Future of Army’s ‘Rapid Equipping Force’ Still Uncertain

By Roxana Tiron

The U.S. Army’s Rapid Equipping Force—which was created to meet soldiers’ urgent technology needs—still is an experiment that keeps growing, according to service officials.

Led by Col. Bruce Jette, the REF has expanded from 14 to 40 employees, most of whom are soldiers, according to Paul Stoskus, REF deputy director.

“Approximately half of those are forward, most of them in Iraq,” he said at the National Defense Industrial Association international armaments symposium. The REF has dispatched one officer and two non-commissioned officers to every division that is in Iraq, in addition to a contingent in Afghanistan.

“We have been getting some additional missions,” said Stoskus.

Although the chief of staff of the Army, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, has pushed to make the REF a permanent organization, a lot of politics is involved in the process, said Stoskus. “For the moment, I still do not have a charter and table of organization,” he added.

The REF has been ordered to assess and insert technologies for both the current force and the future force. Among the most urgent tasks is to support the Army improvised explosive devices (IED) task force, said Stoskus.

The top priority for the task force is to train soldiers on how to detect or avoid IEDs, said Stoskus. “In 60 percent of the problems with IEDs, the casualties can be dealt with most effectively by TTP-related [tactics, techniques and procedures] efforts, and not technology,” he said. “Technology is only about 30 percent.”

To help with the training, REF has sent to the field so-called explosive hazards awareness training kits, said Stoskus.

One of the anti-IED solutions the REF proposed is a jammer called the S-system, which would be employed to neutralize the signals that trigger explosions. The system soon will go into full-rate production, Stoskus added.

To overcome another deadly problem in Iraq—snipers—the REF sent over the Pilar acoustic sensor system, which detects incoming bullets. Pilar has been developed by the French government. Another technology, called Boomerang, came from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It is a small low-cost acoustic detector that was installed on some 1st Cavalry Division vehicles.

“I keep getting mixed feedback on Boomerang; let’s just say that it has been alleged to have burnt some vehicles,” he said.

To help protect soldiers from mortar attacks, the REF is evaluating unattended acoustic sensors, as well as a lightweight counter-mortar radar. The latter system, however, is “much more expensive and its production lead-time takes much longer,” said Stoskus.

Other force-protection solutions that the REF has deployed include walk-through detectors and sensors to check vehicle gas tanks. “Sometimes commercial off the shelf solutions can not only be life savers, but also save a lot of money,” he said.

In Iraq, the REF also is involved in a national identification card effort, to make sure that every citizen gets finger-printed, Stoskus said. “That will help to identify some folks, because according to reports, we have had some high-value targets that we released.”


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