new findings, particularly for Petra Schneider, although she had already been working on the topic for years. Now the time had come, the required documents were created and the competition was made publicly known. It was the uncertainty of how the market would react to the competition and whether solutions would be submitted which induced Ms. Schneider to log on to the tendering platform every day to check whether any solutions had been received. However, she had not expected to experience what happened after just ten days. An amazing 16 proposed solutions had been received, including some from unexpected economic sectors, fortunately with very different solution approaches.

Implementing the innovation environment

Once the submission deadline had been reached, the evaluation phase began. The submitted solutions were assessed by the panel of experts based on previously defined and known assessment criteria. For Ms. Schneider, it was extremely interesting to see how there was agreement on certain points straight away. On some points, on the other hand, the technical experts exchanged their various different points of view and assessments and transposed these into a consolidated valuation. As the innovation environment competition is a multi-level process, only those participating bidders who meet the criteria and conform to the assessment of the independent panel of experts reach the next round. Thus only five bidders (shortlist) from the market approach of Ms. Schneider’s competition project were considered for the second phase, the solution design. Over the coming months, these five bidders were able to develop their solutions. Together with technology experts from armasuisse Science and Technology, the panel supervised and iteratively tested the third and fourth phases – the prototype development – as well as the validation in the operational environment. Finally, Ms. Schneider was able to present the results of the fourth phase to the Army Command after just one year. What she was able to show on her screen was a location plan with object symbols that moved at different speeds. However, what was fascinating was that on the one hand, she was able to pursue objects such as vehicles or persons even inside buildings while on the other also simultaneously display a description of these objects. And all of this using sensors that were already available. The presentation of these results convinced everybody present.

As a result, one solution clearly prevailed at the end of the fourth phase. The solution is based on existing, but very different sensors. These sensors recognise characteristic patterns of objects and can thus determine their location and movement. At the same time, it was also possible to make statements with high levels of probability regarding which type of objects were concerned. As Ms. Schneider had already explored machine learning, she was pleased to see that the progress in this field is already so advanced that findings from the civilian environment can be transferred to the military environment. However, what astonished her was the winner’s economic sector. It was a company whose origins lie in the industrial condition monitoring of machines. Nevertheless, the company was able to prove throughout the various phases that they had the expertise as well as the resources to transpose the integrated prototype into a product.

Utilising the environment

The panel of experts was thus in agreement that the winning solution could be recommended for procurement. Based on the extremely successful demonstration of the prototype that was integrated, in other words,

combined with all relevant elements in a real operational environment, the Innovation Board V was also convinced by the solution and agreed to a commercial procurement.

From Ms. Schneider’s point of view, this was a complete success. As it had been possible to use existing sensors, the costs of the procurement were kept low. And thanks to the finding of a solution for an innovation environment, she had discovered a potential which she would never have dreamed of. Thus, thanks to a novel idea, one of the challenges of the DDPS was addressed and a solution found.

Alternative paths are thus available to the DDPS which enable the challenges of today and tomorrow to be met together.

From fiction to reality

Even if the example is purely fictitious, it stands as an example of a new method. These new methods are called DDPS innovation environments and are being developed by armasuisse Science and Technology in order to ultimately be made available to the entire DDPS. The instruments competition, booster, idea labs, sandbox and test run currently form the DDPS innovation environments. However, it is important to constantly adjust the instruments to needs accordingly and to develop new solution approaches where necessary.

Goal of the innovation environments

Using the DDPS innovation environments, we at armasuisse Science and Technology are seeking, developing and evaluating novel solutions in cooperation with the Armed Forces and third parties (universities and the private sector) and are utilising these to meet the challenges of the DDPS).