Rapid Equipping Force Speeds New Technology to Front Lines

The Army’s Rapid Equipping Force is revolutionizing the way the service gets new technology into the hands of warfighters, its director told Pentagon reporters here today.

That high-tech equipment ranges from miniature robots that can seek out roadside bombs to handheld airplanes that can peek over hills and around corners and report back their findings.

The Rapid Equipping Force concept is the traditional military acquisition system on steroids. It identifies an immediate warfighting need, seeks out the best way to meet it and quickly gets the technical solution into the hands of the people who need it, explained Army Col. Gregory Tubbs. In their most impressive responses, staff members have been able to fill several specific requests within just 48 hours.

Rather than going to the drawing board to come up with a solution to a problem, the Rapid Equipping Force jump-starts the process by evaluating what’s already available commercially or in the production pipeline, Tubbs said.

The effort puts the office in close association with all the military services, military and commercial laboratories, and private companies. “I look for any partner who can help me do it faster and better,” he said.

By using off-the-shelf technology, even if it needs modifications to military requirements, Tubbs and his staff are able to short-circuit the traditional acquisition process that can take years rather than weeks or months or even years to get equipment to the troops.

Some items, like a hand-held device that translates English to Arabic, are issued through “spiral development,” in which they’re sent to the field for immediate use while the next, improved version is being developed. The translator is designed to help troops communicate with Iraqis when they don’t have an interpreter with them.

“I want to be able to fill immediate warfighter needs,” Tubbs said. “I don’t want to have to wait two to three years.”

Tubbs’ sense of urgency comes across particularly strong when he talks about improvised explosive devices that continue to claim American military lives and limbs. Among the more promising devices his office sent to the Middle East is MARCBOT, or multifunction agile remote-controlled robot, a small, wheeled robot with a video camera able to check for IEDs while keeping troops at a safe distance.

Thirty of the MARCBOTS are already in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Rapid Equipping Force plans to ship more than 100 more to the theater soon, Tubbs said. “Soldiers like them and they save lives,” he said.

Another device being developed, the camera-equipped TACMAV, or tactical mini air vehicle, enables lower-echelon units to “see” short distances ahead and at far less cost than a unmanned aerial vehicle. Tubbs’ staff purchased it commercially, modified its software, and is working to reduce the training required to operate it to two weeks.

JLENS, or “joint land attack cruise missile defense elevated netted sensor system,” provides a persistent surveillance capability. NS Microwave is a microwave surveillance system adapted from an off-the-shelf product that’s proving popular with federal, state and local law enforcement authorities. An overhead cover protection product under development shows promise in helping protect deployed troops from mortar blasts and other threats.

Tubbs said feedback is key to improving on devices sent to the field through the Rapid Equipping Force. He and his staff actively seek input, traveling to Iraq and Afghanistan to talk with troops using the equipment, chatting with servicemembers when they redeploy, even visiting military hospitals to meet with wounded troops.

“You really don’t want to discount any input because you don’t know where your next good idea is going to come from,” he said.

From U.S. DoD

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