ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — The Army’s Research, Development and Engineering Command, established here nearly three years ago, is concentrating on improving coordination of the service’s sprawling science and technology programs, said its chief, Maj. Gen. Roger A. Nadeau.
The command is coalescing, Nadeau told National Defense, but it will be a while before everybody is marching entirely in step. “We’re very much a work in progress,” he said.
RDECOM is responsible for 75 percent of the Army’s science and technology programs. With a budget of $3.5 billion and a workforce of 30,000 soldiers, civilian employees and contractors, it gathers under one umbrella for the first time a dozen or so major laboratories and research-and-engineering centers scattered around the United States, plus operations elsewhere around the world
RDECOM is part of the Army Materiel Command, the service’s primary provider of technology development, acquisition and support, and it was cobbled together from existing units within the AMC.
“All of these organizations existed before this headquarters, and they all do good work,” Nadeau said. “But they weren’t always talking to each other. What this headquarters can do is facilitate communications between them.”
For example, Nadeau pointed out, RDECOM has begun conducting quarterly internal program reviews attended by representatives from all of its facilities. The reviews are held at a different center each time. “That gives exposure to every center, one at a time, so they can see each other’s resources,” he explained.
RDECOM also coordinates its work with the AMC’s life-cycle management commands for aviation and missiles, communications and electronics, and tanks, automobiles and armaments. The AMC created these commands in 2004 to consolidate in one organization the people responsible for developing systems and those who maintain them after they are built.
The idea is to speed up and simply the fielding and maintenance of equipment, Nadeau said. “We want to get the technology out of the laboratories and into the hands of soldiers in the shortest time.
He pointed out that nine of the 10 of the Army’s “greatest inventions of 2005,” which were announced in June, were developed by RDECOM. They included:
M1 Fixed-Site and M2 Vehicle-Mounted Gunfire Detection System. The GDS was designed to counter enemy snipers. It collects the acoustic waves of a gunshot in a complete 360 degrees of coverage and provides the exact location of the shooter. It successfully pinpointed a sniper within hours of deployment in Iraq.
M100 Grenade Rifle Entry Munition. The M100 is a lightweight, muzzle-launched, standoff, breaching grenade that can be fired from M16 and M4 rifles, using standard 5.56 mm ammunition. It is the first rifle-launched grenade that can be used to breach steel doors.
M192 Lightweight Ground Mount. This compact and collapsible ground mount designed as a base for the M249 light machine gun and M240B medium machine gun. It is lighter and more compact than the current tripod, and faster to set up and move.
M782 Multi Option Fuze for Artillery. The M782 is the NATO standard, all-purpose fuze for all 105 and 155 mm conventional, bulk-filled high-explosive ammunition.
Persistent Threat Detection System. The PTDS is a package of long-term sensors attached to an aerostat — a tethered balloon - designed to link tactical and theater surveillance assets with operational forces, helping to counter hostile fire and unconventional threats.
Fido Explosives Detector. This lightweight detection system is meant to duplicate the abilities of bomb-sniffing dogs. Weighing less than three pounds it can be handheld or mounted on unmanned aerial, ground or underwater vehicles. It can be used to screen people, automobiles, cargo or even roadways.
Countermeasures Protection System. The CMPS includes advanced electronic warfare subsystems meant to foil the two predominant classes of radio-controlled roadside bombs being encountered in Iraq. The system is designed to be upgraded whenever possible with minimal hardware changes.
Over-the-Horizon Satellite Communications and Improved Dual An/PRC-117F Command and Control Console. This integration of SATCOM and C2 technology is being installed on helicopters in or on their way to Iraq and Afghanistan in an effort to provide battle staff with improved communications capability while on the move.
Dual Band Antenna. This is the Army’s first designated “common antenna.” It offers an unprecedented wideband frequency span from a single structure, enabling it to perform multiple communications and electronic warfare functions.
Combat Application Tourniquet. The 10th invention cited for the year came not from RDECOM, but from the Army Institute of Surgical Research. This one-handed stops blood flow in a traumatic wound in the arm or leg. A band is tightened with a molded plastic bar until bleeding stops. The bar then which is locked in place with a Velcro strap pending medical treatment.
RDECOM specialists often come up with ways to improve Army equipment is already in use. In February, for example, Jerry Dickson, an electronics engineer at the command’s aviation and missile facility, was recognized for a design that is credited with saving the government an estimated $10 million and overcoming a technical roadblock that endangered a $250 million program.
Dickson led an effort to design a drop-in power amplifier required to continue the flight test program for the brilliant anti-tank pre-planned improvement, a guided munition that is part of the Army tactical missile system. He delivered 86 fully tested and qualified power amplifier modules on schedule and at nearly $1 million under cost.
In April, a team from the communications-electronics center received the Army’s 2005 Environmental Excellence in Weapons System Acquisition Award for its work in developing a new carbon dioxide cooling system for the M114 up-armored Humvee.
The team designed, installed and tested the Humvee cooling system, which uses CO2, rather than hydro fluorocarbon R134, as the sole refrigerant. CO2 conserves greenhouse gas and avoids the need to use fluorocarbons, which scientists consider a 1,000 times worse for global warming than CO2. The CO2 system also yielded greater performance at lower space and weight requirements, enabling the vehicle to carry a larger payload.
RDECOM approves products for military use only after rigorous testing, and recommends that soldiers stay away from unauthorized items, Nadeau said.
In May, for example, Nadeau warned soldiers that only two approved brands of lubricants — Break-Free and Royal — should be used on Army weapons systems. Soldiers have been experimenting with many different alternatives to find better ways to keep their weapons from jamming in the desert sands of Iraq. In 2003, Nadeau noted, the Army Test and Evaluation Command tested about two dozen contenders.
“The tests were on four weapons systems, covering handguns, rifles and machine guns,” Nadeau said. “Bottom line, end-state to the tests was that the superior performers in all categories turned out to be those products which were already approved by the Army.”
The key to avoiding jams is dedicated weapon and cartridge cleaning, he said. “Even if the manual says you should clean your weapon twice a day, if you’ve got time, clean it four times a day. If you’ve got more time, clean it eight times a day, because the one time you didn’t clean it may be the time it jams.”
Coordinating the wide-ranging interests of RDECOM’s subordinate commands is “a challenge,” Nadeau admits. One issue: “Our ability to move money is restricted,” he said. “Our money comes down to us in program elements, and we can spend it only within those elements.”
If RDECOM wants to move funds from one program to another, it has to get approval from Thomas H. Killion, the Army’s chief scientist. Killion “has been very supportive,” Nadeau said. Still, he added, “you’d like to have that authority yourself.”
With the Army at war, he said, RDECOM’s top priorities currently are the better body armor for individual soldiers and improved protection against roadside bombs for wheeled and tracked vehicles.
Since 1998, the command and its predecessors have fielded 863,000 sets of modular Interceptor Body Armor, which now includes ceramic inserts to protect vital organs and attachments do the same for sides, shoulders, armpits, throat and groin. By December, the Army plans to have enough of them to equip every soldier and Defense Department civilian employee in Iraq and Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Stephen M. Speakes, the service’s force development director, told a House Armed Services subcommittee.
RDECOM’s tank and automotive center has been in the forefront of developing add-on armor kits for the Army’s Humvees and larger trucks. As a result of these efforts, Speakes said, the U.S. Central Command has more than 12,500 up-armored Humvees in its area of responsibility. By March, that number should exceed 18,000, he said. Eventually, the Army intends to supply armor kits to more than 30,000 Humvees and trucks.
The command also is spearheading the adaptation of robots to replace soldiers, where possible, in performing dangerous work. For example, Nadeau noted, the 10-pound, hand-carried PackBot has been modified to assist with disposal of explosive ordnance and hazardous material, search and surveillance, hostage rescue, and other military operations. “The first choice for forcible entry doesn’t necessarily have to be human,” he said.
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