As worldwide technologies are constantly changing and updating, the U.S. Army does its part to keep up with these changes. What some may not know is the Army has a tool that gives commands access to these new technologies or helps them create something entirely new.
Hassan Azzam, science and technology advisor for U.S. Army Africa (USARAF), has served as an Army civilian for the past 15 years with the Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM). Azzam's key role is to provide commanders immediate access to labs and centers in RDECOM; cover capabilities and material gaps; help different combatant commands demonstrate rapid solutions to improve performance, readiness, safety, training and cost savings; and serve as a communications link on technology issues between Soldiers and the materiel development community.
According to Azzam, a native of Cairo, Egypt, he talks with commanders from USARAF, the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, and the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) in Djibouti to help them fulfill requirements for their deployments.
On the continent of Africa, water is of extreme importance.
The Individual Water Purification Device (IWPD) started from an idea and was sent to the Natick Soldier Center labs which ran tests based on the requirement. They then came up with a final product -- and eight-inch long, plastic, disposable device that provides emergency water purification. The IWPD will be useful because USARAF operates in multiple locations across Africa in small towns and remote areas where access to clean water is sometimes limited.
"This little device purifies water with a variety of dirt or bacteria. It provides an individual Soldier up to 100 liters of water. You can literally just dip it into water: clean or dirty, and purify it, then once gone, it cannot be reused so it's disposable in case of isolation or emergency," Azzam said.
Along with the IWPD, Azzam has worked to introduce products to USARAF like the Rucksack Enhanced Portable Power System (REPPS), Reusing Existing Natural Energy, Wind and Solar System (RENEWS) and the Automated Route Reconnaissance Kit (ARRK).
The REPPS is a lightweight, portable power system capable of recharging Army batteries and/or acting as a continuous power source which provides power to remote locations, and is silent and environmentally friendly. In Africa, Azzam said it's not easy to send a generator and to fuel it all the time because USARAF does not have forward operating bases nor does it have big stationary forces like in Afghanistan.
"When we go to Africa to train with different nations one of the problems we encounter is figuring out where to find a generator and where to find fuel for the generator; that's not easy in Africa. So, now we have a power supply based on solar energy, which is easy to obtain in Africa. REPPS is very soft, yet durable, foldable, and it fits in a rucksack. It can charge military batteries, a laptop, iPhone and an iPad. Depending on the sun, the angle and if the battery is totally depleted or halfway, within a couple of hours a Soldier can get enough power to talk on a cell phone or charge an Army battery," Azzam said.
To aid with lack of generators, Azzam said RENEWS is a great source of power used by the USARAF Combined Contingency Post and CJTF-HOA.
"When we go to Africa, we are dependent on the host nation's power system grid so RDECOM came up with the RENEWS, which will reuse natural energy, wind and solar power," Azzam said.
The RENEWS system is completely renewable energy with solar and wind components meant for smaller mostly communications systems in very remote locations that are difficult to resupply. This is a self sustaining system.
"We hook them up and connect them with a turbine that can also get electricity through wind, so the wind will work during day and night. The solar works during the day and the Soldiers get a box of special batteries that can store energy during the day so they can work during the night." Azzam said.
To create a new product, Azzam said there has to be a request for information. Any
director or office can request a new product, and once the request has been submitted, Azzam's job is to translate the request into specifications using technical terminology. He meets once a week with his engineering counterparts and within a week or two he gets one of three answers: 'it already exists, it can be done and it's in the works, or it cannot be done.'
If a product is requested that requires new technology and is untested, it will first go to the lab to confirm its feasibility and to make sure it has safety certifications so Soldiers won't get hurt during testing. Once confirmed feasible and safe, it is brought to Vicenza for more tests. If the product is approved it can be reproduced and manufactured.
"The variety of orders will have a variety of timeframes. A product might already be in stock so you could order it and have it in-hand within a week. Or it could be something in the lab. For example, the individual water purifier system took a while because RDECOM started from scratch. We didn't have the system before, so we had a variety of samples to test. It took us three months to come up with the perfect one. Then sometimes you will have something within a couple of weeks, so it just depends on what you're asking for," Azzam said.
With the unlimited possibilities of different types of technologies the Army could have, Azzam said he looks for what is going to work well with USARAF, since every COCOM has their own mission and different requirements.
"I start looking for technology that serves the COCOM I'm supporting, so let's say we're looking for something they have in Afghanistan. I can take that technology and use it -- it may not be perfect for Africa, so we adjust it, fix it and tailor it to our COCOM needs," Azzam said.
To have success stories with new technologies, Azzam said his job as an engineer is to watch out for any problems or snags that come up during a mission or exercise. Instead of the same mistake, he finds a solution to the problem so the next time there is a mission there won't be a snag, which Azzam said is his favorite part of his job.
"I love engineering and I love my job. If you're sitting at your computer and you try to fix something on the internet and you can't get connected, you say 'Ok let me try this,' and you try it and it works. That makes my day, and that makes me feel like good things get accomplished. Plus, the Soldiers get what they want," Azzam said.
The labs in RDECOM consist of eight commands staffed with engineers and scientists who work on research, development and maintenance on all varieties of equipment that the Army uses. The RDECOM partners with academic universities, research centers, oversee corporations with armies and academics. Azzam said the centers handle a variety of products, which include weapons, software, reconnaissance, tanks, automotive and databases.
"I want USARAF to know more about the structure of the RDECOM and how they can tap into this good tool. Just ask for what you need, and it's very simple to find out if we already have it in the Army. We have more than 30,000 engineers in all those centers. RDECOM might not be able to get you exactly what you want but I'll get you something, and then we can adjust it. Sometimes people have the mindset of 'it's not going to happen or there's no money for it, so why bother to ask?' But there are plenty of reasons to ask, with the primary one being if it's something Soldiers need, we will definitely find a way to get it for them," Azzam said.