By Mr. Dan Lafontaine (RDECOM)January 25, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- A team of U.S. civilian engineers and technicians deployed to Afghanistan recently marked one year of solving Soldiers' technological hurdles.
The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Field Assistance in Science and Technology-Center, or RFAST-C, Forward Deployed Prototype Integration Facility provides a platform for its subject matter experts' knowledge and talents to be translated into battlefield solutions, said Michael Anthony, the team's director.
'RAPID AND AGILE PROCESS'
Anthony, who arrived in Afghanistan in November 2012, said RFAST-C's greatest objective is not to develop new technology, but to make modifications that improve existing systems such as ground vehicles and weapons.
"Historically speaking, these Warfighters have unparalleled access to technology. What I'm seeing on the ground here is Warfighters asking for assistance in making execution of their missions easier," said Anthony, whose job in the United States is chief of the Mission Command Capabilities Division at RDECOM's Communications--Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center.
"I firmly believe the success of this operation is primarily because of the forward physical presence that allows this very rapid and agile process to work," he said.
RFAST-C, located within the 401st Army Field Support Brigade at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, established initial operations in spring 2011 and has fully supported Operation Enduring Freedom since December 2011. The group takes requests from all services -- Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy.
Anthony said the RFAST-C has had positive feedback from visiting Army general officers and Senior Executive Service officials.
"They were truly impressed with the capability and acknowledged the value of having civilians voluntarily forward-deploy in support of current operations," Anthony said.
Gen. Dennis Via, commanding general of Army Materiel Command; Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology; and Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, deputy for acquisition and systems management at ASA (ALT), visited RFAST-C Jan. 15.
Greene served as RDECOM's deputy commanding general from October 2009 to May 2011.
"Visiting the RFAST-C really showed the power of the material enterprise team in action. Great civilian scientists and engineers operating on the forward edge of the battlefield to rapidly provide solutions to our Soldiers," Greene said. "We saw a number of innovative solutions that provide increased capability to our Soldiers in record time."
Anthony said the team is continually evolving because RFAST-C members and their associated areas of expertise rotate. In addition, the deployed Warfighter units and their mission requirements change.
"Our organization is relatively small, very agile and adapts as needed. I have not seen a project that's come in that we could not execute," Anthony said.
Three engineers, three technicians/equipment operators, a power and energy subject matter expert, an executive officer and a director currently comprise RFAST-C. Personnel are chosen to deploy in six-month rotations from the command's seven research, development and engineering centers across the United States.
RFAST-C's usual process is to rapidly engineer a Soldier-inspired solution, coordinate and develop a prototype, get feedback from Soldiers, modify the prototype, collect more feedback, and then pass the engineered solution to the programs of record and research and development community where it is placed into the engineering pipeline for future upgrades and systems.
PARTNERING FOR ENGINEERING SOLUTIONS
The most frequently supported organizations are Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, CJTF Paladin, Army Rapid Equipping Force, 1157th and 396th Transportation Companies, and Joint Program Office Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles.
Recent requests have included weapons modifications, command wire detection hooks, and reinforced doors for holding cells, Anthony said.
The most common requests are brackets for the family of MRAP vehicles. Because the military employs many MRAP variants as well as a large number of systems on the vehicles, the RFAST-C works closely with JPO MRAP to satisfy the organization's urgent and unique requests that enable mission readiness, Anthony said.
Program Manager Electronic Warfare has fielded sophisticated electronic gear, known as the Counter Radio Controlled Improvised Explosive Device Electronic Warfare Duke Version 3, on ground vehicles to protect against IEDs, Anthony said.
The equipment, when installed on MRAPs, has obstructed views of the road. RFAST-C received many requests to reduce or eliminate visibility issues.
"Tactical Army transportation companies execute their risky missions on the rough terrain in Afghanistan and rely heavily on systems like CREW Duke 3 and MRAPs," Anthony said. "RFAST-C engineers, with JPO MRAP and PM EW, rapidly fabricated brackets to allow for moving one of the Duke antennas."
In another vehicle modification, CJSOTF-A asked RFAST-C to design and fabricate emergency escape hatches for its non-tactical vehicles, Anthony said. The weight of up-armored doors makes exiting vehicles extremely difficult in the event of a roll-over, an important safety concern.
"Feedback from the Special Forces teams was that the escape hatch was successfully utilized under duress, and it was deemed of high value and a complete success," Anthony said. "We've made the Special Operations community very happy because they've grown to be one of the organizations we work with most frequently."
FUTURE OF RFAST-C IN THEATER
The current plan is to staff RFAST-C through 2013, Anthony said. The Army is evaluating options for 2014 that include transitioning to an enduring U.S. force; retrograde (moving equipment and materiel to a reset program or another theater of operations); or demilitarization.
RDECOM Director Dale A. Ormond provides a personal note to RFAST-C personnel when they return to the United States to express the command's gratitude for their contributions in supporting current operations of deployed forces.
The current RFAST-C roster includes: Anthony; executive officer Daniel McGauley, Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center; engineer Vincent Alessio, Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center; engineer Ted Gomulka, Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center; engineer Stephen Roberts, ARDEC; engineer Charles Augustus, Army Research Laboratory; equipment operator Jon-Luke DeStefano, ARDEC; engineering technician Robert Spetla, ARDEC; and Brian Siefert, TARDEC.