7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) on LTATVs

accelerate Magazine editors recently sat down with five TARDEC associates -- four active-duty Army officers and one Marine who's now a civilian associate. We lobbed a few questions at them to hear their views on how vehicles and technology could elevate our Future Force's effectiveness in the field.

We premised this roundtable discussion with the Jan. 23 comment by Army Chief of Staff GEN Raymond Odierno, because it reflects a recurring theme in the Soldiers' observations as they speak about mobility and its essential importance in maintaining kinetic, offensive capabilities on the battlefield.

The editors want to acknowledge the National Defense Industry Association's (NDIA's) Michigan Chapter because we borrowed the Warfighter Panel concept from them. Each year at the NDIA's annual Ground Vehicle Systems Engineering and Technology Symposium (GVSETS), the conference features a similar panel with unfiltered feedback from Soldiers and Marines who recently returned from theater. The conversation with our Soldiers (and former Marine) occurred earlier this fiscal year.

Here are the participants:

LTC Sherwood Baker

Quality advisor with the Center for Systems Integration. Baker has a Master's degree in manufacturing and works with various product and project managers, depots and arsenals. He has also worked in the Project Manager (PM) office for construction engineering equipment, and as a software engineer at Future Combat Systems. Baker is a Military Intelligence officer, who has served in intelligence assignments all over the world. He has deployed to Iraq three times and Afghanistan three times, most recently returning from Afghanistan in July 2013.

LTC Michael Powell

Powell is the Acting TARDEC Military Deputy. Previously, he worked in PM Transportation Systems and was the Product Director for the Armored Security Vehicle (ASV). He previously had a two-year assignment at the Pentagon in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics and Technology), and a training-with-industry assignment with General Dynamics Land Systems. As a Major, he served as Assistant Product Manager for Light Tactical Vehicles where he managed the Up-Armored HMMWV [High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle] fleet from 2005 to 2008.

MAJ Chris Orlowski

Orlowski serves as Assistant Product Manager -- Man Transportable Robotic System Increment II in the Robotics Systems Joint Project Office. He began his TARDEC career in Ground Vehicle Robotics and deployed in support of the Joint Robotics Repair Detachment in Afghanistan for six months. Since his return, Orlowski has worked on the M-160 Mine Clearing System and the TALON robot system.

MAJ Stephen Tegge

Tegge is special project officer on the Early Entry Combat Vehicle (EECV) program. EECV involves an air-droppable firepower platform and the next-generation close-combat vehicle. He taught
doctrine at Fort Benning, GA, at the Infantry Captain's Career Course, and previously commanded Alpha Company 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment in Iraq and led a rifle platoon in
Afghanistan.

LCpl Brock Brani

Brani works at the TARDEC Software Engineering Center. Projects include the MRAP Digital
Backbone. Previously, he worked with Special Operations Command (SOCOM) on engineering changes for SOCOM vehicles. In the U.S. Marine Corps, LCpl Brani served as an Infantryman with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 24th Marines Regiment in Iraq and Peru.

Q: Let's talk about mobility. What did you find were the best options on the battlefield?

LTC Baker: The last time I was in Afghanistan, it was with the Special Operations community. They had a different mission. They liked to use the smaller vehicles. They can get in and out, they can be air-dropped, they can drive off the back of another vehicle. The Special Operations guys go way back where regular troops don't go. But there was a gap in capability. They had M-ATVs and they had the smaller vehicles but there was nothing in between. [Warfighters] are willing to sacrifice some protection for more mobility.

MAJ Tegge: To me, mobility far outdoes protection. I would have thrown away plates and equipment to get the mobility.

LTC Baker: The trouble with that is, if you have a casualty, you have a commander who has to explain to his commander, who has to explain to a congressman, who has to explain to the parents why that Soldier wasn't wearing his protective gear.

LTC Powell: Protective gear is one thing, but when we start talking about vehicles, especially the HMMWV, there is a big tradeoff between survivability and mobility. As Major Tegge alluded to, mobility is essential because it enables vehicles to get out of the way of enemy attacks.

Take the HMMWV for example. Some would argue that we added too much armor on the side of a vehicle that was initially not designed to support that weight. It caused a lot of cascading effects associated with the suspension system, the engine and so forth. If you are going to increase survivability, you are also going to have to increase other vehicle components such as engine size and transmission. There are a lot of increases that need to take place to go along with those survivability impacts.

MAJ Tegge: The HMMWV was the savior for my guys. I had the most Purple Hearts of any unit in my brigade but had no KIAs [killed in action] when I was in command because we were able to fight them more on our terms by virtue of using HMMWVs. We would take out our Bradley [Fighting Vehicles] and tanks once in a while -- we used those when we had to go where we knew there were IEDs [improvised explosive devices]. When we took out the HMMWVs, we could drive through neighborhoods, we could whip through traffic, we could go anywhere, and we wouldn't tear down their power lines. You could send three platoons in three different directions and converge on the objective from multiple angles.

The key to survival was going to where the IEDs weren't. All we have done by increasing our [armor] protection and increasing the vehicle's weight and height is limit ourselves to going where the IEDs are going to be. Yes, we will survive [a blast], but [the enemy] will make a bigger bomb. With the body armor we lose the mobility. You have to take a knee, return fire and call in artillery instead of maneuvering on the enemy. Mobility gives you the ability to fight smartly. In my opinion, the focus has to be on faster, lighter, smaller vehicles. You are not going to be able to hit me with an ATGM [anti-tank guided missile] or shoot me with a tank if I am going 70 mph and we're in and out of the terrain. We wouldn't have traded our HMMWVs for anything.

LTC Powell: One of the challenges we had back then is that we were basically armoring a "beer can." We had the GVW [gross vehicle weight] at a certain level and we had exceeded that weight tremendously by the time I had left that program office. The HMMWV was never intended to be used as a combat platform; it was intended to be a utility vehicle. As we look out to the future, whatever capabilities we come up with, we have to make sure that they are flexible because we never know what that vehicle or platform will ultimately be used for. Just like we never thought that the HMMWV would be a combat platform, but it was used that way in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Brani: I agree with Major Tegge. Our base platform in the Marine Corps at the time in the city of Fallujah was the up-armored HMMWV and it wasn't even the fully upgraded armor; it was the plate armor at the time, when I got in country. It still had a little bit of maneuverability but being in the city, you are still subjected to turning into a small alley and being shot at, or being hit with a complex IED attack. If we had to move a bunch of Marines at the same time, we would usually ride the Armadillo, which is a seven-ton platform with just armored sides.

Maneuverability was the biggest thing with the vehicles, but they kept getting bigger and bigger as we started leaving. The M-ATV [All-Terrain Vehicle] wasn't there yet, but that would have been nice. Of all the MRAPs [Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected] so far, it's the most proficient combination of speed and survivability. But it's still a target compared to what you could do if you have something smaller, lighter and quicker.

MAJ Orlowski: I was in Afghanistan last year and two things: What I observed was units requesting just plate carriers -- a [personal armor] vest that carries just a front and back plate. I assume that it increases their [dismounted] mobility -- you get some of those effects back and you are protecting your core.

Second, we could see the effort put into route clearance, making sure the vehicles were up, making sure there were multiple solutions. The materiel solution options would drive operational procedures. For example, there are certain sensors that can only be effective if you are driving very slow to counter the IEDs. So now you have engineering route clearance platoons driving [slowly] in kinetic operations, so you need weapons teams with those formations to protect them. The patrols that started with three or four vehicles ballooned to 10 vehicles, all up-armored, and you are adding up-armored kits to them because the enemy was building bigger bombs.

MAJ Tegge: Our billion-dollar solution was thwarted by their $30 innovation.

Q: What are some of the challenges with moving technology forward?

MAJ Tegge: We tend to validate everything through modeling and simulation and most of that is firepower ratios thrown in a box. You never get to see how the thinking guy employs his resources. One of my NCOs [noncommissioned officers] at one point said, 'If you modeled the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans would win every time.' Because you can't account for how Americans used the tools at their disposal. People want something you can quantify. You cannot quantify human intellect and how they employ the weapons they have.

[TARDEC Director] Dr. Rogers is pushing that with these Soldier Innovation Workshops -- bring Soldiers in and get their take, and you can build a core of information on what Soldiers want and what they see as best.

LTC Powell: I understand that we are focused on S&T improvements and advancements, but whatever we come up with, we have to think about the holistic and systematic approach to it and not just build a component, per se. You've got to determine how it is going to fit on the platform. We have to integrate it at some point.

Q: Does mobility equal survivability?

LTC Powell: I wouldn't say mobility equals survivability. I would say it could be a bigger part of survivability. I don't think the two are equal.

MAJ Tegge: I have always said that there has to be an intersection. There is an intersection point somewhere so that the amount of survivability built into a vehicle does not destroy our ability to fight a fight. There has to be a breakeven point where you stop the madness.

We are trying to fight a war without getting anybody killed but in the process we are losing our ability to take the offensive. We get attacked at their disposal -- we just tend to survive a little more. The military is now starting to talk about the smaller, lighter vehicles -- more transportable and more mobile. At least the dialogue has begun. Maybe we'll learn something from the way we've fought the last 12-15 years.

LTC Baker: Mobility depends on what country you're in too. The roads in Afghanistan are, "what roads?" In Iraq, you had a more advanced country with better highway systems.

Q: This sounds like a question of doctrine and how we fight.

MAJ Orlowski: I would not say doctrine, I would say JCIDS [Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System] -- the way we procure systems is the limiting factor. The way the rules work is we can't spend money unless we have a requirement. It's gotten so silly that -- now this may be getting a little off track -- we have thousands of excess robots. We can't give them to units unless they were bought with dollars for Afghanistan -- that's the guidance. Unless a unit is going to Afghanistan, they cannot have robots unless they're bought for Afghanistan.

LTC Powell: We all have our role though. In the PM shops, we can't spend money without a requirement. But you have DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency], RDECOM [Research, Development and Engineering Command], TARDEC and so forth, you have organizations that aren't requirements-driven organizations. As long as PMs focus on being the materiel developer and the research and development personnel -- such as DARPA, ARL and RDECOM -- focus on developing new technology, it's a win-win for everyone involved.

MAJ Tegge: I'd like to see TARDEC build small, fast, light demonstrators -- build several of them and hand them to platoons of Soldiers and ask them, "How would you use these things?" And that could address the doctrine we were talking about. We have doctrine for counterinsurgency now. Counterinsurgency [COIN] should be fly-by-the-seat-of-your pants tactics that you apply in the rear echelon as you're invading somewhere. COIN should go the route of trench warfare. It's applicable in certain situations but we shouldn't have an entire doctrine built around it. Let's get beyond this.

MAJ Orlowski: It's a collection of best practices.

MAJ Tegge: That's what it is. We started talking about these smaller, lighter vehicles and the minute you pitch something like that to MCO [Major Combat Operations], they say, "How does that fit into the lightheavy Stryker concept?" It doesn't -- it's a new concept. I would hope that technology can push us beyond this construct.

The Germans learned that with an airplane, a radio and a tank, you can revolutionize warfare and roll right over a trench. And they didn't say, "Well how do we fit this into our World War I doctrine?" They took the technology available and applied it in a different way and totally revolutionized warfare. We're still using that same doctrine. We need to ask, "Where do we go now? What if we went another way?" If we can build some demonstrators and throw them in Soldiers' hands and say fight the other guys, then you can start building new doctrine to better utilize the technology. That's tech push -- that's what we need.

Q: Do we have the technological edge -- do you have that confidence in the field?

Brani: Technologically, yes, we're superior. But it doesn't change the fact that the simplest technique of one person shooting and scooting, and then hiding can render 20 people ineffective. One [enemy] guy can take a few shots, get his job done, then run away and do it again another day. They're little mosquito bites that eventually lead to a sickness.

Q: What are your ideas on the platforms currently in the system?

MAJ Tegge: If Special Ops guys adopt a specific vehicle or system, chances are it's pretty good, and they picked up Strykers. Rangers use Strykers on all their urban missions. We replaced a Stryker Brigade when I went into Mosul -- my guys rolled out on missions with those vehicles and they loved them. When they did their IOTE [initial operational test and evaluation] in the 501st Airborne, I donned guerilla clothing and we went out in Kentucky and fought against them. When they employed the vehicles correctly, you couldn't hear them coming -- all of a sudden there was infantry everywhere. But the robust capability you have with Strykers and the amount of infantry you can put on the ground, and how quickly you can move them from point A to point B is well worth it. If you're in a maneuver fight and need to get Soldiers to places pretty fast, they're wonderful.

MAJ Orlowski: I would see them running around Kandahar last year. They looked like battle wagons and had multiple weapons on them. They were shorter than MRAPs and the center of gravity was lower. I rarely saw reports of Strykers getting hit -- especially when they had double-V hulls -- and Soldiers losing their lives.

Brani: I don't have much experience with Strykers, but I have worked with LAVs [Light Armored Vehicles -- a similar Marine Corps vehicle]. I've seen those things operate with just three or four wheels at most -- you may have two shot off on one side and two shot off on the other side, and it can still move through about 3 feet of sludge, mud or whatever surface you have. They can still get the job done. But if you try to do that with a 4x4 or 6x6 MRAP, you're pretty much immobile, and you may have to wait about 45 minutes to replace one of those.

MAJ Tegge: The funny thing about MRAPs is, sure it was considered an acquisition success, but the only guys I've met who really liked MRAPs were engineers who had to clear the routes, because they had to go where the IEDs were. We had to rescue a team whose [MRAP] vehicle got hit -- they survived. But we wound up in a sustained firefight getting them out of there and getting sensitive items out of the vehicle. We all survived. But guys like me who have to cruise around and fight all the time didn't want MRAPs -- they were just too much. They are a great acquisition success -- the vehicle is good for limited things but they're very purpose-oriented.

Q: How does implementing Capability Set 13 (a communications package) affect operations?

LTC Powell: From a communications standpoint, that is obviously important. That gives us the superiority we have. Blue Force Tracker, Force 21, all of those types of C4ISR [Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] items are key. It enables us to a do a lot of things our enemies can't do. Therefore, it is a combat multiplier on the battlefield. Communication is key, and the packages we have are what we need. We are definitely going in the right direction in that respect.

MAJ Tegge: You've got to filter the communication sometimes because one of the problems you may get is leadership [micromanaging] the guys fighting the fight. When I am a company commander, I don't need the brigade command post telling me what to do -- they are watching me on a screen from a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] and they are contacting me on my direct internal company network because they think I am doing something wrong when they aren't even in the fight. Communication is great, situational awareness is great, but there is a tendency to micromanage.

Q: Is there also a concern about carrying more communication devices?

Brani: I wanted fewer communication devices. If we were going out for a few days, I had my big assault pack, if it was just for a day, I had a smaller pack. We limited the amount of communications we had to a few people in the squad -- we still had two or three radios. Now they are coming out with bigger radios -- granted, they are capable of shooting halfway around the world if need be, but if you're in the city the last thing you need is something half your
size to lug around with all of your gear. Being able to integrate multiple things into a smaller package would be ideal. With the technology, where it is currently, it's not advanced enough to do that. We are working on it though.

LTC Baker: It is important, ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] for the platoon. When fighting an insurgency, you are out on the battlefield and what you have with you is what you have to fight the enemy -- what you carry on your back. The Special Ops guys would come into contact with the enemy, they may see four or five mud huts or something like that. They need to find out where they are, so they like to have small UAVs or some type of surveillance or reconnaissance on their own that they can carry on their back and just throw it out there and they have short-range communications. I notice the Special Operations guys prefer that -- they make those quick decisions and that's what they do best. Many maneuvers
need to be decided at the ground level. Communication can be short range.

Q: What do you think of technology aimed at situational awareness, such as small UAVs?

LTC Baker: Don't most people want to know what's on the other side of the hill? It also gives you an advantage -- you can maneuver and engage enemy on your terms rather than engage on the enemy's terms.

MAJ Tegge: The enemy will know you're looking. But with something like a parrot drone -- really small ones -- they may not know.

LTC Baker: We had some that size -- the British Army purchased them and brought them out to test them. They could fly up and you couldn't hear them until they were feet away from you. That technology's out there, it just costs money.

MAJ Tegge: Even if they know I'm looking at them, sometimes it doesn't matter. With the parrot drone, you could control it on a smart phone by downloading an app[lication]. That's my wish. The ability to know the enemy is right there -- to click on a smart phone, zoom in on it, have a 10-digit grid hit call-for-fire app and now rounds are falling on that spot. It takes a second and a half to view my app and, bam, I've got rounds on it.

Q: Smaller is better?

MAJ Tegge: Yes. If I'm clearing a building, I have to leave a guy in each room to secure it. What if I had a smart phone or maybe an iPad in a vehicle outside that can be linked to all these little cameras that we can stick on walls? Because with those, I can carry 10 or 12 of them on me. I can leave them in each room and keep my fire team together as we clear rooms, and the dude in the vehicle can say, 'Hey, somebody just walked into room X' and tell us what to do. I can secure a building without reducing my manpower. If they already have that, that's awesome.

MAJ Orlowski: Actually, the Infantry School is working on that requirement -- it's emerging.

Q: What are important developments for future operations?

MAJ Orlowski: For me, it's autonomy. It's sensor improvement, platform improvement, processor improvement, algorithm improvements -- a lot of things go into making "Terminator." The best way to do those types of things is highly dependent on certain algorithms and LIDAR, which is light radar. They send a laser scan out and map the area of interest. It's highly dependent on processing power. I don't think the technology is there yet -- it's not fast enough. A lot of smart people are working on it.

If we had the will and the money, you could have automated convoys go from base to base. What we're not quite there with, yet, is if a 4-year-old kid steps out in front of an autonomous vehicle, what is it going to do? But going from point A to point B, we could do that now.

Q: Do you ever see developments in the automotive industry or other technologies and think to yourselves, "I could use that in a military application"?

LTC Baker: OnStar does telematics -- you get a report every month telling you, for instance, your oil has 28 percent life before it needs to be changed, and tracks other vehicle systems. They send a report every month. That kind of stuff is good -- it's expensive but it's commercially available. If Soldiers see reports like that, maybe it could help them adapt their vehicles.

Brani: The robotics cases we currently have are big, heavy suitcases with a monitor and controller. On the civilian side, there's Google Glass where it's just nothing bigger than your eyeglasses and it's a whole video camera and everything. If we could figure out how to integrate that into a robotic system that'd be pretty cool, based on fact the user is no longer using a table-size platform vs. something he wears right on his head and weighs only a few ounces.

LTC Baker: One of our problems in the field is identifying the enemy. They don't wear uniforms. I would love to have a way to "tag" those insurgents with something they can't remove, or it's difficult to remove, within 48 hours or so, and then send people in to look for them. In my experience, a lot of insurgents aren't from that area [they're operating in] anyway so they might go in there and threaten the locals. If there was a way with a UAV possibly to tag these guys -- you don't necessarily have to kill them -- but when they go back to where they gather in their safe house, you can nab them that way.

Brani: In Britain, a police sting actually did a test and proved the technology. They have a light misting product that actually dyes something on the [suspect's] clothes and exposed skin for a couple weeks and no matter what they do, they cannot get it off. As soon as you put a UV or black light on them, they're covered in green dye completely, clothes and all.

Q: When you hear about the 30-Year Strategy, how do you feel about that kind of long-range planning?

LTC Powell: I think it's absolutely critical to plan 30 years out. If we don't have a plan, we will never meet our long-term goals.

MAJ Tegge: Leading up to those meetings, TARDEC was about stovepipes. Everyone concentrated on their own world. But during the meetings, the mobility guys were talking to the survivability guys, who were talking to the computer people, and the analytics people were talking to the PIF [Prototype Integration Facility] people. Everybody was talking to each other and in one fell swoop, the silos were shattered. We all understand that we're intertwined and there was a lot of horizontal flow of information happening instead just up and down the silos.

To piggy back on what LTC Powell said, if you look at any business literature, any company that only concentrates on five years out is doomed to failure. They all fail. Your 30-Year Strategy is like any goal in life: you might not achieve 100 percent, but at least you're focusing on [a future goal] and being flexible as you try to get there. That's what it represents to me -- becoming more future-minded.

Page last updated Wed July 2nd, 2014 at 00:00