The Soldier Squad Performance Research Institute (S2PRINT) a partnership between the Natick Soldier, Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) and the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) is expected to become operational early in 2023. The researchers at USARIEM are already looking ahead at what the new center will provide to enhance their research.
Dr. Stephen Muza, the Deputy Director for Science and Technology at USARIEM, has been part of the USARIEM effort from the time the idea of the S2PRINT building was a concept to now with S2PRINT in design.
"The concept of the S2PRINT facility emerged around 2010," said Muza. "Originally the concept was to purchase a building in Natick and convert the big open building into a large laboratory where we could study teams instead of individuals, so we have been working on this for eight years now.
To perform research at the squad level, studies have been performed in motor pools and other locations in conditions that are not ideal.
"The S2PRINT facility will provide us with the laboratory that has the physical and data capabilities to study teams," said Muza. "We currently have some of the most sophisticated performance laboratories in the world between NSRDEC and USARIEM, but they are largely focused on the individual Soldier.
This is going to open up the door to look at team dynamics, communications and start to identify the attributes of the best squads from the standpoint of metrics for combat performance," Muza continued.
"After we gather the information and data on the high performing squads, we can start to find ways to intervene to improve the other squads and fire teams."
It is expected with the research and conditions provided by the S2PRINT facility, it will accelerate our ability to translate the information learned from individuals and teams.
"We will be able to simulate the field environment in the large combat maneuver lab," said Muza. "That in fact is going to be one of the more significant elements of the S2PRINT, that we will be able to reduce costs and accelerate our transitions.
"The S2PRINT building, while it is not an environmental chamber, it is a much more controlled environment than working in an available motor pool or in the field," said Muza. "This facility will allow us to control elements like sound and lighting and that will allow us to simulate everything from moonlight to full sunlight. It will allow us to look at sensory inputs whether it be audio or sight, we will have a lot more control on the conditions for the research and that will provide results that will be more pertinent and valid across a wide spectrum of environmental conditions and operations."
The research performed by USARIEM in the S2PRINT facility is geared to optimize Soldier performance and lethality, not just individually, but at the squad level.
"This will allow us to extend the research we have and will continue to do on the individual Soldier, but now integrate it to the team," Muza said. "A good example is the physical demands associated with a team task. Combat engineers typically don't operate as individuals. They operate as a team and have to share the physical cost or metabolism associated with a particular task and identify how that can be optimized. Then that skill can be taught to other squads or teams so they can enhance their performance."
Muza has spent a career studying the performance of Soldiers and hopes that the research at the S2PRINT facility can show us the value of teaming.
"I hope that we can really learn to understand intra-squad communications," said Muza. "I think if we can find out the key pathways of intra-squad communications from high performing squads we can translate the findings into teaching and instruction to take an average performing squad and turn them into a highly performing team. That would be a major outcome."
The S2PRINT facility may be five years from an operational capability, but researchers at USARIEM are already looking at ways to enhance the Soldier and Squad.