RDECOM science advisers assigned to commands in the field are poised to respond to capability gaps quickly—often with a prototype produced with 3-D printing.
by Ms. Argie Sarantinos-Perrin
If Gloria shows any signs of distress, Soldiers know to steer clear. That’s because Gloria, a pig who came to “life” through the magic of additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, makes loud noises and oozes if there are chemical, biological or nuclear threats nearby. Without Gloria, Soldiers could step into a potentially hazardous situation without even realizing it.
Gloria is one of the numerous projects that the Field Assistance in Science and Technology (FAST) advisers have developed, along with Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC), to keep Soldiers safe. FAST advisers, part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), are positioned with major units around the world and serve as liaisons between the commands and RDECOM. The FAST program gives commanders access to thousands of subject matter experts within RDECOM. As a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, which researches, designs and develops every item that a Soldier wears, drives, flies, communicates with or operates on the battlefield, RDECOM provides commanders with innovative solutions for operational issues, enabling them to focus on their missions.
“What RDECOM provides is not just material technology that goes in the hands of the warfighter, but a dynamic and responsive presence to the emerging threats warfighters face,” said Maj. Angela Smoot, RDECOM FAST adviser to U.S. Army Europe. Smoot, who has been a FAST adviser for two years, enjoys seeing Soldiers “light up” when she introduces a new technology to them, and she uses their feedback to further technology development.
EXPERTISE AROUND THE WORLD
There are currently 28 FAST advisers deployed in major commands around the world, including U.S. Army Europe, U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), U.S. Army Pacific, U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Army Garrison Japan. The advisers are mostly scientists and engineers who have experience in one or more fields, including mechanics, electronics, computer science, physics, chemistry, optics and aerospace design. The assignments are two to three years long.
One of the challenges that Smoot faces is ensuring that equipment and technology are interoperable between countries. That is no small feat since most European countries share multiple borders, and their close proximity may cause spectrum and frequency issues between countries. For instance, bringing new technology, such as a radio that operates on the same frequency as commercial equipment, into a country can cause a conflict, especially if the new equipment uses high power. The conflict may result, for example, in shutting down cellular coverage or ambulatory services. To avoid this situation, the host nation provides the frequency and power that the equipment must operate with to eliminate conflict. Additionally, NATO allies must provide input before a new technology is brought to the European theater.
“I worked directly with the staffs at USFK, 8th Army and 2nd Infantry Division, interacting at gunneries and exercises to keep a thumb on the pulse of emerging requirement gaps,” said Lt. Col. Marc Meeker, formerly the FAST advisor to USFK and now director of U.S. Army International Technology Center Germany.
Once FAST advisers identify requirements or capability gaps within their commands, they query program management offices, RDECOM’s Research, Development and Engineering Centers (RDECs) and industry partners to expedite potential solutions. The solution is often a prototype that is developed in a Prototype Integration Facility at one of the RDECs.
When Soldiers in Germany couldn’t see the brownish-green, donkey-shaped pillow that alerted them of a chemical, biological or nuclear threat, the FAST team worked with ECBC to develop Gloria the pig. While the four by four foot “donkey” blends into the ground terrain, Gloria’s bright color and ability to make loud noises and ooze if there are threats nearby make her a good training tool for Soldiers. Since Gloria can be manufactured quickly via 3-D printing, the wait time is reduced and the cost to ship a similar product is eliminated.
“Getting prototypes into the hands of Soldiers mitigates the gaps that are often the result of long lead times,” said Meeker. “If a program manager says he’ll have a production model in 2022 but I can get a prototype now, the gap has just been lessened. It is even better when there is no financial burden on the command because prototypes or low-rate initial production models are already paid for with research dollars.”
FAST advisers also work with outside agencies, including the Army Test and Evaluation Command, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command and various program management offices, to field technology. Working with Meeker when he was the FAST adviser in Korea, the program manager for Maneuver Ammunition Systems within the Program Executive Office for Ammunition fielded a safer training munition for Soldiers. The new M1020 120 mm training munition, fielded to the 2nd Infantry Division, has a nose that breaks on impact, decreasing fragment size and rapidly dissipating kinetic energy, resulting in less damage at ranges and fewer fragments in the training area. Developed by RDECOM’s Armaments Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC), the M1020 is fired from the main gun on the M1 Abrams battle tank.
SIDE BY SIDE WITH SOLDIERS
FAST advisers work closely with Soldiers in the field. By supporting Army exercises and training events, FAST advisers see first-hand what issues Soldiers experience with equipment and technology.
Andy Margules, FAST adviser to U.S. Army Alaska, was a part of the Arctic Anvil exercise in July 2016. The exercise, which was supported by more than 8,000 personnel from the Army, National Guard, Air Force, foreign partners, civilians and contractors, was the largest held in the interior of Alaska in 15 years. It was also the first time that the Joint Pacific Multinational Readiness Capability, a mobile package of personnel and equipment designed to support training exercises across the Pacific theater, was used outside of Hawaii.
“Maintaining a strong relationship with the Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard personnel in Alaska is key, and informing them of potential technologies and opportunities to experiment and demonstrate technology is paramount,” said Margules.
Margules is currently supporting a project that moved from the beginning stage, where the need for a quicker, safer system was identified, to the testing stage. The Prime Mover Ammunition Carrier (PMAC) is a new system that was designed by 1st Lt. Thomas Prose in the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, was prototyped by ARDEC and is currently being evaluated at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California. Prose designed the PMAC with speed, utility and safety in mind. The PMAC, built with M232 propellant canisters, can hold both M107 and M795 series projectiles. Using steel components and bolted directly to the vehicle (unlike the prior system), the PMAC holds the projectiles in place even if the vehicle rolls over. In addition, the PMAC is located at the driver’s end of the vehicle, ensuring easy access to get the gun firing quickly.
In February 2015, Margules worked with engineers from RDECOM’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center to test a ground robotic system in Alaska’s diverse, mountainous terrain, extreme cold weather and high altitude. Feedback from those tests was used not only to inform the capability development document, but also for future unmanned ground robotic projects.
In addition to their technical knowledge, FAST advisers are often relied on to bridge communication gaps. For instance, Jinwoo Park, a FAST adviser in Korea, is fluent in Korean and English so he can communicate with Korean and U.S. Soldiers who work together on international projects. Park, an electrical engineer, also understands the technical language associated with satellite communications, so he provides the link between engineers and Soldiers.
“I am part of an interoperability team that is addressing communication challenges between the U.S. and Korean Soldiers,” said Park. “However, it’s not just a language barrier. We have had problems communicating on a technical level for more than 50 years.”
GROWING THE PROGRAM
The number of FAST advisers, who are military officers in the Acquisition Corps and senior Army civilians, fluctuates according to need. If a new command is stood up or priorities change, then FAST advisers are added or moved to other areas. Lt. Col. Kevin Finch was recently assigned as the first FAST adviser to U.S. Army Cyber Command (ARCYBER). Located at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, ARCYBER will direct and conduct cyberspace operations to ensure freedom of action in the cyberspace and information environment and deny access to adversaries.
Other FAST advisers are assigned to support more than one command. Maj. Jimmy Harris wears two hats as the FAST advisor to both the U.S. Army Special Operations Command and U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) until a full-time FAST adviser is assigned to FORSCOM.
“To prepare new FAST advisers for their role, RDECOM puts them through an intensive three-week orientation and reachback training program, which exposes them to the total enterprise of RDECOM and its full spectrum of capabilities that support Soldiers,” said Jim Gibson, director of FAST at RDECOM.
While training prepares FAST advisers for their role, they need to be well-rounded and adaptable.
“There’s a lot that has to happen before we get technology into the warfighter’s hands,” said Smoot. “I strive for quality, not quantity.”
The FAST program began in 1985 and initially covered South Korea and Germany. In 2003, the program expanded to the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters.
“The number of FAST advisers has remained around 28 for several years, but the program is evolving and we constantly evaluate our footprint to optimize our support to current Army priorities,” said Gibson.
As the program evolves, FAST advisers will continue to reach back to RDECOM’s scientists and engineers to solve commanders’ operational problems. With innovative projects, such as Gloria the pig, FAST advisers are helping to develop cutting-edge technology to close capability gaps and keep Soldiers safe.
For more information, visit http://www.rdecom.army.mil/FAST/.
MS. ARGIE SARANTINOS-PERRIN, a public affairs specialist with Huntington Ingalls Industries – Technical Solutions Division, provides contract support to RDECOM. She holds an M.S. in professional writing and a B.A. in mass communications from Towson University. She has 11 years of public affairs experience supporting the DOD.
This article is scheduled to be published in the April – June issue of Army AL&T Magazine.
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