DOD addresses urgent operational needs in Afghanistan

Smaller programs can move from concept to production in 6 months

The Defense Department has managed to push through development in a short period of time a number of smaller programs designed to provide better protection for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, reports William Matthews at Defense News.

One of the most visible of these relates to vehicle protection, Zachary Lemnios, DOD’s director of defense and engineering, told reporters Aug. 19.

When the heavy Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicles used by U.S. forces in Iraq proved too large and heavy for Afghanistan’s narrow and treacherous mountainous roads, the Pentagon rushed to get a lighter version into production.

The result was the MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle, which went from concept to production in just six months, Lemnios said. The tight timetable for MRAP-ATVs, “was on par with what we did with aircraft during World War II,” he said.

The MRAP-ATV is smaller and lighter than the original MRAP used in Iraq but heavier than an up-armored Humvee. The MRAP, while useful in protecting soldiers against roadside bombs in urban settings, are too big for narrow back-country roads and not well-suited for off-road travel.

Lemnios, who has a budget of about $2 billion a year, compiles requests for “urgent operational needs” from combat commanders and evaluates which can be met quickly in order to save lives.

Other urgent needs of U.S. forces in Afghanistan which have been addressed through rapid production are improvements to security for forward bases and protection for helicopters against enemy snipers.

Base security has improved through the use of aerostats, essentially tethered blimps that float at 1,500 feet and are outfitted with surveillance cameras to provide continual security. In a matter of months, aerostats went from research and development to deployment, Lemnios said.

The DOD also is producing an acoustic sensor system to detect and pinpoint the location of small-arms fire to helicopters, Lemnios said. The Helicopter Alert and Threat Termination System, which is similar to one developed for ground vehicles, is able to detect the shock wave generated by gunfire and triangulate it to determine the location of the shooter. HALTT is designed to alert pilots of small-arms fire so they can take evasive action. HALTT will be deployed to Afghanistan in October.

DOD's Defense Research and Engineering Directorate also is working on better ways to counter improvised explosive devices and improved body armor, Lemnios said.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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