ISAF teams with REF, slashes operational cost for RAID system

By Sgt. William WhiteOctober 1, 2014

Rapid Equipping Force
1 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Joseph Amadee, Rapid Equipping Force operational lead, configures power settings for a hybrid battery system that greatly reduces fuel consumption of the Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment tower. The tower will enhance Afghan National Security Forces'... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Rapid Equipping Force
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Rapid Equipping Force
3 / 4 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Joseph Amadee, Rapid Equipping Force operational lead, shows Capt. Steven Caldwell how to adjust solar panels to increase solar energy collection to power the Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment tower. The tower will enhance Afghan National Security Fo... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL
Rapid Equipping Force
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KABUL, Afghanistan -- The highest peak overlooking Kabul International Airport now reaches approximately 80 feet higher.

Members of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command teamed up with the Rapid Equipping Force to engineer a hybrid surveillance tower that will be more fuel-efficient than its predecessors.

The tower, the first of its kind with more to follow, will greatly enhance Afghan National Security Forces' surveillance and security capabilities as they lead counter-insurgency operations throughout Afghanistan according to Maj. Stephen P. Snyder the lead planner for the project on the military side.

"It was a team success for everyone, ISAF, ANSF, Jordanian security forces, Kabul International Force Protection and the Rapid Equipping Force," he said.

Snyder, a Philadelphia native, had been charged with similar tasks in the past, and when he was tasked with adding high-powered, easily maintainable surveillance to KAIA's security assets, he knew he had options.

"Here in Kabul, you have a lot of key pieces to the transition," Snyder said. "It's not just a military base, it's also the Afghans' international airport and a hub for political operations, so it's a big target for the enemy and something we need to protect."

Snyder began assembling a planning team to work out logistics for air-lifting and deploying a Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment tower -- along with supporting communications equipment, generators and fuel -- to a small clearing 1,200 feet above KAIA.

"We knew the RAID tower was the right system but when you're deploying these systems in a remote environment you have to look at how you're going to maintain them after the transition," said Snyder. "During the planning process, one of the things that was abundantly clear was getting fuel to the top of the mountain was going to be a major factor."

The RAID system is a high-powered, high-zoom camera that allows visibility for more than a mile, giving commanders and security forces visibility in an area without deploying troops. Traditionally, the tower is powered by a five kilowatt generator that runs constantly -- consuming fuel which has to be replenished.

"Many times on these mountains there is only one way up and down, which increases the enemy's ability to target you. We want to limit our exposure to the enemy as much as possible, so we looked for ways of how we can minimize our trips up there to bring fuel," Snyder explained. "I knew that REF deals with these kinds of problems; they have a whole power management and generation section so I called them."

The REF is a U.S. Army organization that fills an operational need for troops with a tactical challenge on the ground when there is no time for extensive field testing.

"Rapid Equipping Force in reality, to the guy on the ground, is exactly what it says: a rapid and relevant way to get critical mission equipment to accomplish the objective," Snyder said. "They'll send a guy out to understand the situation and not just solve the problem but solve the right problem."

The "right problem" in this case was to make the tower more sustainable and eliminate fuel transport up and down the mountain, which creates unnecessary exposure to the enemy when the fuel has to be resupplied.

With the help of the REF and a team of civilian communications experts, a plan was devised to create a remote operated, solar-and-gas powered system that uses a fraction of the normal fuel required for a RAID tower to operate.

"We needed something that's simple, reliable and doesn't need a lot of attention," said REF Operational Lead Joseph Amadee. "In this case we went with a hybrid system that will reduce the fuel costs tremendously. Solar Stik was the solution in this case. It is the best fit, and that's why they chose it."

As Afghan and Jordanian Soldiers provided security, Snyder coordinated the air lift for the equipment using his skills as an Army Pathfinder. Once dropped, Amadee and a team of communications experts began engineering several systems to work together using a multi-input power system. After a few days of trial and error, the hybrid system -- the first of its kind -- was up and running.

Amadee explained how the team employed multiple systems to allow the tower to run on less than a third of the fuel it normally uses. The five-kilowatt generator now only runs at peak load to charge batteries and raise and lower the tower, as opposed to running constantly to produce 1kw to power the RAID, which subsequently builds deposits in the generator.

"When it's needed it runs under load which is far more efficient, and when it's not needed it doesn't run," Amadee said. "So now, every bit of fuel that gets transported [to the tower] gets used to its fullest."

In addition to the improved efficiency generator system, the batteries also harvest energy from solar panels, so the generator only runs for a couple hours late at night to recharge the batteries, depending on the season.

"It truly is pushing the envelope," said Amadee. "We're doing something right now that is still being tested and fielded. To be able to put it together now in a modified way and it's working, is just exciting to be a part of."

The breakthrough hybrid system is only one example of the battlefield challenges REF has helped negotiate for the military.

"REF looks for technology. It fields and tests and looks for the best solutions. It puts people like me out there to solve problems that are presented," Amadee said. "In this case it was how to save fuel. There were times where the military had to transport three or four times the amount of fuel that we need just to get the job done, because we were not able to use it efficiently."

REF is a Staff Support Agency under the Army operations and plans section in the Pentagon. Early this year, the capability was deemed critical by the Army, and it is currently transitioning to the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. REF now staffs Army officers with a range of skills geared toward identifying battlefield needs.

"They are constantly merging their ideas and solutions, and they're constantly adaptive -- just like we are in the military," Snyder said. "We have a lot of enemies, but our biggest enemy is time, and it's a constant in anything we do. REF gets equipment in the hands that need it; and that gives commanders more options."

The REF Program Office is currently reconfiguring the RAID system which will be referred to as the Persistent Surveillance System-Ground after the reset period which is currently underway, Amadee said. Solar Stik was selected as the official power provider for the revamped system but no provision has been made for existing fielded platforms.

Snyder said that it is important for Soldiers to move away from the 'quick-fix' mindset and look for solutions to logistical challenges with a focus on cutting costs and reducing fuel consumption.

REF welcomes new ideas from Soldiers and continues to equip, insert and assess the Army's needs. More information can be found at