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Equipping the force is complex; one size very likely will not fit all

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

For the people in charge with making sure soldiers are equipped with the newest and best gear available – including uniforms, body armor, weapons, ammunition and everything else that would prove essential – making that happens, involves managing a complex matrix in which one size very likely will not fit all.

Three officers who play key roles in coordinating the testing and timely acquisition of what soldiers need said as much as they described the goals and challenges they face.

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A soldier examines new technology at the AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition. (AUSA News photo)

Speaking at a panel discussion at the 2016 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition, Cols. Dean Hoffman IV, Keith Hirschman, and Travis Thompson, outlined a scenario in which the nation’s security needs could require soldiers to operate in extreme cold or jungle theaters.

Meanwhile, they said, all indications point to at least some continued involvement in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Plus, particularly in rapid-deployment scenarios that could involve natural disasters or major security threats, units could need special equipment very quickly – faster, certainly, than the acquisition process would allow under the best circumstances.

The keys to success, they agreed, hinge on finding the right balance between caution and speed, while possibly finding temporary stopgap solutions.

“Why don’t we do everything fast? Well, we have to sustain [programs of record], said Hoffman, the project manager for Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment and Soldier Program executive officer.

For rapid deployments, Hoffman said, he and his colleagues aim to focus more on the needs of individual units involved – “the fastest way to get something out there and test it” in the meantime.

“My process may take a while, but while the process is being established, we can bridge [a] gap, said Thompson, director, Soldier Division, Capability Development Integration Directorate (CDID).

While the process of approving an upgraded or new piece of equipment can take two years to run its course, “To the soldier, it doesn’t look like a two-year span,” Thompson said.

Hirschman and the recently established Rapid Capabilities Office where he works as lead for emerging technologies, focuses on finding the middle ground necessary to bridge the gap between when a need manifests itself and the acquisition process can meet it.

“We want what’s best for the soldier. We’re going to look at a particular segment of the Army and do something quick [that might not be] sustained,” Hirschman said.

Hirschman said his office takes particular care to avoid seeking more gear than necessary.

“If we’re storing stuff and not using it, that’s money we’re not putting into readiness,” Hirschman said.

Thompson addressed an audience question regarding the issue of procuring new cold-weather gear.

“The challenging thing in cold weather is we only have a few months a year to test in those environments,” Thompson said.

He said that testing for better winter boots, capable of protecting wearers in temperatures as low as 60 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, likely would take place in Alaska and at Fort Drum, N.Y.