By Sean Kimmons, Army News ServiceMarch 1, 2018
FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- Digital surveying gear that recently proved valuable during hurricane recovery operations in Puerto Rico will soon make its way into the hands of civilians at the Army Corps of Engineers.
The reconnaissance and surveying equipment instrument set, commonly referred to as ENFIRE, is a digital tool set that replaces older analog survey and military field sketching kits.
ENFIRE tools allow users to better manage construction projects, facilities and inventory, plus they can assist with obstacle planning, surveying, reconnaissance and other field tasks for combat engineers.
Because many of the ENFIRE tools are actually commercial off-the-shelf products, the kits can be easily modernized and upgraded over time.
"Each district will have one of these kits so they can address [an operation], whether it's humanitarian aid or a natural disaster," said George Ohanian, a product director at the Army Engineer Research and Development Center who helped develop the kits.
The kits come with an array of portable equipment, including laser range finders with a reach of nearly 4 miles, a defense advanced GPS receiver, cameras, a throat mic, and a ruggedized portable computing device and printer, among other gear.
Roughly 1,600 of a total 2,800 kits have already been fielded in the Army, which are mainly used by brigade engineer battalions. The Marine Corps also uses them for route reconnaissance in combat, while the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other government entities have pushed them out to disaster areas.
By the end of this fiscal year, the Corps of Engineers expects to field the kits to 42 districts to help civilian engineers share findings with others during operations.
"What we've tried to really do is not only be better stewards of the resources we get, but also build a tool [set] that integrates across our user community so they don't have to go buy another box or buy another piece of software to figure out how to solve different problems," Ohanian said.
Each kit costs about $40,000 or more, depending on the commercial software that is required, he added.
Ohanian believes civilian engineers, who are likely to use the kits differently than uniformed personnel, will be able provide valuable insight on how to enhance the kits over time.
"We think they will actually help us improve the overall capabilities that we're going to deliver to the warfighter because they'll experience different challenges," Ohanian said.
Once new software is released, it is sent out to kit users who can then download it from CDs to ensure computers are up to date. Computer hardware also has a five-year refresh cycle and is under warranty.
"So if these things break, even if a unit runs over and crushes it ... they'll replace it," he said.
Small black boxes that measure inertial measurement units, or IMU, are also included in the kits. The IMU box captures information on a vehicle's movement as it drives down a road. Those measurements determine the conditions of the road that can then be layered on top of a map.
Cameras mounted on a vehicle also provide video of a specific road that engineers can share.
"It's kind of like Google [street view], but it's a little cruder," he said. "But, in essence, you've captured information about the route. You can go back and replay it."
In underwater operations, components of the kit have also proved useful. During hydrosurveys, for instance, Army divers have taken an ENFIRE laptop with them inside a zodiac boat to view integrated data collected from sonar and GPS-Survey equipment.
This has helped with the position location of divers while out on the water during missions such as underwater recon, demolition or salvage.
"Those data sets created by the GPS-S can be processed in near-real time," said Cory Baron, the government technical lead for the ENFIRE program. "Those products will be captured on the ENFIRE laptop, where analysis and visualization can occur in the field."
Corps officials continue to seek new gear in the science and technology community that could benefit engineering operations and advance future versions of the kit.
"We go around and look at various S&T efforts to harvest [and] add to this box," Ohanian said. "It's worked out really well and we get to take advantage of [research and development] investments that increase [return on investment] for ENFIRE and our end users. We've done a lot of technology transition and we're looking at a lot more in the future."