By John Higgins, PEO IEW&S Public AffairsMay 10, 2017
In the Army there is a saying that applies across the board, from tactics to procedures: "slow is smooth and smooth is fast."
The Army's critical route clearance mission is among the slowest, and thus the smoothest of missions. The Army meets this mission with the Husky Mounted Detection System (HMDS), with a top speed 35 to 40 miles per hour but an operational speed that is slower. The "Husky" was initially used to detect mines in Africa and was later outfitted to meet route clearance needs of American Soldiers. The Husky vehicle is a hybrid of a tractor and Humvee, with a V-shaped hull that resists explosive blasts.
The HMDS Program is managed by Lt. Col. David Bretney, Product Manager, Counter Explosive Hazard (PdM CEH) and is one of several critical sensor systems within the Project Manager Terrestrial Sensors' (PM TS) portfolio. Bretney has been the PdM for less than a year and already has, among other things, improved access to the Husky.
"When I went to the pre-command course and I was surrounded by a lot of my peers who were Engineer Battalion commanders and Sergeants Major, they all spoke highly of the HMDS system." said Bretney. "But they informed me they didn't have it at home station, the only way they could train was through the virtual combat trainer and I just felt small."
Upon becoming the PdM CEH, Bretney made it his mission to make the Husky readily available to users who require Husky training. And, in the first Quarter of Fiscal Year 2018, the Husky is scheduled to be fielded to garrisoned units for training.
It's up to the Non-commissioned officers (NCOs), like Staff Sgt. Ronald Geer a countermine NCO, to make that training possible. Geer not only trains Soldiers on the Husky, but he is also a member of the team that continues its development. Geer's qualifications for his current occupation started with 12 months in front of convoys in Afghanistan followed by a forty hour training course.
"It was challenging sometimes, but overall I actually really enjoyed being a Husky operator," said Geer. "I enjoy being in front of the convoy able to do my thing, doing what I was trained to do: use the vehicle and its GPR sensors to detect these IEDs [improvised explosive devices]."
GPR refers to "ground penetrating radar," and it is the Husky's core capability. The radar is first calibrated by taking a sample of the local surface. This sampling then makes it easier to search for anything that seems out of place in the soil, rock, asphalt or other surface over which a convoy would proceed.
Over time, Geer became very adept with the Husky and identified multiple IEDs.
One day, during a route clearance, they found six IED's in succession, said Geer. "That doesn't sound like a like a lot but it was a very compact area and would have been incredibly damaging to a unit the way the explosives were concentrated in a small area," said Geer. "It was still early in the deployment, but it really gave me a sense of pride that helped me carry motivation through the rest of the tour."
However, when the enemy uses IEDs, explosions are inevitable. Even then, according to Geer, the Husky still shines.
"It's the safest vehicle there is if you are going to get hit with an IED." Geer said. "I only got hit twice; and the second was fairly sizeable. I walked away with a small headache. Got out. Shook it off. I owe every bit of it to that vehicle."
Now that Geer works with a development team, his focus is on working with engineers, scientists, and other Soldiers to improve the system.
"We've made improvements to the GPR and the user interface is simplified and easier to use" said Geer. "I'm looking at this stuff now and I'm excited for it to get fielded out to these units. It's going to change the face of our capabilities."
The constant cycle of improvement is necessary, of course, according to Bretney. "We've learned that the enemy is always adapting," he said. "They're always watching how we use the system and we've had to develop new capabilities in order to meet that threat. We've learned that the Husky system has become so effective that we've seen drops in the use of IED's in both theaters."
Bretney's pursuit of excellence has been closely informed by his constant collaboration with leaders and Soldiers who possess field experience with the Husky.
"When I was about to become the product manager, I asked a company commander who had deployed to Afghanistan 'Hey have you ever heard of the Husky Mounted Detection System?' He told me it was great." said Bretney. "It was a system that -- yes, although it's slow sometimes -- gives the Soldier reassurances that the route is clear and it saves lives daily."
The Husky is an effective and reliable system that has located thousands of IEDs since it has been deployed by the Army. In addition to fielding the HMDS across the Army Force Structure, PdM CEH has plans for upgrades to make the HMDS even more effective at route clearance.