RDECOM utilizes Pacific Pathways deployments to conduct operational tests on three new technologies.
by Ms. Argie Sarantinos-Perrin
While the Army began Pacific Pathways in 2014 to build and sustain readiness in the Asia-Pacific region, the multinational exercises have acquired an additional mission: experimentation. The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) recently experimented on three new technologies—Rapid Fabrication via Additive Manufacturing on the Battlefield (R-FAB), Fight Tonight Emergency Fuel Distribution System and Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T)—in Pacific Pathways exercises to see how they performed in operational settings.
“Putting equipment into exercises for experimentation allows the technology community to learn early lessons about how equipment performs in a realistic environment, how Soldiers will actually use the equipment and what capabilities should be included in the final product,” said Andrew Wood, RDECOM – Pacific experimentation director for U.S. Army Pacific. “A formal operational test is too late in the life cycle to learn these lessons.”
An annual series of exercises with various Pacific nations, Pathways involves three strategic deployments of Army units for three or four months at a time. Each Pacific Pathways deployment typically involves multiple individual exercises. Among the exercises are Orient Shield with Japan; Cobra Gold and Hanuman Guardian with Thailand; Foal Eagle with South Korea; Balikatan with the Philippines; Garuda Shield with Indonesia; and Keris Strike with Malaysia.
A PREPAID OPPORTUNITY
With the cost of the exercises already funded, they present a good opportunity to gather Soldier feedback. While RDECOM leverages both small- and large-scale exercises, the larger ones typically include a more diverse force, which generates more feedback. Large exercises also create more opportunities to insert technologies because a variety of units participate, while small exercises may be infantry only.
Often research and development projects do not include funding for exercises, so providing resources can be a challenge. Another challenge is getting equipment to the location, which includes securing travel, customs and access to foreign military bases.
Once RDECOM determines which technology needs to be inserted, the objectives of the experiment and the schedule, the team coordinates with exercise planners to ensure that the technology is inserted. Planning typically begins a year before the exercise.
TECHNOLOGY NO. 1: PRINT-A-SPARE
For Soldiers in the field, getting the necessary parts for broken equipment is essential. And faster is better.
Until now, Soldiers waited weeks or months for parts to be delivered. But with the R-FAB, essential parts can be created using 3-D printing. The R-FAB, which consists of 3-D printers in an expandable shelter, is one of many science and technology projects that RDECOM, a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, is developing. RDECOM uses the lessons learned to improve future versions.
The R-FAB, which included two large and three small printers, was deployed to both Hanuman Guardian in August 2017 and Orient Shield in September 2017.
While the R-FAB technology can design and print new parts on the spot, it also features a database of pre-existing files known as the Repository of Additive Parts for Tactical & Operational Readiness, or RAPTOR. RAPTOR allows Soldiers to choose from a database of commonly used parts already designed and printed, such as a 55-gallon drum cap and wrench combination. To print new parts, Soldiers use the onboard database, which stores existing print files, and 3-D computer-aided design software, which allows the operator to design a new part on a laptop and then make a 3-D print file. If the physical part that needs to be replaced is available, a print file can be generated using the 3-D scanning capability in the R-FAB.
Before they conducted the Hanuman Guardian and Orient Shield exercises, Soldiers from the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division completed a week of classroom training at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey. The Soldiers were able to operate the equipment skillfully within a couple of days. Thus training time should decrease to one or two days, particularly with the development of system design and training packages. The system design can influence training by simplifying the process; incorporating updated capabilities that are easier to use, including training reference materials; and adding a help desk capability to the reachback system that connects forward-deployed operators with technical experts at the home base.
Soldiers set up the system in about two hours during the exercises, including expanding the container, leveling it, installing the environmental control unit, putting the components in place, hooking up the generator for power and allowing the 3-D printers to warm up.
During Orient Shield, Soldiers used the R-FAB to print camera lens covers for a Stryker vehicle in four hours. Rapidly fabricating the part was especially important since Typhoon Talim made landfall on the Japanese island of Kyushu during the exercise.
“A camera lens cover may seem like a trivial part, but it actually deadlines the vehicle because driving without a lens cover will damage the camera lens, degrading the capability and damaging a costly item,” Wood said. (If a part is “deadlined,” then the vehicle cannot be used until it is repaired or the commander agrees to assume the risk that deploying the system could result in worse damage.) “Making a quick replacement part using the R-FAB enabled those vehicles to continue to conduct their missions until the supply system could provide standard replacement parts.”
RDECOM uses Soldier feedback from the hands-on exercises to develop tactics, techniques and procedures for future deployments. There were several lessons learned about the R-FAB from the two exercises, including that:
- The environmental control unit was not large enough for the hot climates.
- Soldiers made little use of the R-FAB system during Hanuman Guardian because they were not aware of its capabilities.
- Improvements are needed for the reachback capability.
- 24-hour-a-day operations require military-grade generators.
“Part of the intent of the exercises was to see how well the system stood up to multiple deployments as part of the same operation,” Wood said. “One area where the system will be improved is in ruggedness for multiple moves during operations.”
RDECOM plans to continue experimenting with the R-FAB to fine-tune it. The R-FAB will also be used to evaluate other additive manufacturing technologies, including cold spray, metals and electronics. As these mature, RDECOM will look for opportunities to integrate them and evaluate the result.
For the near term, an updated R-FAB is being built at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, and will be tested in a 12-month operational assessment in Korea starting this summer; feedback from this exercise will help refine the tactics, techniques and procedures for its use. Another R-FAB was tested at the Joint Warfighter Assessment 18, which took place April 20 – May 9 in Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels, Germany.
NO. 2 :STAYING FUELED
In large-scale military operations, fuel is transported over long distances and on main supply routes, which leads to traffic congestion and disruption in supply. As a result, commanders keep exceedingly large amounts of fuel on hand, which affects the agility and flexibility of operations. A medium petroleum truck company, for example, is equipped with a combination of 60 tractors and either 60 M967 5,000-gallon semitrailer or 60 M1062 7,500-gallon tankers, which enable the company to deliver 300,000 or 450,000 gallons per day, respectively.
In Iraq and Kuwait, the Inland Petroleum Distribution System, developed in the 1980s, is the tactical pipeline system that is currently in use and that supported Operation Iraqi Freedom. More than 60 million gallons of fuel were transported from refineries in Kuwait to tactical fuel farms in Iraq.
However, the system has a very large footprint, encompassing more than 1,000, 20-foot ISO (International Organization for Standardization) containers and requiring lots of people, equipment and time to deploy and install. The Fight Tonight Emergency Fuel Distribution System was developed in response to a capability gap identified by U.S. forces in Korea, where the road network north of Seoul is inadequate to support potential operational missions. The Fight Tonight system can be deployed at a rate of 25 miles per day with minimal support and deliver 720,000 gallons of fuel per day.
Ten Soldiers from the 339th Quartermaster Company and 498th Combat Service Support Battalion conducted an operational demonstration of the Fight Tonight Emergency Fuel Distribution System during the Combined Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore exercise March 22 – April 16, 2017, at Pohang, South Korea. Using repurposed components from the Tactical Water Distribution System along with commercial off-the-shelf components, Soldiers deployed 9,500 feet of hose in 4½ hours, pushed more than 140,000 gallons of water (a surrogate for fuel) from the beach to the storage area, and recovered that hose in 2½ hours.
“The Soldiers could have deployed and retrieved the system much faster; however, given that we conducted this experiment during an exercise, we were not allowed to execute many of the field-expedient measures we might normally consider,” said Drew Downing, RDECOM science adviser to U.S. Army Pacific. “For instance, road crossings: In a conflict operation, we would break through the road surface to bury the hose line using a culvert kit. However, during the exercise we were forced to find existing culverts in the road network and thread the hose through the pipe, which is extremely time-consuming.”
The Fight Tonight Emergency Fuel Distribution System was assessed in five functional areas: fuel distribution, deployability, reliability, transportability and remote system control. Overall, the system demonstrated its capability to deliver fuel. However, reliability and remote system control could not be measured because of the short duration of the exercise and issues with the original pumps. The success of the Fight Tonight concept demonstration during Combined Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore led the 8th Army to develop and submit an operational needs statement, which documents a critical need for the technology from an operational unit. HQDA validated the statement in December 2017, allowing U.S. Army Pacific to seek funding.
Future plans include issuing the Fight Tonight Emergency Fuel Distribution System to the 339th Quartermaster Company. Since it is not in the formal acquisition process, however, it will be competed as a high priority in the next round of funding established to address capability gaps in Korea. If funding is approved, U.S. Army Pacific plans to refurbish the existing Fight Tonight equipment and procure new pumps and additional hose to integrate with it.
NO 3:TEAMING WITH ROBOTS
To support combat readiness, the Army is developing manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T), which was highlighted during the Pacific Manned-Unmanned – Initiative I held July 11-26, 2016. Engineers and Soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division tested and provided feedback for more than 20 capabilities in a system of systems that included communication networks, mission command systems and MUM-T (Ground).
The latter consisted of small, man-portable unmanned ground vehicles with cameras that collected information and transmitted it via video to Soldiers through the Nett Warrior system, featuring a chest-mounted screen that works with a smartphone to display fellow Soldiers’ locations and video feeds and to send text messages; unmanned ground sensor systems that collected chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear and video information, including one system that recorded video onboard an aircraft; unmanned Squad Multipurpose Equipment Transport systems that transported small unit equipment, supplies, weapons and ammunition; and an unmanned ground system that transported heavy equipment (weighing more than 330 pounds), supplies, weapons and ammunition.
During the exercise, small units conducted expeditionary combined arms maneuvers, using unmanned air and ground robotics. The units used a mobile 4G LTE network for communications to support intelligence, fires and mission command tasks.
“The MUM-T concept is a unique capability that links Soldiers to future unmanned air, ground and sensor domains. The MUM-T capability extends the Soldiers’ reach by enhancing situational awareness and providing better protection and lethality options,” said Lonnie Freiburger, Emerging Capabilities Office project manager at RDECOM’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center.
Until the Pacific Manned Unmanned – Initiative I, the MUM-T (Ground) had never been assessed in a jungle environment. The thick foliage, hills and ravines on the southeastern shore of Oahu, Hawaii, posed line-of-sight, communications and mobility challenges. Another challenge was Tropical Storm Darby, which made landfall during the exercise, forcing the team to cancel the assessment for one day.
While the MUM-T (Ground) was less usable during dismounted tasks because of the extreme jungle terrain, Soldiers successfully used unmanned aircraft systems to acquire threats and employ indirect fires. The engineer platoon completed dismounted route reconnaissance, small obstacle breaching, and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear detection. Feedback from the assessment informed an initial capabilities document, which includes details about the technology and recommendations to enhance it.
A mounted version of the MUM-T (Ground), known as the Robotic Capability Breach Concept, has additional capabilities, including detection of minefields, support for fires and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and deployment of a mine-clearing line charge to clear a path for tanks, vehicles and personnel. The concept was tested at Joint Warfighter Assessment 18 and will be tested at Joint Warfighter Assessments 19 and 20.
RDECOM teams with Soldiers to experiment during exercises such as Pacific Pathways as a way to get the best technology to Soldiers as quickly as possible. Inserting technologies into exercises leverages already funded events to gather a large and diverse volume of Soldier feedback.
RDECOM is now researching the possibility of testing counter-unmanned aircraft system capabilities during Tiger Balm in Singapore in 2019 and possibly inserting tactical bridging (a bridging system that is rapidly installed to support Soldiers and small vehicles) into Exercise Balikatan in the Philippines in 2019. RDECOM is also working with U.S. Army Pacific and U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command to design the Multi-Domain Task Force, which was established to determine the requirements for a new military formation that will address warfighting capabilities required in an anti-access and area denial environment. USARPAC is planning a two-year effort to experiment with capabilities and determine which are suitable for the task force.
Continuous experimentation and delivering technology to Soldiers faster are central to the Army’s modernization strategy. RDECOM supports the Army’s mission by using the feedback and lessons learned from operational exercises to improve future versions of technology.
For more information, go to www.army.mil/rdecom or call the RDECOM Public Affairs Office at 443-395-3922.
ARGIE SARANTINOS-PERRIN is a public affairs specialist for Huntington Ingalls Industries – Technical Solutions Division, providing contract support to RDECOM. She holds an M.S. in professional writing and a B.A. in mass communications from Towson University. She has 13 years of public affairs experience supporting DOD.
“Projecting the force in the Pacific,” Army Sustainment magazine, March-April 2018
“Pacific Pathways: Maintaining freedom of maneuver through reception, staging, and onward movement,” Army Sustainment magazine, September-October 2017
This article will be published in the July – September 2018 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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