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Researchers Give Congress Glimpse of Army's Future

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 19, 2005 – The Defense Department gave Congress a look at the Army of the future during a "Soldiers Modernization Day" exhibit at the Russell Senate Office Building here June 16.

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Senate staffers (from left) Scot Matayoshi, Allan Alicuben, and Kristen Oleyte test new MRE items on display during the Soldier Modernization Day exhibit June 16. New MRE items include chicken and dumplings and bacon. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

On hand were representatives from several military research-and-development labs, including the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center, located at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass.

There, Army Sgt. Maj. Joel Crouse, of the Soldier Systems Center at the Natick Lab, said researchers and scientists work to maximize the survivability, sustainability, mobility, combat effectiveness, and quality of life of warfighters.

"The purpose of this display is to demonstrate to the American public the active process of research and development and how we take science and technology today and transfer that to equipment on the battlefield," he said. "A lot of the observers here are excited to see that their tax dollar is going toward state-of-the-art technology."

"State of the art" might be an understatement, as most observers here had hardly a clue as to what "photovoltaic" is all about. Steven Tucker, who works for the Natick lab, was eager to explain to anyone who would listen.

Photovoltaic is a solar fabric that can be mounted to tents or canvas to generate power, up to 1,000 watts of electricity, he explained.

"Imagine not having to go outside and refuel a generator, imagine not having to go outside to maintain a generator -- being able to stay inside during a chemical/biological event and still have power. That's the kind of stuff we are talking about," he said.

At another display booth, Army Maj. Dan Rusin, of the Army Research Lab, held several caliber of bullets and shreds of steel metal from an artillery shell.

"These are the threats that soldiers face during war," he explained to a group of congressional staffers.

But he also explained how that threat is being mitigated with the Army's Armor Survivability Kit that includes new and improved armor plating and glass capable of stopping high-caliber bullets shot from point-blank range.

"We installed 40,000 of these windows in roughly 12,000 Humvees," Rusin said. "It's a special kind of steel, a special kind of glass for protection. It will protect against multiple shots of a sniper rifle at very close range."

Army depots through the country are producing the kits as quickly as possible for shipment to Iraq and Afghanistan, he added.

Another life-saving technology was presented by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. The Life Support for Trauma Transport is an all-in-one intensive-care unit, complete with ventilator, defibrillator, oxygen blender, blood-chemistry analyzer, and a computer to monitor physiological signs, among other functions.

"What this does brings the capability of a hospital intensive-care unit or trauma unit to a far-forward location and start doing life-saving medical treatment, have surgery done right on the unit," said Lorenzo Washington, director for clinical training at the institute.

There are five LSTAT units in use in Afghanistan and two in Iraq, he said. Washington said the next phase LSTAT will be even lighter -- it currently weighs about 160 pounds -- and be more functional.

Drawing quite a bit of attention from onlookers, Staff Sgt. Robert Atkinson, of Natick's Future Warrior Concepts Lab, represented what soldiers may look like several decades from now.

Wearing a black padded suit and black helmet, he said, "I've been called everything from Darth Vader to RoboCop and the character from the Halo video games."

The prototype suit, though generations away in development, is a visionary project of the Future Force Warrior project and the Future Combat System program.

The helmet system for the suit will have a tiny computer system and monitor that will keep soldiers in contact with commanders; it also will have thermal night vision goggles.

But most amazing, Atkinson said, researchers are looking to use "nanotechnology" on the uniform to give soldiers superhuman strength. Electrical impulses sent to the human muscles will provide soldiers with extra strength, he said.

"Think of yourself on steroids. You can hold as much as you want for as long as you want," he explained. "The technology is there, and once we get it all in place the soldier will be unstoppable."

Meanwhile, Army Staff Sgt. Reuben Romero wasn't equipped like the average soldier either, as he demonstrated the Army's new Land Warrior System, which is being tested at Fort Benning, Ga., home of the Army's infantry school.

Through a helmet-mounted display, Romero was able to view computer-generated graphical data, digital maps, intelligence information, troop locations and imagery from his weapon-mounted thermal weapon sight and video camera.

"What it enables me to do is look around corners or look into a room without exposing myself to danger or enemy fire," he said. He said about 400 of the systems will be fielded in 2006.

The high-tech gadgets weren't the only items on the display.

The exhibit that drew perhaps the most interest was the Combat Feeding Directorate's layout of new foods items to be included in meals ready to eat.

A long lined formed of those waiting to taste such new items such as Mexican rice, chicken and dumplings, and bacon from MREs.

Allan Alicuben, a senate staff member who admits he came to get a "free lunch," said he liked the Szechwan chicken, and added, "The bacon is great."

"It's unbelievable that this stuff comes in the MREs," Alicuben said."

"Much of what we do is warfighter-tested, warfighter-recommended, and warfighter-approved," Gerald Darsch, who heads DoD's Combat Feeding Directorate, said.

"Every year there is a continuous influx of new products that is basically 'blessed' by the warfighter," he added.

However, to some dismay, Darsch said MRE items "ham slice" and "tuna with noodles" will no longer be offered next year. Other favorites on the way out are the "bean and rice burrito" and "chocolate covered brownies."

"It's one of those 'love-hate' relationships," he said. "No matter what we get rid of, there is always going to be one warfighter who's going to say, 'How could you possibly get rid of that product?'"

Darsch said the feedback he's gotten so far from congressional staffers who tasted new MRE items is that the food is actually "quite good."

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