When temperatures dip to 66 degrees below zero in Alaska, keeping Soldiers safe and ensuring equipment works are key priorities. Subzero temperatures can lead to frostbite or hypothermia, and equipment may not work as long because batteries lose power more quickly in extreme temperatures.
Testing batteries in cold weather was one of the experiments conducted during the Arctic Edge exercise, which ran Feb. 26 to March 6, 2020 in Alaska. Approximately 1,000 service members from the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy participated in the biennial training event, conducting long-range exercises in severe weather conditions over treacherous terrain. The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Field Assistance in Science and Technology, or FAST Advisors, helped organize and plan the exercise.
FAST Advisors, which are embedded in combatant commands around the world, serve as liaisons between the commands and the thousands of subject matter experts within CCDC. FAST Advisors not only have a thorough understanding of the CCDC enterprise, they also have relationships with people around the Army who can provide innovative solutions to solve Soldiers’ operational issues.
“The biggest concern in Alaska is safety — the environment can be dangerous, so it takes a lot of planning and patience,” said Jared Sapp, CCDC FAST Advisor to U.S. Army Alaska. “I need to plan past the equipment we are testing – how will I keep everyone warm and what is the backup plan if equipment or communications starts failing.”
A key role of a FAST Advisor is to identify limitations and current needs for operational units and pursue rapid solutions. During Army training exercises, FAST Advisors see firsthand the issues that Soldiers experience with equipment or technology in the field. They use this information to query program management offices, subject matter experts at CCDC and industry partners through Requests for Information to expedite potential solutions through the CCDC Global Technology Office. Often the solution is a prototype developed at a Prototype Integration Facility at one of CCDC’s eight centers and labs.
While extreme cold is a challenge in Alaska, the FAST Advisor in Africa faces other challenges, including the size of the continent. Comprised of 53 countries, Africa is 30 million kilometers, or roughly the size of China, India, the contiguous U.S. and most of Europe all together.
“Each country has a different set of problems. If we bring a solution to Morocco, it may not work in Cameroon,” said David Hicks, CCDC FAST Advisor to U.S. Army Africa. “Another challenge is moving equipment from one location to another because the country is so large.”
To identify limitations and unit needs that require CCDC’s support, Hicks’ team conducts an annual Mission Assurance Assessment. The most recent MAA, which was conducted in November 2019, identified five unit needs. One of the needs is the lack of English-speaking doctors at medical facilities where Soldiers in austere locations go for emergencies. The FAST team sent an RFI through the CCDC GTO to the CCDC Centers and its Army Research Laboratory to find a solution. CCDC subject matter experts proposed several solutions, including an Army-owned translator app developed by ARL that Soldiers can load on their phones for easy automatic translation between English and the host nation language.
FAST Advisors also partner with other organizations, including the Army Test and Evaluation Command’s Cold Regions Test Center at Fort Greely, Alaska, which conducts cold weather testing of Army equipment. Other partners in Alaska include the Engineer Research and Development Center Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, the Alaskan Command, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and various program managers.
“We readily share information and combine efforts, when possible. For example, we [the Marines and the Army] needed ammunition for exercises, so we combined the shipment to ensure everyone received their supplies. Typically, Alaska only gets an ammo barge a couple times a year, so you have to plan well in advance,” Sapp said.
To prepare new FAST Advisors for their role, the CCDC GTO conducts Orientation and Reach-Back Training, or ORBT, twice each year. While FAST Advisors begin their assignments with knowledge in different fields, the ORBT exposes them to the CCDC enterprise and instructs them about areas of research they may not be familiar with. During ORBT, FAST Advisors participate in open-forum discussions with subject matter experts at the various CCDC Centers, ARL and PIFs, and they learn ways to mitigate unit needs. The spring 2020 ORBT was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but CCDC plans to host the next ORBT in the fall.
“ORBT equips you with the right tools to be a FAST Advisor,” Sapp said. “I met face to face with SMEs and quick reaction coordinators during ORBT who now provide reach back support to me.”
The assignment as a FAST Advisor ranges between two and three years. Current FAST Advisors are located at: Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Fort Shafter, Hawaii; Wiesbaden, Germany; Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina; Vicenza, Italy; Seoul, Korea; Fort Richardson, Alaska; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Huntsville, Alabama; Grafenwoehr, Germany; Tampa, Florida; and MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.
In addition to identifying unit needs and pursuing rapid solutions, the FAST team advises the commander and command group at their individual locations about research initiatives and technology developments. This information is often gathered from feedback during exercises, which enable Soldiers to test CCDC prototypes.
“My goal is to deliver capabilities to the field quickly and efficiently, which will be accomplished with strong ties to the research & development community in the United States. I also want to foster a greater understanding of the operational needs of Soldiers with civilian scientists and engineers at CCDC,” Hicks said.
The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC), formerly known as the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), has the mission to lead in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our Nation’s wars and come home safely. The command collaborates across the Future Force Modernization Enterprise and its own global network of domestic and international partners in academia, industry and other government agencies to accomplish this mission. CCDC is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.