When soldiers encounter a new threat, they don't have the luxury to wait for a new piece of equipment -- they needed it yesterday.
Enter the real MacGyvers: the Army Rapid Equipping Force (REF). At a special event Nov. 20 at Fort Belvoir in Virginia celebrating 10 years of tech, the team showed off a variety of prototypes under preliminary development -- the next gear to help soldiers on the field.
REF can solve problems on the fly and often get the necessary new technology in soldiers’ hands in a matter of days or weeks. They can provide limited quantities of the best technologies available to a specific unit for a specific need.
Here are four of the most intriguing ideas from the floorshow.
When soldiers asked for a way to look on top of a roof or over walls without having to enter a building, REF developed the Sand Flea. It's a robot capable of jumping about 100 feet into the air. It can hop up onto a wall, spot threats and provide surveillance data without putting soldiers at risk. After performing it’s task, the Flea can return to its unit under its own direction.
TALON robots are popular with soldiers looking to locate and dispose of explosive or hazardous materials. An existing piece of equipment, soldiers were having problems replacing the robot’s batteries while under fire. In true MacGyver spirit, REF found a technology that transformed TALON’s container into the first military wireless recharging station.
Units in Afghanistan needed better surveillance in remote command posts, or COPs. REF’s solution: smaller aerostats (moored balloons) to provide persistent eyes. They quickly identified three small businesses with innovative solutions to the challenge: Carolina Unmanned Vehicles.; Silicis Technologies; and Information Systems Laboratories.
The REF tested each system and decided to deploy all three throughout Afghanistan, for flexibility at different altitudes, and with different payload capabilities. The ALTUS from Silicis Technologies is particularly intriguing: It gives small units the ability to monitor their immediate area, conduct surveillance beyond obstacles and identify threats at a remote distance.
Two ALTUS systems have just reached Afghanistan; by the end of this month a total of twelve REF aerostats will be fielded.
Minotaur Mine Clearing
Buffaloes and RG-31s are giant vehicles that clear mine-filled roads, while handheld metal detectors can clear footpaths. But nothing filled that need in between.
So when dismounted soldiers found they needed clearance on a path three to five feet wide, the REF stepped up to find a solution. The team took the well-known Bobcat, popular with do-it-yourselfers as loaders, and gave them a Qinetiq remote control system with a camera, transforming it into a robotic Bobcat. REF then souped it up with a mine roller from the Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center and an AMS rake. And in the future, ground-penetrating radar, an IED detonator and electricity charge generators might make the Minotaur even more fun to drive. The first unit arrived in the battle theatre in November 2011, and since then popular demand drove the REF to ship out more Minotaurs.
Here’s to another ten years of REF rapid response!
Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.