Rapid Equipping Force to Expand Reach Globally

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

The Rapid Equipping Force cut its teeth during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rushing new technology to troops in days or weeks instead of months or years. Now, with fewer boots on the ground in the Middle East, the REF will turn to other parts of the globe, said its director Oct. 2.

“The mission of the REF [is to] harness current and emerging technologies, [and get] immediate solutions to the war fighter … deployed globally,” said Army Col. Steven Sliwa. Not just in Iraq, not just in Afghanistan, not just in the Horn of Africa, he added.

As mission sets change, REF will respond globally, Sliwa said during a National Defense Industrial Association C4ISR meeting in Arlington, Virginia.

As the war in Afghanistan has wound down, there was some concern that the organization would be disbanded, Sliwa said. But in January, then-Undersecretary of the Army Joseph Westphal announced that it would continue operations and transfer to U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, though it would remain at its current facilities in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

“I think this is going to be a good marriage. I think communication is going to go way up. I think sharing of ideas and concepts is going to improve dramatically,” Sliwa said.

The transfer to TRADOC, which could happen as early as this month, prompted the REF to downsize to a “war-core” number of personnel, he said. Once it finishes the transfer, the group will have more time to focus on new and urgent needs. It will retain all of its current authorities, he noted.

The Army’s decision to retain the REF proves the necessity and importance of such a force, Sliwa said.

“There have been organizations in the past that have come, risen and gone away after the war,” Sliwa said. The REF will be an “enduring organization … at a time when the Army is getting smaller and making very tough decisions across its force structure.”

While the REF will address requirements around the globe, it is not leaving the Middle East behind. Iraq and Afghanistan are still top priorities, he said.

“Going into ‘15, despite the reduction of forces in Afghanistan, the REF will still have a forward presence capability. We’ll still have an expeditionary lab there,” he said.

The lab in Afghanistan has its own 3D printer, and engineers have already used it to produce several prototypes, he said.

The group has also started an office in Kuwait to better help meets needs in Iraq, he said.

The REF has a goal to get technology into the hands of war fighters in less than 90 days. In 2014, it took an average of 85 days to get equipment to soldiers, Sliwa said. As of Sept. 1, the REF had 303 open projects and 172 new projects that started in fiscal year 2014, he said.

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms comprised 12 percent of the REF’s 2014 requirements. One such project, the tactical aerostat system, is a tethered balloon and sensor that can give troops “great detail” into their surroundings, Sliwa said.

Sliwa said he wanted to challenge industry to make a similar system that was perhaps less robust, but more mobile.

“How can we bring it down to the convoy level? How can we make it so simple that it doesn’t require a ton of extra training and it’s another tool in the kit bag that doesn’t require a huge trailer to tow it around?” he asked.

In general, Sliwa said he was looking for ISR platforms that are lighter, use less power, smaller and more disposable.

Topics: C4ISR, Defense Department, DOD Policy, Procurement, Defense Department

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