DOD finds way to speed technology to warfighters

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.?During times of global war and escalating terrorism, the Defense Department's current acquisition model is outdated and ineffective, a top Army R&D official said.

Using the current acquisition standard, technologies can take upward of seven years to conceptualize, develop and deploy to troops. Army Major Gen. Roger Nadeau, commanding general of the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, said the old-fashioned way of acquiring technologies "isn't working for an Army at war."

"Sometimes the phone rings in the morning and we need a solution by the afternoon," Nadeau said yesterday during a panel discussion at the MILCOM 2005 conference.

Luckily for troops, service officials are starting to place more orders using the Rapid Equipping Force vehicle, where commercially available technologies are purchased or speedily developed to assist in the fight in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is one way to circumvent the traditional acquisition hurdles when an emergency acquisition is needed.

Defense officials aren't troubled if these emergency acquisitions are developed for a niche purpose or for a select group of warfighters, Nadeau said. Some acquisitions currently fielded in the global war on terrorism, including the Phrasealator, were "not 100 percent solutions. Some were 70 percent solutions, but 70 percent is better than no solution," said Lt. Gen. John (Mark) Curran, director of the Futures Center at the Army Training and Doctrine Command.

Some were rolled out to save lives, like the multifunction agile remote-controlled robot (MARCBOT), designed to identify improvised explosive devices.

When the Army needed a rapid capability to enable troops to communicate while traveling, they couldn't wait until 2010, when the service expects to finish developing and fielding the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical program?the network for the Army's future manned and unmanned air and ground vehicles. So, as a temporary fix, service officials deployed the Joint Network Node as a command and control mobile battlefield communications system in Iraq that gives troops the ability to talk on the move, using voice over IP, videoconferencing and access to classified and unclassified networks.

On Monday, the Army Communications-Electronics Command in Fort Monmouth, N.J., awarded DataPath, Inc. of Duluth, Ga., a $96 million contract to deliver 157 trailer-based satellite terminals as part of the JNN initiative.

Prior to JNN, "maneuver battalions in Iraq had no network assets. In many ways, they were fighting in the blind," said Col. Ron Bouchard, an Army signal deputy commander.

Dawn S. Onley is a senior writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

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