By Army Staff Sgts. Michel Sauret and Amber Emery
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 9, 2009 - Army officials are creating a new way to field force-protection products, such as mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, to speed their delivery to deployed soldiers in Iraq. As equipment comes available, it's shipped to Iraq immediately and tested to see how it incorporates with the mission, officials said. The "fieldings" are geared only toward mission necessity, with the "bells and whistles" added later, they said. Fielding is the process of identifying a mission requirement and fulfilling it with new or existing technology.
Officials have applied this concept to the MRAP, which is attributed with greatly reducing combat injuries for soldiers on patrol.
"We're getting the fielded pieces out to the soldiers immediately," Army Lt. Col. Steven Brewer, force integration officer for Multinational Division Center, said. "When roadside bomb attacks were on the rise in Iraq, soldiers found themselves in need of vehicles that could resist the threat.
"We are ... going immediately from concept to implementation in less than a year out here, so we are taking a lot of shortcuts and doing a lot of pieces after the fact," Brewer continued. "Then, we just keep improving it and testing it."
Four companies were manufacturing MRAPs simultaneously to meet increased demand, officials said. Six of 12 models passed initial Army testing, with four chosen for development. Since the first four models, experts have instituted three generations of improvements, essentially creating 12 versions of the vehicle. A simulated MRAP roll-over trainer is in development.
"The MRAP fielding will probably go down as the granddaddy of all fieldings," Brewer said. The final MRAP fieldings are being completed this month and consist of protection against explosive projectiles, he said.
A process that can take five years or longer took roughly eight months to reach more than 50 percent of the units in need, officials said.
"We don't have time to wait for that five-year process. We need the stuff while we are still here, so we've come up with this abbreviated process," Brewer said.
A wide variety of new equipment is making its way to units in the field, officials said.
One much-awaited piece of technology is the X-Bot, a self-contained robotic system capable of investigating suspected improvised explosive devices in various locations.
"The X-Bot fits between the seats in a Humvee so if you come across something that looks suspicious, you can throw it out there, and it moves pretty fast -- so it is definitely a good piece of equipment to have," Brewer said.
Other equipment undergoing the fielding process include portable walk-through metal detectors for entry control points; the Boomerang system, which can detect the direction of sniper fire and shoot back; and new types of sensors that can improve finding roadside bombs, officials said.
(Army Staff Sgts. Michel Sauret and Amber Emery write for the Army News Service).