Is It Working? Forward Operational Assessment Teams Evaluate System Effectiveness Downrange
Cast, Mike, Soldiers Magazine
To support the military operations that toppled the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, the U.S. and its allies have had to rely on a wide range of weapons systems that had never been fielded. The rigors of counterinsurgency have revealed that many of these systems needed modifications before troops could use them safely and effectively.
The Army Test and Evaluation Command--the major command responsible for helping Army acquisition organizations field effective, reliable and safe systems--is meeting this urgent need by deploying forward operational assessment teams to combat theaters.
The first ATEC FOA team deployed to Kuwait in the early stages of the war in Iraq, to assess the performance of Army vehicles that Soldiers were driving at high speeds to keep from becoming easy targets.
Since then, 14 ATEC FOA teams have deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq. They have been assessing the performance of everything from counter-IED technologies to unmanned aerial and ground systems that can gather intelligence on enemy activities or serve as weapons platforms.
Deployed teams usually stay in theater for several months, although some have stayed up to a year.
Major Samuel Ancira of the Operational Test Command, who deployed as a member of ATEC FOA Team 13, said the workweek he and his colleague experienced in Kuwait was often hectic; typically "12 to 14 hours, six days a week."
According to several team members, no one minds the rigors of the mission, because they know how crucial it is to the Soldiers facing the threat of serious injury or even death, day in and day out.
A large number of the forward-deployed team members have been ATEC Soldiers, but many civilian ATEC employees have volunteered to participate. The volunteers come from ATEC's three primary test-and-evaluation organizations: the Army Evaluation Center, the Developmental Test Command and the Operational Test Command.
ATEC's Col. Brian Dosa, who commanded the 13th FOA rotation from his headquarters at Camp Victory, said those conducting the FOA mission have seen themselves as the "mouthpiece of the Soldier." In that role, they have obtained critical feedback from Soldiers that can lead to weapons systems improvements; changes to tactics, techniques and procedures; and adjusted test-and-evaluation procedures back in the United States at ATEC's various test facilities and ranges.
One result of the team's deployment is a stateside test-and-evaluation program that as closely as possible reflects the realities of operations in theater.
T.R. Masino, who serves as a FOA team coordinator at DTC, said input from FOA teams often results in systems improvements.
"They recently assessed a small arms weapon that had a poorly manufactured part that was breaking," Masino explained. "They discovered that a misprint in the technical manual caused the troops to maintain it incorrectly. The program manager was informed and is making improvements to the way the part is manufactured and to the tech manual.
"Sometimes the FOA team discovers problems with the training the unit has received, or did not receive, on the item, or many times the problem might be lack of spare parts," Masino said.
Soldiers on the receiving end of ATEC's forward said they appreciate what the command is doing for them.
"I was impressed on a daily basis with the level of commitment that these guys showed, not just for their specific project but to supporting the guys on the ground," Capt. Brian Hartigan of the 37th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade, said of FOA Team Speicher. "Not only were they willing to go outside the wire and put themselves in harm's way, they were hungry for the real-time data that our Soldiers were providing them. …