Army wants your ideas for future battlefield tech

The Army's Rapid Equipping Force (REF) recently added a web page through which it can solicit ideas and input on modern technologies for the battlefield from soldiers, industry and tinkerers, the service said in a news story. 

Getting this kind of input on modern technologies can directly benefit soldiers deployed in war zones, officials said. Some of the technologies, such as a solar technology system, were displayed at the recent Washington Auto Show in the nation's capital.

The ideas received help bring "modern technologies and solutions to the battlefield," said COL Timothy Hill, director of the Operational Energy/Contingency Basing Task Force, which works closely with the REF, who visited the force's exhibit at the auto show.

The REF's mission is to equip operational commanders with commercial off-the-shelf and government off-the-shelf solutions to increase effectiveness and reduce risk. It inserts future force technologies and surrogates to validate concepts and speed capabilities to the soldiers and assess desired capabilities. To help carry out its mission, REF canvasses the military, industry, academia and science community for emerging technologies.

One of the technologies exhibited at the auto show was the solar technology system that uses solar panels to replace petroleum-based generators. Other technologies that the REF has helped field to improve safety for soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan include the Minotaur, which essentially is a redesigned Bobcat outfitted with a QinetiQ-built remote control system that is designed to find and destroy IEDs. Another is Cobham's Minehound that uses ground penetrating radar to detect IEDs.

The REF looks for new technologies, like from the big companies at the auto show, but also works with small entrepreneurs which have unique capabilities that soldiers can use, said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment, who also visited the REF exhibit at the auto show.

SM James Hash, one of the senior enlisted soldiers at REF who was at the auto show, said the organization "is not bound by the traditional military acquisition process. We can field stuff as quickly as 90 days, but more complicated things like Minotaur took about seven months." Still, that is fast, because new gear typically takes years to field, he said.

Soldiers who work at REF also routinely go to the field to get feedback from the users of the new systems, Hash said. If the systems need tweaking, they are tweaked; and, if they are good to go, they can go through the traditional acquisition process for distribution throughout the Army.

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