In the state to oversee a leadership development program, Gen. George Casey Jr. stopped at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center to review the future soldier equipment under development here.

Casey, who took over as Army chief of staff after Gen. David Petraeus replaced him as commander of forces in Iraq, called Natick's Army labs "a national treasure" for building the tools necessary for the Army of the future.

"What we are looking at today was new types of fibers and new types of technologies that will increase the protection of our soldiers while decreasing the weight," Casey said. "These technologies are going to give soldiers the equipment they need to have a leg up."

Because of cuts to defense spending in the 1990s, the Army didn't have the equipment it needed to fight terrorists when the nation was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, Casey said. He said the Army is now undergoing the largest transformation since World War II, which will make it more efficient and versatile for fighting the wars of the future.

The general took a tour to see equipment the labs are developing for soldiers in the field and the climate chambers that help researchers determine how the equipment and soldiers will respond in the coldest and warmest temperatures on the planet.

The center is hoping for money to update its chambers so it can test larger and heavier equipment, including military vehicles.

Brig. Gen. Mark Brown, who oversees equipment development in Natick, said the center has seen nine improvements to soldiers' body armor in the past three years. He said the next armor update is expected on Dec. 13, which soldiers will eventually receive.

"Every soldier in the theater has the best body armor ever made," Brown said.

Casey said the Natick center is most important because of what it will bring to future conflicts.

"We are at war, (and) as I look to the future I see a future of persistent conflict; probably not to the scope or scale of Iraq or Afghanistan, but (there are) going to be protracted conflicts," Casey said. "We need to invest in our armed forces to insure we have the armed forces this country needs for the 21st century."

Before he heads back to Washington, the general will speak at a forum this weekend at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Casey will specifically address the "persistent conflict" idea and how the Army needs to assess threats in the next 10 years, said his spokesman, Gary Kolb.

(Andrew J. Manuse can be reached at amanuse@cnc.com or 508-626-3964.)

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16