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New Technologies Make Life Easier, Safer for Troops on the Battlefield

By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 17, 2003 – A Defense Department-led effort to quickly deliver new technologies to the warfighter is making life easier -- and, more importantly, safer -- for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
A U.S. Special Forces soldier uses the phraselator device with the debriefing module to determine where enemies have gone, and where weapons and explosives are stored in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image)

"Following the attacks of Sept. 11, we asked ourselves what we in the technical community could do to help," said Ronald Sega, DoD's director of Research and Engineering. Technology experts then worked with the services, defense agencies, U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command, he added, to identify their priorities for the war on terrorism.

Sega said that two days after a Sept. 19, 2001, meeting with technology and warfighting experts, they had quickly identified 150 possible projects, which were then narrowed down to those that would make the biggest difference on the battlefield.

"For example, on Sept. 21, 2001, knowing that we would need an effective weapon for the mountains and caves of Afghanistan, we made the decision to go ahead with accelerating development of the thermobaric bomb," he said. "It was in basic chemistry by October. It was in a static test phase in November, and it was flight tested in December. So it was ready for fielding 90 days after we started, and it proved very effective."

Two other projects that were quickly accelerated included a phraselator and a water purification pen.

The phraselator is a paperback-book-sized device that gives non-linguist U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq the ability to communicate with local citizens. Co-developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and private contractors, the phraselator uses computer chips to translate English phrases into as many as 30 foreign language equivalents.

Users either speak into the device, which translates the English into the foreign-equivalent phrase, or they can punch a button to call up the desired phrase.

The water purification pen -- the size of a miniature flashlight -- allows service members to take a local source of water and purify it for drinking.

"Each application of the pen can purify roughly two liters of water, with a total use of roughly 300 liters before it has to be replaced," Sega explained. "It was very popular in Afghanistan, so we accelerated its production for Iraq as well."

More recently, Sega said his office has focused heavily on force protection in Iraq. After consulting with the services and CENTCOM, he said they concluded that the biggest priority was rushing more armor for humvees and interceptor body armor to the field, which is on track for delivery to warfighters this month.

He said that that armor for humvees provides increased protection for teams patrolling the streets in Iraq, while the interceptor body armor provides better protection for those on foot patrols, and for all warfighters in general. Indeed, Sega said, the interceptor body armor has repeatedly proven its worth by saving literally dozens and dozens of lives in Iraq.

The body armor is equipped with removable throat and groin protectors, as well as front and back removable plates, which can stop 7.62 mm rounds. It weighs 16.4 pounds; each of the two inserts weighs 4 pounds, and the outer tactical vest weighs 8.4 pounds. Previously issued body armor -- the flak jacket -- weighed 25.1 pounds and didn't provide the same level of protection.

"The force-protection initiative resulted in other technical options, but what we chose to accelerate was based on input from the field," Sega said. "So when we end up prioritizing items, the warfighter has a big role."

Looking ahead, Sega said warfighters will see increased numbers of counter- mortar radar systems and increased numbers of unmanned aerial vehicles, which have recently been accelerated into production.

"We feel it's very important in the research and engineering community to be looking at ways we can improve the technical capabilities and the tools for the warfighter in the field," Sega said, "and we will continue to do that to enable those who are actually doing the fighting in the global war on terrorism to have the very best we can provide."

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