An Air Force security unit has created a small division to test and evaluate new equipment for its airmen headed for Iraq.
The 820th Security Forces Group, headquartered at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., has established a combat-development division to look for battlefield gear and make sure that it works before making a purchase.
The 820th is the first Air Force unit designed specifically to perform a wide range of force-protection missions, explained a spokesman, Capt. Gary E. Arasin Jr. It was formed in 1997—after the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia—to provide highly trained, rapidly deployable security for any Air Force unit in the world.
The 820th consists of three squadrons, the 822nd, 823rd and 824th, Arasin told National Defense. It includes nearly 700 personnel in 26 career fields, such as security, intelligence, communications, explosive ordnance disposal, disaster preparedness, medicine, civil engineering, transportation, logistics and personnel.
Traditionally, Air Force security forces act as their service’s military police, but in current combat operations, the 820th does much more than that, Arasin said.
The group’s primary mission “is to establish airfield security in a deployed environment,” he said. Its members “are the first Air Force security units to operate ‘outside the fence’—a role typically filled by the Army.
“That means they actually go beyond the fence line to track down insurgents who target airbases,” Arasin said. Air Force security forces are combat trained and authorized, when necessary, to use lethal force.
In recent years, personnel from the 820th have deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Djibouti. Most recently they provided security to hurricane-devastated New Orleans.
The three group’s squadrons operate on a rotating schedule. “At any one time, one squadron is deployed, one is training for deployment and one is reconstituting from a deployment,” Arasin said.
The combat development division was established in October 2005. It includes just two men, and “we’re pretty busy,” said Tech. Sgt. Dennis Parks, the non-commissioned officer in charge.
The division’s job is to make sure that when the group’s personnel deploy, they have the necessary equipment. That includes “pretty much everything,” anything from a new style of boot to desert-friendly eyewear to non-lethal weapons, Parks said.
“Some of the things we are looking at are classified,” he cautioned. He was able, however, to discuss some of the unit’s interests.
One priority is eyewear. “The sunglasses and goggles we are using right now aren’t working very well in Iraq,” Parks said. “The glue that holds them together melts in the desert heat, and they pretty much fall apart.” The division is searching for alternatives. In other action, the team has:
• Replaced the group’s previous generation of flak vests with more recent body armor from RBR Tactical Armor Inc., of Richmond, Va. The new version offers Level IV protection against rifle fire.
• Acquired the advanced combat helmet (ACH) from Gentex Corporation, of Carbondale, Pa., in place of the Persian Gulf War-era Kevlar model. The ACH is the helmet currently used by the Army. It is 3.5 pounds lighter than the Kevlar version. The ACH is cushioned on the inside, making it more comfortable to wear, and it has a three-point suspension system, seating it more securely on the head.
• Tested solar-powered battery chargers for the Army’s Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass. The services are switching to rechargeable batteries to lighten the troops’ loads. The portable, lightweight chargers—developed by Konarka Technologies Inc., of Lowell, Mass.—can be used to give new life to AA batteries.
• Begun upgrading the personal role radio, or PRR. The goal is to improve communications between small teams without tying up tactical radio nets. The PRR—manufactured by Selex Communications, a subsidiary of Italy-based Finmeccanica Inc.—is a small transmitter-receiver that allows infantry soldiers to talk across short distances, even through thick cover or building walls without shouting or hand signals. It is small enough to be attached to a weapon or used with a headset, permitting hands-free operation. The team is experimenting with new headsets that fit better underneath the ACH helmet.
• Investigated the possible purchase of a “warrior skills trainer,” a simulator that prepares soldiers for convoy operations in Iraq. The Army has installed such simulators—which are made by MetaVR Inc., of Brookline, Mass.—at Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Carson, Colo.; Fort Stewart, Ga., and Fort Riley, Kan. The system uses four mock Humvees equipped with virtual driving capabilities, communications equipment and virtual terrain resembling Baghdad. During the training, soldiers can encounter 12 scenarios, including checkpoints, ambushes, crowd control and air cover.
• Begun evaluation of the armored security vehicle, or ASV, as a possible replacement for the Humvee in specific missions. The ASV is a 4X4, wheeled, armored vehicle made by Textron Marine & Land, of New Orleans. It carries a three-man crew and is armed with a .50 caliber machine gun and an MK19 40 mm grenade launcher. It is built with multiple layers of armor to protect against medium-caliber armor-piercing machine gun fire, large artillery-projectile fragments and land mines. Weighing about 15 tons, the vehicle is light enough to be transported aboard a C-130 Hercules aircraft.
• Applied for a copy of the personnel halting and stimulation response, or PHaSR, for testing. The PhaSR is non-lethal weapon, developed by the Air Force Research laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. Still in the research and development stage, it is man-portable and intended for protecting troops and controlling hostile crowds. Much like the weapon used on the science fiction movie and television series, “Star Trek” for which it is named, the PHaSR uses a laser beam to impair or dazzle individuals, but only temporarily.
• Tested a new chemical warfare suit. The clothing, known as the joint service light weight integrated suit technology II (JASQ II) is similar to the version currently used by the services. Both versions are insulated with carbon beads, which protect wearers from chemical and biological agents, Air Force officials explained. The beads in the older suit are provided by a single supplier, while the latest version uses beads from two sources, offering some protection against supply disruptions.