SoldierMod.Com :: Soldier Modernisation
  SoldierMod Volume 9 - 2012
Volume 9 Articles


Natick: Ten Years from Now…

Dr. Jack Obusek, Director, US Army Natick Soldier, Research, Development and Engineering Center outlines the plan to deliver the capabilities the Army needs for the next decade

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Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center’s role in soldier modernisation is to blend human aspects with basic science and technology generation as well as integration onto the soldier system to support both programmes of record and also to rapidly solve emerging problems in the field with the technology available today.

Dr. Jack Obusek, Director, US Army Natick Soldier, Research, Development and Engineering Center said, “Most of what we do is applied research, developing technology, integrating technology onto the soldier system and then we are also trying to spin things out rapidly and we have been doing that over the last ten years to support the fight. We have been doing that by integration through something called the Soldier Systems Integration Domain.”

Within that are the Science and Technology (S&T) Priorities: Top Soldier / Small Unit Science and Technology which are formed from TRADOC Requirements, Program Manager Technology Requirements and Soldier needs from theatre. The current priorities are – Soldier and the Small Unit Load; Soldier/Small Unit Protection; Contingency Basing; Force Application at the Small Unit and Soldier Situational Awareness and Human Dimension.

These efforts will help support the longer term goals for the dismounted soldier, contained within the Capability Vision for the Decisive Soldier and Decisive Soldier Squad. The individual tasks and goals are multiple and include real time situational awareness which is integrated into the Common Operating Picture, robotic assistance to unburden the soldier, enhanced cognitive and socio-cultural skills, augmented human physical capabilities with robotic enhancements and bioengineering, an Integrated Intuitive Variable Effects Weapon system and scalable, ergonomic ballistic and blast protection and adaptive camouflage. All of which come with the proviso that all this can be achieved while still able to show a “human side” for interaction with the friendly population.

Dr Obusek outlined why the soldier system is different from any other system, “It is different because you have got a human in the centre of it and that is tremendously variable. Variable in size and shape and we accommodate that through anthropometry and biomechanics but they are also quite variable in their cognitive capabilities of how they learn and what their interests are and we are really looking to try and push the envelope of that particular area to design smart systems that take advantage of how people think and how they use information and do it without them having to figure it out and do it on their own.”

The impact of the S&T community on this is changing from being a simple supplier of technology for the Program Manager programmes of record. This is manifested in a number of ways. These include the Army partnering with the S&T world together with TRADOC and the intelligence community and try to predict future requirements and using that to influence things like requirement documents.

Dr. Obusek explained, “We have our folks engaged and involved and I think it is getting a richer understanding of where we can go. Underpinning this is the need to have a common vernacular for the operations that we need to provide capability for. So if I am developing some technology, how do I look at what the soldier and small unit are going to do with that and what difference is it going to make and do I need to start thinking about other things like Tactics, Techniques and Procedures that will go along with new technology to maximally enable that soldier or small unit.”

Work is also ongoing to better understand what technology means in the field and how to understand and measure it in those conditions. Dr Obusek gave an example, “In load carriage we look at things like oxygen consumption. I know that I could easily measure that in a laboratory. I can measure it per unit mass. But what does that mean in term of scenarios. How do I translate that impact on the squad if I do something different?”


In June, a meeting was held to establish the big challenges that the Army wants S&T to go after under the heading of Technology Enabled Capability Demonstrations (TECD). An initial list of 24 was narrowed down to a top ten. The S&T community was then challenged to develop a programme to address those. They went after the top nine; Sustainability/Logistics – Basing, Surprise/Tactical Intelligence – Mission Command, Surprise/Tactical Intelligence – Actionable Intelligence, Human – Medical Assessment and Treatment, Human – Individual Training to Tactical Tasks, Force Protection – Occupant Centric Platform, Overburdened – Physical Burden, Force Protection – Basing and Force Protection – Soldier and Small Unit. The tenth area being deemed too immature at this time but will be pursued later.

These are now to be pursued via the engine of TECDs; Short-term (2-3 year) programmes that demonstrate and deliver a capability through S&T. They are scheduled to begin in FY14 with the plan being to deliver in FY16-17 with an anticipated budget of $100m per programme. Although due to start in FY2014, direction has been received from the Army leadership to bring elements forward and a review is ongoing to make this happen.

Natick will lead a number of these projects but Dr Obusek is keen to emphasise their collaborative nature, “[Each TECD] will not stand alone. For example Force Protection - Soldier and Force Protection - Basing, are very much inter-related and they will go forward as very co-ordinated programmes and take advantage and leverage some of the pieces going on in each of the TECDs.”

Overburden - Physical Burden

Reducing the load on the soldier has been going on for many years and Dr Obusek accepts that the problem has not been solved and change is needed. Obusek said, “If we continue to look to solve the problems in the same way, we are not going to get there. We are proceeding in a holistic approach to include training, leader development off loading, even tactical resupply. If you really want to get the soldier load down, you need to get it off him and get it to him when and where he or she needs it.”

FY14 is the official start of this TECD via the POM budgeting process but work is underway to move funding around in 2012 and 2013. The goal of the initiative is to see Carried Soldier load reduced to 50 percent of body weight across the 90th percentile male Soldier population, resulting in; Improved Soldier/Squad performance; Reduced Soldier fatigue and risk of Musculoskeletal injury and the Capability to predict physical demands of mission & optimise the load in the squad.

After selection of technologies, development and initial test and evaluation in FY14 and FY14, the programme will conduct Operational Demos, human performance studies and as well as finalising design and conduct systems experiments. In FY17 it will then move to transition technologies and products to the user along with final assessment report and recommendations. This also represents the typical course for other TECDs.

Dr. Obusek said, “We have got to go to things that are right now at Technology Readiness Level 4 or 5. Then we will do the rack and stack, set up the entrance criteria and then we will bring them in and we will start to work toward how we set up demonstrations through places like the Network Integration Evaluation, the Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiments or training centres such as the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk.”

“The Approach is on multiple lines of attack: human performance and injury prevention is the first. Right now I can’t tell you if I took 20lbs off a soldier, what that means in terms of operational effectiveness change. We can’t play that trade space. We don’t have those fundamental metrics. We haven’t built the models and so that is part of what this effort is designed to do is to build those models to give us the understanding that if I am going to go after a capability or technology and it creates a bogey in weight, what is the cost and how do I do a cost benefit tradeoff to say it is worth it, rather than say I have an insatiable appetite for capability and we take a pound off, we put a pound on?”

Force Protection - Soldier and Small Unit

This TECD’s remit runs the gamut from ballistic and blast protection through eye protection through medical aspects of force protection. Again, Dr Obusek points to an absence of satisfactory metrics to fully understand the issues, “Again we don’t have the understanding to say where are the critical areas, based on emerging threats that we have to protect against to a certain level and what is the trade we can take in terms of body armour protection. We don’t have analytics that allow us to do that and so part of this is to get to that sort of analysis as well as to go after new materials and integrate them onto the soldier system.”

This TECD was deliberately started in FY2012 to align with the planned programme of record, resulting in dollars being pushed into FY2013. The stated end point is to have: scalable protective equipment, protection measures and test/evaluations methods for soldiers and small units while also undertaking work on longer-term challenges.

This covers in addition to ballistic and blast protection the issues of noise, environmental protection, using new materials that can change shape and loft according to the environment that they are in, bringing in the joint community for chemical and biological protection as well as insect protection and hygiene as well as robotic surveillance in the air and on the ground to enhance protection by improving situational awareness.

Sustainability & Logistics: Basing

The goals of this TECD is to demonstrate an integrated approach to reducing sustainment requirements for small contingency base operations via a suite of capabilities that reduces the need to deliver water and fuel to the base and the burden of having to collect, manage, and dispose of solid and liquid waste, reducing the need for fuel for resupply by 25 percent, reducing the need for water resupply by 75 percent and decreasing waste by 50 percent as well as increasing the quality of life in smaller bases in Afghanistan.

Natick has the lead in this, looking primarily at patrol bases and combat outposts in an expeditionary type environment and how they can we make the goal of 100 percent self sustainability to enable mission performance. Dr. Obusek explained, “We look at water, energy requirements and we look at how you manage waste and we have set some pretty robust goals for the reduction of those in the near term but the long term vision is this get a completely self sustainable modular approach to how you will go and set things up, really fast and protected with the technology and capabilities coming out of Force Protection - Basing.”

Dr. Obusek was speaking at WBR’s Soldier Technology US 2012

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