The effort to secure America’s borders has commanded enormous attention as a national security imperative for nearly a decade. As civilian law enforcement and military agencies gain ground with extensive fencing, increased patrols, and aerial surveillance, drug smugglers have taken to underground tunneling to continue their illicit activities. Their tunnels range from rudimentary, shallow holes and narrow pipes used to pass drug bundles, to elaborate structures with reinforced concrete walls and artificial lighting that people can walk through.
More than 100 border tunnels have been discovered by law enforcement agencies since 1990; 30 of them were found in the past five years. Furthermore, insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan have used tunneling in their operations against American forces, which makes the threat of particular interest to the military. This was the impetus for the newly opened Joint Tunnel Test Range (JTTR) at U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG), AZ, which replicates the kind of tunneling most commonly used by drug traffickers and insurgents and will be used to support a variety of tests of tunnel detection technologies, from handheld sensors to satellite imaging.
“YPG provides great security for the test site,” said MAJ Eric Penrod, Combat Engineer for U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) who oversaw the construction of the complex. “More importantly, the characteristics of the soil and dry environment closely reflect what we see on the southwest border, as well as what our DOD folks are seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“It expands our mission set in an area that is hardly touched by other facilities,” added Julio Dominguez, YPG Technical Director. “Anyone who reads the papers is aware of the threat that tunneling poses, and this gives us the opportunity to have a role in counteracting that activity.”
The Ideal Tunnel
YPG’s National Counterterrorism Counterinsurgency Test and Evaluation Center (NACCITEC) was established early in the last decade to test technology that counters terrorist and insurgent tactics in all forms. It attracted particular notice within DOD for its realistic mock villages and electromagnetic environments that simulate exactly those found in theater, a crucial component for testing counter-improvised explosive device technologies.
When USNORTHCOM initially identified the need for a tunneling test complex, the search for a suitable location focused on facilities that had tunnels in place. Unfortunately, the tunnels at these facilities were industrial-size, concrete-lined structures.
“Tunnels like that don’t match the threat we see on the southwest border from small, hand-dug tunnels with either minimal wood shoring or none at all,” Penrod explained. “Building a specialized tunnel at YPG turned out to be the best fit for our needs.”
The first stretch of completed tunnel is long and cramped, with wood cribbing accessed by a corrugated metal pipe shaft. Though it was deliberately constructed to mimic the kind of low-tech but ingenious methods of the most aggressive illicit tunnelers, the creation of the tunnel took months of advance planning, followed by months of work to excavate and build. Soil samples were taken at prospective sites across YPG’s expansive ranges to check for rock and other impediments before digging.
“A whole multitude of technologies were used to characterize this area prior to excavation,” said Jason Anderson, the NACCITEC Test Director for the project. “We know there is plenty of room for expansion, and that data will be available to our customers who are developing new items.”
The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) designed and led the soil pre-characterization effort to ensure that the testers who use the tunnel will know every property of the soil.
“ERDC and our interagency partners spent months executing a detailed sampling and characterization plan so we can model and simulate any sensor response and inform testers if their technology is mature enough for field testing,” said Seth Broadfoot, Lead Geologist on ERDC’s Characterization Team. “This is the best-characterized complex on the planet.”
Excavation for the tunnel’s access shaft began in September. The access shaft was the only part of the tunnel created using heavy equipment. In the baking late-summer heat, a long length of corrugated metal pipe was placed, and a cement base was poured to enclose it. Then a four-man crew excavated the tunnel in a manner similar to that of an illicit tunneler. Though the diggers at one point encountered thicker rock than they had expected, the construction site was mostly free of the hard rock that is common in the region. The tunnel is equipped with safety features to protect personnel working underground, and the temperature is comfortably constant throughout the year, so artificial heating and cooling are not necessary.
The tunnel was finished and available for testing in January.
“This is a one-of-a-kind complex, and it was completed on cost and ahead of schedule,” said NACCITEC Director Greg Mitchell.
- MARK SCHAUER is a public affairs writer at YPG. He holds a B.A. in history from Northern Arizona University where he is also pursuing an M.A. in English.
It can be difficult for deployed Soldiers to get conventional dental treatment, but Army dentists at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, are testing a portable X-ray system that could make it easier.
“A lot of the dentists in [Afghanistan] are not working in a fixed facility. They don’t have the luxury of mounting an X-ray system to the wall, because they’re in a tent,” said COL Chris Evanov, a general dentist with the 257th Dental Company, which tested the system.
The Nomad Pro, an X-ray system that weighs 5½ pounds, captures digital X-ray images and doesn’t require a darkroom, allowing dentists to operate in remote environments.
“I’ve been in the military for over 20 years and I was a little suspicious of the device, but it didn’t take more than a day or two for me to realize that this was great,” said Evanov.
During the testing, dentists are judging the Nomad Pro system on image quality, system weight, and durability.
“We’re trying to do what we can to get the best product here,” said MAJ Gina Adam, Medical Science and Technology Advisor for Field Assistance in Science and Technology (FAST). “We want to get the best medical materiel for the warfighter.”
FAST teams are part of the U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command (RDECOM) headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD. The U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC), headquartered at Fort Detrick, MD, partners with RDECOM to provide a medical officer and noncommissioned officer to the FAST teams to help with research, development, and acquisition questions that units have about their medical equipment.
The ability to X-ray Soldiers’ teeth is vital to providing dental treatment. With a digital image, dentists can almost instantly see the patient’s teeth and thus can determine what specific care the patient needs.
“The truth is, there are a lot of things we can’t see, and you can’t treat what you can’t see,” said Evanov. “You can open up your mouth and you might have all 32 of your teeth, but all I can see are your crowns. We don’t have that Superman vision.”
A lot of the dentists in [Afghanistan] are not working in a fixed facility. They don’t have the luxury of mounting an X-ray system to the wall, because they’re in a tent.
Once all testing on a piece of medical equipment is complete and has been evaluated, the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency (USAMMA) within USAMRMC decides if the system meets the needs of the dentist and the Soldier and should be procured. The high level of satisfaction from the end users of the Nomad Pro has prompted USAMMA to order another 90 units for stock.
Several of the user surveys on the Nomad Pro inquired about or requested some type of holding mechanism, to address the inability to securely store the device when not in use. Working with the manufacturer, Aribex Inc., a vinyl pouch was developed and sent into theater to be used with the Nomad Pro. The pouch can be worn or secured to a wall or furniture. The Army is collecting feedback on this modification as well as on the system as a whole.
“It’s really exciting to think we’re doing something that will help improve the health care of the Soldiers,” said Adam.
- SPC JONATHAN THOMAS is with the 16th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.
Obtaining information, providing assistance, and forging relationships are very tough to do when first meeting people, but are even tougher when you are in a combat environment and don’t speak the local language. That was the scenario many U.S. forces were faced with as they began to work with local citizens in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide assistance, gain intelligence, and build situational awareness for force protection. There were few ways to communicate accurately, especially with a shortage of qualified linguists.
The initial solution was to field a quick reaction capability (QRC) that could meet the immediate need while a more robust program of record (POR) known as the Machine Foreign Language Translation System was being developed. The earliest devices used to bridge the language gap had prescripted words, phrases, and simple expressions such as “Get out of the car,” “What is your brother’s name?,” and “Do you have a bomb?” A Soldier could touch that phrase on the device and it would come out in the other language, letting the native speaker know what the Soldier wanted.
“Unfortunately, there aren’t enough linguists to go around, and not all of them can put on a rucksack and go up and down mountains in Afghanistan and follow troops around. So we have to fill that capability gap with these devices,” said Mike Beaulieu, Product Director Machine Foreign Language Translation Systems (PD MFLTS) within Program Executive Office Intelligence, Electronic Warfare, and Sensors (PEO IEW&S).
The list of QRCs that were fielded includes the Foreign Media Monitoring (FMM) System, which offers real-time automatic machine translation, search, and alerting capability across multiple media and languages, providing rapid insight into emerging events. FMM allows for the correlation of open-source information and the development of intelligence products for strategic or tactical use. PD MFLTS also fielded a Translator Laptop System that provides a two-way, speech-to-speech machine translation capability; and the Voice Response Translator, which provides hands-free, eyes-free, and voice-activated one-way phrase-based capability. Additionally, the organization fielded the Phraselator P2, which provides voice- and touch-activated, one-way phrase-based capability.
PD MFLTS’ most recent activities included responding to an urgent operational needs request from theater for more than 100 two-way speech-to-speech devices that are housed on an Android-based smartphone. Early this year, the systems went to two battalions within the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division that are currently deployed to Afghanistan.
“Right now the systems are there on an operational assessment, and they will be there until the beginning of September. During this deployment, we will gather information to improve the product and to inform a decision as to how to do a follow-on product, because eventually we will have a theater-wide product out there,” Beaulieu said.
PD MFLTS worked with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Capability Manager Biometrics and Forensics to field systems that could meet the 101st’s needs. The unit wanted a two-way device that accepted free speech instead of being phrase-based. Additionally, the organization required a handheld device that would speak two of the main languages in Afghanistan, Pashtu, and Dari.
Building on Success
PD MFLTS will build on the success of previous versions of language translation systems and lessons learned from current efforts such as the smartphones fielded to the 101st, using the collected feedback to inform the POR. “The POR device is going to be software, but it could be that the software we provide is an application, and it resides on a smartphone that someone else owns, “said Beaulieu.
MFLTS will be designed to operate in several different configurations to include: a portable configuration (a handheld device), a mobile configuration such as a laptop, and a net-enabled configuration. Ultimately, there will be a configuration form factor that would allow people to talk one-on-one in the field.
Eventually MFLTS will offer Soldiers in the field a software capability that can translate any language needed and will be embedded in other major Army programs such as the Distributed Common Ground System-Army, Prophet Enhanced, and the U.S. Army Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Automated Reporting and Collection System, serving as the translation portion of those intelligence-gathering and analysis systems. In addition to having a speech-to-speech capability, the system will be able to perform text-to-text translation.
Looking to the future, Beaulieu reflected on the sheer potential of MFLTS. “It has been recognized that language and linguistic capabilities are one of the seven key cornerstones for success in the counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, so this is pretty important stuff. If you can’t talk to the people that you are trying to win the hearts and minds of, it is kind of hard to win a counterinsurgency.”
- BRANDON POLLACHEK is the PEO IEW&S Public Affairs Officer, Fort Monmouth, NJ. He holds a B.S. in political science from Cazenovia College and has more than 10 years’ experience in writing about military systems.
On March 21, the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center-Korea (USAMMC-K) became the third Army Medical Logistics Enterprise organization to use the Theater Enterprise Worldwide Logistics System (TEWLS) Radio Frequency handheld device within its medical supply chain operations.
The devices will help USAMMC-K achieve its mission and improve efficiencies across the enterprise. With the implementation of Radio Frequency (RF) handheld devices, USAMMC-K can now process and track all medical supply orders electronically, which will reduce the number of Supply Discrepancy Reports submitted by customers and will lessen the paper requirements placed upon the organizations.
USAMMC-K supports the holistic, operational, and strategic medical logistics approach employed by both the 65th Medical Brigade and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. The team is ready to execute the 8th U.S. Army’s Single Integrated Medical Logistics Manager mission and serves as the Theater Lead Agent for Medical Materiel by providing world-class, customer-focused medical supply, optical fabrication, and medical maintenance support to Joint Forces in the Korean theater.
Before this implementation, USAMMC-Europe developed a project plan and hosted multiple teleconferences with key USAMMC-K personnel to ensure that milestones were met and the system interfaces were connected. USAMMCE sent a team to Korea March 15 to assist with RF implementation. The three-person team’s task was to build warehouse cues, validate connectivity, and train USAMMC-K Soldiers and civilians in the RF technology. The first part of the training took place in a classroom, where the participants learned the basic configuration and navigation procedures of handheld devices. Once the initial training was complete, the students were different handheld device functions.
Simultaneously, the implementation team collaborated with the USAMMC-K staff to diagram the warehouse, configure the warehouse cues for daily pick waves, and execute “test” cycles to ensure that the RF systems were operating effectively. While preparing the system for RF capability, a detailed analysis of master data was conducted, and knowledge transfer was performed on key performance indicators and management reporting techniques in various TEWLS modules including sales and distribution, financial management, warehouse management, and materiel management.
When the training and testing were complete, USAMMCE-K used the new RF system to pull medical supplies on March 21. The system operated flawlessly; the USAMMC-K team especially liked the system’s accuracy and the reduction of paper requirements.
The implementation of RF capabilities within TEWLS demonstrates the Army Medical Logistics Enterprise’s continued commitment to the ever-changing mission of providing medical logistics support to Soldiers, families, and health care providers. By implementing forward-looking strategic initiatives, the enterprise will be fully integrated and will provide America’s premier medical team with innovative medical logistics solutions.
- LTC SHON-NEIL SEVERNS is the Commander, USAMMC-K. He holds a B.S. in business administration from the University of Nebraska at Kearney; an M.E. in education from Touro College; and an M.A. in business and an M.A. in computer resources and information management from Webster University. Severns is Level III certified in program management and life-cycle logistics and is a member of the U.S. Army Acquisition Corps.
- HOLGER GERLACH provides is the Chief, Business Support Office for the U.S. Army Medical Department Theater Enterprise-Wide Logistics System. He holds a B.C.S. in computer science from IBE Karlsruhe, Germany and a B.M. in business management from Fachhochschule Unna, Germany.
Unique Systems Engineering and Horizontal Technology Integration Earns Prestigious Award for Second Generation Forward Looking Infrared
As he accepted the 2009 LTG Thomas R. Ferguson Jr. Systems Engineering Excellence Group Award for the Second Generation Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR), Michael Doney, Deputy Product Manager (PM) FLIR, reflected on the vision that was emplaced 15 years earlier. It was that vision, founded in horizontal technology integration (HTI) principles and combined with enduring, diligent execution that led the National Defense Industrial Association to honor PM FLIR and its Second Generation FLIR (SGF).
The award is given annually to the product office that clearly demonstrates outstanding achievement in the practical application of systems engineering. “The vision was to employ the very best in HTI and systems engineering practices to provide a common battlefield scene to Armor, Mechanized Infantry, and Reconnaissance forces which would, for the first time in the history of armor, enable warfighters to see targets further than they could shoot, improving battlefield dominance,” Doney explained.
The Army’s SGF FLIR program provides the Soldier with premier night vision capability for the Abrams Tank, Bradley Fighting Vehicle, Stryker Brigade Combat Team, and the Long Range Advanced Scout Surveillance System. “What began as a vision to produce, field, and sustain the most cost-efficient, horizontally integrated technologies on ground combat vehicles has ultimately led to the delivery of 15,000 sensors in theater,” said LTC William Russell, PM FLIR.
Lessons gleaned from Operation Desert Storm provided the original impetus for what would become the SGF, Doney said. “One of the biggest problems the Army found was friendly fire and fratricide. The Army recognized the need to upgrade the ability of platforms to understand the target they were about to engage, and it turned out that the SGF technology had just become mature enough to enable the implementation of its use for platforms.”
At the time, the expectation was for each platform to have its own solution for night vision, but because of SGF’s flexibility and overall HTI benefits, it was able to serve as a common materiel solution, saving time and reducing overall costs.
In this fashion, SGF serves as an exemplar of the recent DOD directive to “do more without more.” For example, adherence to the early systems engineering processes for the SGF led to a 320 percent cost reduction over the life of the program. Furthermore, money has been saved throughout its life cycle. The hardware and software commonality reduces acquisition costs by combining procurements, reduces logistics costs, and lowers the long-term sustainment costs.
The SGF program employed classic systems engineering principles, including gaining a full understanding of the customer’s needs and ensuring that the requirements in the system specification were both valid and complete. To produce a system that shared commonalities across multiple platforms, the program aggregated the platform-unique requirements into a single set of capabilities and technical performance requirements. SGF systems engineers worked closely with platform managers to capture all of their functional requirements while working within the design constraints of each platform. As a result, the engineers have been able to build a product a single time for multiple platforms, rather than multiple times for individual platforms, thereby realizing synergies and efficiencies.
What began as a vision to produce, field, and sustain the most cost-efficient, horizontally integrated technologies on ground combat vehicles, has ultimately led to the delivery of 15,000 sensors in theater.
“The SGF has been a resounding success on numerous levels, but we don’t rest on our laurels at PM FLIR,” Russell said. “We are now replicating this successful effort, drawing on the lessons learned and successes gleaned over the past 15 years as we embark on a mission to bring a third-generation FLIR solution into the Army inventory.”
Leveraging the systems engineering that was the foundation of the SGF, the Third Generation FLIR (3GF) will provide simultaneous digital video streams of long-wave and mid-wave infrared imaging. As with the SGF, PM FLIR conducted extensive requirements analyses as part of its systems engineering. “These analyses enabled us to identify key capabilities requirements, as well as additional opportunities to implement a common materiel solution that will result in cost efficiencies over the life of the platforms,” Doney said.
“At PM FLIR, we are always looking for ways to improve our support to the warfighter,” Russell said. “With the SGF, we were able to provide the warfighter with an exceptional, cost-effective capability to sense the enemy beyond the visible. The 3GF will build on that solid foundation, providing increased platform standoff and enhanced survivability and lethality.”
- BRANDON POLLACHEK is the Program Executive Office Intelligence, Electronic Warfare, and Sensors (PEO IEW&S) Public Affairs Officer, Fort Monmouth, NJ. He holds a B.S. in political science from Cazenovia College and has more than 10 years’ experience in writing about military systems.
- CHRISTINA BATES provides contract support as a Strategic Communications Specialist for Project Manager Night Vision/Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition, under PEO IEW&S. She holds B.A.s in communication and sociology, an M.S. in mass communication, and a J.D. with an emphasis on business and corporate law from Boston University, and a Ph.D. in communication with an emphasis on organizational behavior and strategic communications from Arizona State University. Bates is also a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt.
The Director, Acquisition Career Management (DACM) Award Call for Nominations closes Tuesday, June 21, 2011.
This award recognizes an acquisition workforce member who has demonstrated exemplary performance and has made significant, long-lasting contributions to the U.S. Army Acquisition Corps over the course of his or her career as a federal government employee or serving in the military.
Nominees may work at any level, organization, or capacity within the Army Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology (AL&T) Workforce. All Army AL&T Workforce military (including Reserve Component Soldiers) and civilian employees are eligible for award nomination. The nominee’s career should span a minimum of 20 years of federal government or military service.
The winners of the DACM Award, in addition to the eight awards whose Call for Nominations deadlines have passed, will be presented at the 2011 U.S. Army Acquisition Corps (AAC) Annual Awards Ceremony on Sunday, October 9, 2011. The event, annually themed “Celebrating Our Acquisition Stars,” recognizes the uniformed and civilian professionals who work tirelessly behind the scenes to acquire and procure the weapons, information, and equipment that combatant commanders and their Soldiers need to execute decisive, full-spectrum operations in support of overseas contingency operations.
For additional information on the awards, visit http://asc.army.mil/acq_awards/information.cfm/.
Details regarding the 2011 U.S. Army Acquisition Corps Annual Awards Ceremony will be posted as they become available to the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center website at http://asc.army.mil/
Courtesy of the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center.
A patent was recently granted for a process to safely train Soldiers in how to operate a variety of robots used in Iraq and Afghanistan to detonate improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The Robotic Vehicle Trainer is a realistic video game that simulates combat environments using the same controls as actual robots used in Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD).
The design was the brainchild of Dr. Bernard Reger, Chief of the Combat Support and Munitions Systems Branch of the Armament Software Engineering Center. within the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC). Reger received the patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Dec. 28 (No. 7,860,614).
The patent describes the process by which a robot trainer enables a student to operate a robotic vehicle using a virtual operator control unit within a virtual environment.
“The virtual environment inserts the student into hazardous environments, enabling familiarization with the robotic vehicle and EOD bomb disposal tools,” Reger said. “The robotic vehicle trainer provides EOD Soldiers the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the operation of the robot without removing critical assets from the field. It also provides Soldiers the ability to train in what would normally be a dangerous environment. The trainer could be rapidly updated with new tools and techniques of benefit to the Soldier.”
The Army will be able to control the intellectual property of this process if it is used by a contractor in developing robotic vehicle trainers, Reger said.
The virtual operator control unit, which is essentially a video-game controller, is built with the exact same joysticks, switches, dials, and display features as a fielded robot. This allows the Soldier to become familiar with the touch and feel of the real controls while in training. The control unit connects to a laptop computer that runs the software application, allowing trainees to use the system anywhere from the classroom to the field.
Work on this product started in 2003 as an experiment to insert the Talon robot used by EOD Soldiers into a virtual environment using a popular Army-developed game engine, “America’s Army.” The design was originally submitted for a patent application in September 2006.
With more than 8 million registered users, “America’s Army” is an interactive, first-person shooter game that allows civilians a taste of the Soldier’s life. About a year after the video game launched in 2002, ARDEC began to integrate practical training applications into the game for Soldiers.
ARDEC’s Armament Software Engineering Center and the Picatinny EOD Technology Directorate worked together over the next few years to define and refine requirements for a product that could familiarize EOD Soldiers with the operation of the Talon robot and explosive disposal techniques.
“The patent covers the process by which a robot is assembled in the virtual environment and by which the Soldier is provided with the opportunity to test-drive the robot and its tools,” Reger said, adding that the Talon trainer was rebranded as the Man Transportable Robotic System EOD Trainer.
The same process was applied to other robots, including SWORDS (Special Weapons Observation Remote Direct-Action System), EOD PackBot, and the CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) PackBot.
The QinetiQ Talon and the PackBot, made by iRobot Corp., are tracked robots used to disarm IEDs. Because they are remotely operated and equipped with cameras, they allow Soldiers to detonate suspicious objects from a safe distance.
The trainers are meant to familiarize operators with the controls, as opposed to training them in how to respond to different EOD incidents and situations. However, the operators also detonate different types of IEDs using a variety of methods. The IEDs are found in locations realistically reflecting where Soldiers would find them when deployed, such as hidden in sandbags or in courtyards.
Article courtesy of Picatinny Public Affairs.
U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command Conference Draws Small Businesses Looking for Big Contracts
Business isn’t for the fainthearted. Consider the small business owner, who must shepherd a company through the entrepreneurial days of sweat equity to build a brand and experience sustainable growth. Challenges are myriad, and the turbulent economy requires an extra measure of resilience.
Networking is critical for those seeking an edge. It’s no surprise, then, that 220 attendees and 40 exhibitors joined the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC) for its Advanced Planning Briefing for Industry and Small Business Conference in Hagerstown, MD, eager to learn of opportunities and meet subcommand leaders. Their hope was to turn a stack of business cards into profitable contracts.
Jerome Maultsby, organizer of the inaugural April 26 conference and Associate Director of the Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP) at USAMRMC, said, “Our goal was to help [business firms] become better acquainted with our mission requirements … while gaining a better sense of what’s on the horizon in terms of current and future procurements.”
The OSBP forges business-government alliances and equips small businesses to compete for procurements. The office supports firms that provide relevant products, services, and solutions in research, acquisition, logistics, and technology that benefit the Nation’s warfighter.
USAMRMC, the Army’s medical materiel developer, is responsible for medical research, development, and acquisition, as well as medical logistics management. It’s a major contributor to the overall Army Small Business Program, with 24 percent of its $2 billion budget going to affiliated contractors. The U.S. Army Medical Command alone spends roughly half of its budget on small firms. Small businesses are the beneficiaries of much of this spending.
Winning a coveted contract can be a complex, bewildering experience, and the conference helped to demystify the process. It drew local and regional prime contractors and subcontractors, both seasoned and novice business firms. The day’s agenda centered on 20-minute project overviews from USAMRMC program managers and commanders, who reviewed the multifaceted program requirements with attendees.
Developing Better Business
MG James K. Gilman, Commanding General of USAMRMC and Fort Detrick, MD, urged attendees to put their best foot forward. “This conference is all about fostering competition. When you compete for our business, we win. And you win, too, because you develop a better business.”
Christine Demas, Director of the Fort Detrick Business Development Office (FDBDO), encouraged prospective contractors to work closely with FDBDO as they develop their proposals. “We want you to be able to come to the table with everyone else and compete,” she said.
FDBDO advises companies on all facets of doing business with Fort Detrick. “We offer training, from programs on federal contracting for beginners to teaming,” Demas explained. “We moved this year to webinars … you can attend our class from your desk over lunch.”
COL Russell Coleman, Commander of the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, emphasized the importance of niche businesses: “The government does not build a single thing. We do it by relying on the commercial world, the business world. The challenge is making the right connection … and you have to do a good job selling what you have to offer.”
The conference provided such an opportunity to exhibitors Sheila and Dave Lucas, co-owners of Convergent Solution Inc. The Lakewood, CO, company sells an array of simulation software for interactive training in the medical and other fields.
“I’ve been trying to network into USUHS [the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences] since last June,” said Sheila Lucas. “COL [Judith D.] Robinson [Fort Detrick Garrison Commander] came over early in the morning, looked at our Cyber-Anatomy system and said, ‘Here’s the name of a key decision maker at the SimCenter [National Capital Area Medical Simulation Center].’ ”
A hopeful smile spread across Lucas’ face. “All we need are a few good contacts. All we need is to connect with a few key decision makers.”
Richard Smerbeck, Business Acceleration Manager for Dawnbreaker Inc., a Rochester, NY, company that helps commercialize small, high-technology businesses, was pleased with the high rank and level of the presenters. “It isn’t often you have the opportunity to meet so many decision makers in one place,” Smerbeck said. “I was even more impressed by [their] approachability. I wish more meetings were structured like this one.”
Smerbeck, an old hand at procurement, counseled newcomers to contracting to stay the course.
“Persistence and patience are very important, especially when you are starting out,” said Smerbeck. “You need to get your name and your services in front of purchasers and decision makers. Take the time to learn from others who are successful in gaining contracts. There’s a lot of assistance available. Submit white papers, respond to RFIs [Request for Information] and RFPs [Request for Proposal]. Always request a debrief on any proposal—successful or unsuccessful. Your diligence will pay off.”
- JILL LAUTERBORN is a writer for USAMRMC. She has nearly two decades of editing and writing experience.
Picatinny and New Jersey Institute of Technology Develop Color-Changing Paints to Enhance Soldier Safety
Red. Blue. Green. These aren’t just colors; they are indicators that show potential to enhance the safety of U.S. warfighters. Engineers at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ, are working on a new paint formula that will tell Soldiers if their ammunition is safe to use, based on looking at the color.
These thermal-indicating paints use thermochromic polymers to detect temperature ranges to which ammunition was exposed during transport or storage.
A common example of a thermochromic object is a mood ring, which changes color in response to the wearer’s body temperature. The thermochromic element changes the wavelength of light when it is exposed to different temperatures.
The same basic concept applies to thermal-indicating paints for ammunition, but Picatinny’s challenge is ensuring that the color change is permanent.
“We have formulas that change color within the designated temperature ranges, but our biggest challenge is maintaining long-term stability of a coating,” said James Zunino, Project Officer and Materials Engineer, U.S. Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center (ARDEC). “We have to develop a paint that will survive in military operating conditions, including harsh temperatures and wind blasts.”
Throughout combat operations, ammunition is often exposed to extreme temperatures during transport, storage, and pre-positioning. Research shows that temperatures inside munitions containers in Middle East combat operations can exceed 190 degrees Fahrenheit.
Storing ammunition at too-high temperatures can compromise the integrity and performance of the round. Further, using the overexposed round can increase safety risks for the warfighter.
When propelling charges are exposed to high temperatures for extended periods, the propellant stabilizer can be rapidly depleted, which can lead to auto-ignition. In addition, if the overheated propellant is fired, that can lead to dangerous, elevated gun pressures that cause weapon failure and put the Soldier at risk.
There have been documented incidents of failures caused by thermal exposures during Operation Desert Storm and the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Thermal-indicating paints can help prevent warfighters from using ammo that may have been compromised by exposure to environmental conditions outside of design limits,” Zunino said. “They could reduce the amount of accidents that could happen, reduce the logistical burden of transporting and storing munitions, and give increased survivability to the Soldier.”
ARDEC uses in-house equipment at Picatinny to test various formulations of the paints. The team is partnering with the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) to develop a formula that can provide an irreversible, permanent color change to indicate specific temperature ranges on munitions.
“Working with NJIT has been exceptional. We work very closely with one another, and we’re actively meeting with them. It’s much more than just email correspondence,” said Dr. Giuseppe Di Benedetto, ARDEC Technical Lead and Chemical Engineer.
The team is developing cost-effective, commercially available formulations that can detect four heat ranges (in degrees Fahrenheit): 145-164, 165-184, 185-200, and above 200. The first round to be tested will likely be the 30mm High Explosive round.
The paint coating has the potential to be much more cost-effective in pennies per application, compared with costly temperature gauges that the Army currently uses on its larger-caliber ammunition stocks.
“We’re starting with the 30mm family of ammo, because they aren’t expensive enough rounds to deem the use of a costly temperature gauge or monitor. The savings are bigger because it’s low-value, high-volume assets,” Zunino said, adding that the team plans to have a formula ready for trial testing within the year.
Project Director (PD) Joint Services, a division of Program Executive Office Ammunition headquartered at Picatinny, manages the program and will coordinate the Army’s acquisition and fielding of the new paints.
“The desired outcome in the Class V [ammo] world would be a very inexpensive telltale that Soldiers and logisticians could use to identify munitions that had experienced temperature exposures outside design limits,” said Mitch Hillard, Program Specialist, PD Joint Services. “Such munitions could then be set aside for test and analysis to provide feedback to the development community on the performance and safety effects of extreme environmental exposures.”
Thermal-indicating paints are just one of many “smart” coatings the Picatinny team is developing for military applications. The team starting working on thermal-indicating coatings in 2008 and has made considerable progress, in the past year expanding the temperature ranges of the paints and adding the capability to see the period of time the munition was exposed to high temperatures. The time of exposure is determined by using a handheld laser system, which causes changes in the optical reflectivity of the paint coating.
The team is also exploring non-military applications for thermal-indicating paints that can help firefighters, law enforcement, and first responders.
- TRACY ROBILLARD was a Picatinny Arsenal Public Affairs Specialist at the time this article was written. She currently works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District Public Affairs Office. Robillard holds a B.A. in mass communications from the University of West Georgia.