Magazine article National Defense

In Search of Better Gear: Army Research Arm Seeks to Enhance Armor Protection, Reduce Combat Load

Magazine article National Defense

In Search of Better Gear: Army Research Arm Seeks to Enhance Armor Protection, Reduce Combat Load

Article excerpt

The U.S. Army's research and development arm is reorganizing to better juggle immediate and far-term technology needs. On the short list are demands to reduce the weight of a soldier's combat load and to develop armor that protects exposed arms and legs from enemy fire.

Requirements for new battlefield equipment to meet combat conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan have created a considerable workload for the Army Research Development and Engineering Command, led by Maj. Gen. John Doesburg.

"People have started asking us for more and more," he told a National Defense Industrial Association international armaments symposium. The command, meanwhile, is struggling to balance immediate war needs against the army's long-range plan to field an ultramodern force.

"I need to be able to reorganize to have a group that looks specifically at solving our current problems and do it expeditiously; someone who looks at the near to mid-term future, and then someone who looks at the far-term future," Doesburg said.

For that purpose, Doesburg split the duties among three brigadier generals under his command.

Brig. Gen. Jamie Moran, the program executive officer for soldier systems, also serves as Doesburg's deputy commanding general for operations.

"He brought in a plan on how he will do this job, how he will combine the capabilities, and efforts that he has in PEO Soldier," said Doesburg.

Part of Moran's plan is to combine the rapid fielding initiative--the Army's fast-paced program to equip deploying soldiers--with the command's agile development center, which supports both current operations and emerging requirements. Also under Moran's oversight is the Army's field assistance in science and technology activity teams, who work with soldiers in the field.

He will "pull all those together so that we can truly have a focus on the current war fighter with a bunch of dedicated folks to us, not folks who work part time on today and part time on tomorrow," Doesburg said.

Under the rapid fielding initiative, each soldier is getting approximately $4,000 worth of new equipment--everything from uniforms and boots to rifle optics and night vision goggles.

Without specifying, Doesburg said that the agile development center has just received some significant funding that now not only allows internal research and development, but also permits industry to offer a "good idea that is somewhat mature." Industry input is aimed at gaining solutions as soon as possible over an 18-month span.

The rapid equipping force, or REF, is another Army effort to address specific needs on the battlefield. "The REF is trying to put things in the hands of soldiers in about 90 days," he said.

By comparison, the agile development center should be looking at technologies that still need six months to a year and a half to be matured, Doesburg said.

For that purpose, Doesburg's new deputy commanding general, Brig. Gen. Roger Nadeau, who has oversight of the agile development center, will be focusing on science and technology objectives in the near- and mid-term.

Based on feedback from the Iraq war, a series of critical technologies need to be developed in the next six months to a year, but the answers have not been found yet, Doesburg told National Defense.

One of the most daunting challenges is how to lower the weight of the soldier's combat load, he added. Soldiers in Iraq are carrying unprecedented amounts of ammunition. …

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