BAGHDAD (Army News Service, Jan. 7, 2009) - Operation Iraqi Freedom is helping create a whole new way of fielding force protection products beginning with the mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle which has saved lives and greatly reduced combat injuries to Soldiers on patrol.
"We're getting the fielded pieces out to the Soldiers immediately. When roadside bomb attacks were on the rise in Iraq, Soldiers found themselves in need of vehicles that could resist the threat," said Lt. Col. Steven Brewer, force integration officer for Multi-National Division Center.
"We are doing stuff going immediately from concept to implementation in less than a year out here, so we are taking a lot of short cuts and doing a lot of pieces after the fact. Then, we just keep improving it and testing it.
Because of the rushed need for the MRAP, four companies were manufacturing them. Additionally, six of 12 models passed the initial testing with the Army eventually choosing four. Since the first four models, there have been three generations of improvements, essentially creating 12 versions of the vehicle. A simulated MRAP roll-over trainer, similar to the Humvee egress assistance trainer currently being used by service members, is also in development.
"The MRAP fielding will probably go down as the granddaddy of all fieldings," said Brewer. "We are completing the final MRAP fieldings in January, which consist of the explosively formed projectile (EFP) protected version of the vehicle."
A process that can take at best five years or longer to fulfill, took roughly eight months to reach more than 50 percent of the units in need.
"We don't have time to wait for that five-year process. We need the stuff while we are still here, so we've come up with this abbreviated process," said Brewer.
A wide variety of new equipment is making its way to units in the field.
One much-awaited piece of technology is the X-Bot, which is a self contained robotic system capable of investigating suspected IEDs in various locations.
"The X-Bot fits between the seats in a Humvee so if you come across something that looks suspicious, you can throw it out there, and it moves pretty fast - so it is definitely a good piece of equipment to have," said Brewer.
Fielding is the process of identifying a mission requirement and fulfilling it with some form of technology - whether new or already existing.
"That's kind of how you end up with a Humvee over a jeep," Brewer said.
Portable walk-through metal detectors for entry control points; the Boomerang system, which can detect the direction of sniper fire and shoot back; Wolfclaw and new types of sensors, which can improve finding IEDs along the road, are just a few other pieces of equipment currently undergoing the fielding process.
There are three different ways equipment is introduced into the fielding process. One way is for a unit commander to submit an operational needs statement, which identifies a capability gap for which there is a material solution. Another way is for Soldiers in the field to identify something and submit a rapid equipping force report. Lastly, companies may visit Soldiers in the field to help in developing ideas for equipment.
"What comes out of the fielding is a capabilities and limitations sheet, which tells you what the machine can and can't do and then a safety release, which states whether it is safe to use this product in these circumstances," said Brewer.
To start, fieldings cover only what is necessary to complete missions, while the extra bells and whistles can be added later. As soon as the equipment is available, it is shipped to Iraq. The technology is then integrated to see how well it incorporates with the overall mission. A sustainment system is developed - such as the technical manual and maintenance training. Supply issues are also considered. Finally, Soldiers learn how to use the new equipment at a centralized location before taking it back to their units.