NATICK, Mass. (March 10, 2015) -- The U.S. Army is streamlining efforts to provide squad- and platoon-level ground Soldiers, operating in austere environments, with an organic aerial resupply capability that will empower and sustain them on the battlefield.
The Enhanced Speed Bag System, or ESBS, fills this capability gap by drastically increasing the survivability rate of critical resupply items such as water, ammunition, rations and medical supplies, which must be air-dropped from helicopters to small units on the ground. The system includes a hands-free linear brake, rope, and a padded cargo bag that can hold up to 200 pounds and be dropped from 100 feet.
ESBS was originally developed by engineers, from the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC's, Aerial Delivery Directorate and the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, or ARDEC's, Logistics Research and Engineering Directorate to standardize the improvised airdrop methods used in theater to resupply units in remote locations, where traditional resupply methods, such as truck convoys, are too impractical or threat laden.
"The goal was to standardize ad hoc techniques used with body bags and duffel bags by providing a material solution and giving units enough knowledge and training to utilize it," said Dale Tabor, NSRDEC's aerial delivery design and fabrication team leader.
"We originally received this need from the field, specifically for emergency ammunition resupply," said Bob Forrester, an engineer with ARDEC's Logistics Research and Engineering Directorate at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey. "We received the requirements, found the funding, and teamed with Natick as the technical lead.
"Essentially, we worked the ammunition survivability piece, and NSRDEC worked the aerial delivery piece," Forrester said.
At an evaluation conducted in July 2013 on Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, teams packed six ESBS cargo bags with 12,720 rounds of ammunition, each distributed based on a squad-level basic load, and dropped from a 100-foot crane. They thoroughly inspected the rounds and conducted a live fire to determine the ammunition system's effectiveness.
The results were a 98-percent survivability rating of ammunition dropped with the ESBS - a vast improvement from the 50-60 percent experienced with ad hoc methods.
Subsequent evaluation at Army Expeditionary Warfighting Experiment Spiral I 2014 prompted ARDEC to "recommend the immediate fielding of ESBS to deployed Soldiers," Forrester said.
"What we have done is taken resupply to the lowest possible level - the squad and platoon levels," Tabor said.
"Soldiers at unit level are trained how to get the system packaged, loaded in the aircraft, and delivered," Tabor said. "In this way, ESBS provides an organic resupply capability."
Advancement of the system gained increased momentum through the involvement of the U.S. Army's Rapid Equipping Force, or REF, an organization uniquely chartered to combine requirement validation, acquisition authority and flexible funding under one roof.
REF's mission to "harness current and emerging technologies to provide immediate solutions to the urgent needs and capability gaps faced by Soldiers deployed globally" led it to the ESBS.
"REF received a 10-liner requirement from a unit that needed a safe and reliable way to resupply water and other critical items to ground Soldiers, in a location where traditional resupply options, such as convoys, were not practical due to environmental factors and threats," said REF project manager Todd Wendt. "The unit was aware of NSRDEC's Enhanced Speed Bag System and identified it as a possible technology solution. Upon mission analysis and further market research, REF identified ESBS as a good candidate solution."
The ability to directly engage with deployed units and access business practices across the Army's functional areas has allowed the REF to facilitate a comprehensive approach to ESBS validation.
"By leveraging an existing Army effort, REF is able to give deployed Soldiers solutions even faster than if we started a project from scratch," Wendt said. "This also means we can help our friends at NSRDEC Aerial Delivery Directorate, by getting their design into the hands of Soldiers and collecting operational feedback. It's just one example of how REF can address an urgent need, but at the same time, also help advance a technology and support a big Army solution."
In December 2014, Tabor's team led a train-up event on the Rhode Island Air National Guard base in Quonset Point, Rhode Island. The multi-organizational event included personnel from NSRDEC, ARDEC, U.S. Army Mountain Warfare School, or MWS, Vermont National Guard, Rhode Island Air National Guard and the REF. The purpose was to train REF tiger teams and members of the MWS on the proper use and deployment of the ESBS.
The training focused on receiving the ESBS kit, unpacking it, setting up the rigging in the aircraft and learning the packing procedures - skills that will be passed on to Soldiers who will use the system.
The ESBS training will provide the MWS instructors a period of instruction on small unit resupply that meets the needs of mountain Soldiers, while the REF trainers will take the knowledge they gained directly in theater to train units requesting the capability.
"The initial info seemed complex, but today, I definitely feel sufficient to train Soldiers on this system," said Dusty Hunt, training consultant, Rapid Equipping Force, Tiger Team, on Fort Benning, Georgia. "With the old methods, they were losing 50 to 60 percent of the supplies. Finally, there is a good solution in the ESBS, which we will take to Afghanistan to train the unit's trainers."
"We rehearsed on the ground, and conducted a final check for rigging and spotting," said Jason Miller, training consultant, REF, Tiger Team, on Fort Bragg, North Carolina. "From the aircraft, we looked at how the bundles fell and responded to the drop."
In an after-action review, the REF trainers had positive and insightful comments about the system.
"We learned that rigging the system is key to a successful drop. So attention to detail in how it's rigged is important," Miller said. "Also, more elaborate communication with the pilot and the aircrew should be explored."
"There were weather limitations, but the job went well," Miller said. "We lost only one water bottle out of more than 240 and additional five-gallon jugs dropped. It was an outstanding result - we had no issues."
"The benefit is the simplicity of it," Hunt said. "You can take a regular Soldier and train them on ESBS, as long as they are comfortable in the aircraft."
"Aerial resupply also means one less convoy needed on the road, and that's a good thing," Tabor said.
The ESBS will undergo further testing throughout 2015. If the system is selected for fielding, a formal program of record will be established, and the REF will have met the immediate need.
This article appears in the March/April 2015 issue of Army Technology Magazine, which focuses on aviation research. The magazine is available as an electronic download, or print publication. The magazine is an authorized, unofficial publication published under Army Regulation 360-1, for all members of the Department of Defense and the general public.
The Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness--technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection and sustainment--to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.