FORT HOOD, Texas (July 8, 2015) -- When clearing a building or room, some infantrymen use the term "fatal funnel" in reference to doorways.The funnel is a chokepoint, where Soldiers tend to bunch up and make themselves vulnerable to attack.Similarly, Soldiers riding in the back of an M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle are confined to a relatively small space, and have to wait for the ramp to lower before dismounting. After it lowers, they are exposed immediately to whatever awaits them.The more information they have about their surroundings before exiting, the better they can quickly orient themselves, identify where they need to go, and find cover.Soldiers, with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, tested a new capability here, June 25.The budding capability is designed to be installed into existing armored vehicles to give troopers inside a 360-degree picture of what's going on around them."When the ramp drops on the Bradley, there is a moment of disorientation," said Maj. Stephen Tegge, a special project officer at the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center, or TARDEC. "You need to be able to tell where you are; similar to being blindfolded, spun in circles, taking the blindfold off, and orienting yourself. What we are trying to do is to reduce that [disorientation] by getting more information into the back of the vehicle."It all began when the brigade sent Soldiers to Warren, Michigan, for the Soldiers Innovation Workshop, where they were able to lend their real-word combat experience and expertise to TARDEC's engineers to design the best solutions."Our focus is on the Soldiers traveling in the back of armored vehicles that don't have a lot of situational awareness, and bringing them up to speed," Tegge said.TARDEC's goal is to split squads into two smaller, more lightweight, more agile vehicles, while increasing the amount of intelligence Soldiers have in the back of their vehicle, and then compare it to their efficiency in existing procedures.
"With them taking our ideas and implementing them, they have taken 10 steps forward," said Staff Sgt. Michael Sabo, a Lake Station, Indiana, native and a mounted section leader with 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment. "It makes me feel good that the Army is paying attention to what's happening, what we need, and would like to see in order for us to accomplish our mission."Sabo attended the workshop and was called upon to try out TARDEC's answer to the improvements the Soldiers had suggested.The TARDEC team outfitted two Bradleys with cameras outside the vehicles and installed tablets in the areas where infantrymen would sit. The tablets simultaneously displayed up to four different video feeds and a map of the area.In addition, the two vehicles could tap into each other's camera feeds, allowing them to see around both vehicles."We are able to see real-time pictures and able to break down overlays to the lowest level," Sabo said. "We could draw it up right then and there. They [the squad members] actually see it happening live, and if I tell them I need them to go to this particular building, they know which one I'm talking about."Using the touch-screen capability and the telestrator function on the tablets, leaders can draw out a plan with a stylus, identify buildings and show Soldiers their sectors of fire before they even lower the ramp and exit.Squads of infantrymen were given a crash course on the newly integrated systems and spent a week learning to use the equipment."We were able to adjust to it right off the bat," Sabo said. "It was easy for them to learn. Most of us have tablets and work with them every day. The Soldiers were really excited to see something so futuristic."Usually, Soldiers sit and wait for a Bradley to come to a halt and then lower the ramp. Equipped with the new upgrades, Soldiers are better prepared to safely execute their missions, Sabo said.
"With these cameras and tablets, it is going to cut back on your decision-making time and enhance the Soldiers' safety a lot," Sabo said. "It will save some lives."
The project, a feat TARDEC took on in partnership with other organizations, is one of a myriad of other projects engineers have on the burner at one time."We just bought off-the-shelf equipment or used existing government technology to see if we can do it inside of a vehicle already in the inventory, just to demonstrate the capability," Tegge said. "We picked the Bradley, because we knew Fort Hood had them, and there is an infrastructure for the vehicle. The crews were already trained in 3rd Brigade. We knew there were trained crews ready to help."
Starting with an idea that a Soldier had in his mind, six months later, engineers developed a working prototype that can save lives.
Tegge says TARDEC is also partnering with the Army's Training and Doctrine Command to see if the prototype engineers and Soldiers have developed could benefit the Army as a whole.
"Right now, it's just a capability discussion," Tegge said. "We would like to take the feedback from the Soldiers here, go back to our office, and hopefully upscale the demonstration."Ultimately, whether the new concept will be implemented, tweaked or discarded is unknown. However, the demonstration shows knowing what's on the other side of the Bradley's hull is invaluable.