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Warfighters Drive Acquisition From ‘Bottom Up’

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

FORT BRAGG, N.C., Oct. 27, 2008 – A new approach to acquisition that puts warfighters, not program managers, in the driver’s seat is paying off by ensuring deployed troops have the tools they need to succeed in combat, the 82nd Airborne Division’s deputy commander said.

Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Mayville told reporters traveling here Oct. 23 with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that a “bottom-up” approach to acquisition -- with deployed troops identifying what they need -- makes the process faster and more responsive.

During their most recent deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, 82nd Division soldiers received 173 new items ranging from uniform items to weapons to lasers and night-vision devices they felt would help them on the battlefield.

Now that they’re back at their home station and in a “reset” mode, the equipment keeps rolling in as the division prepares for its next deployments. The 3rd Brigade Combat Team is slated to deploy to Iraq in November, and the 1st and 4th BCTs will follow, probably in summer or fall. The division headquarters expects to deploy in the spring, but is awaiting a Pentagon decision that would make it official.

“As we fight the war downrange, we have a whole lot of people working with us, trying to make sure we get the equipment we need to accomplish our job and do our mission,” said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Capel, the division’s top enlisted soldier.

Mayville and Capel said they remember the days when new gear and equipment arrived at units without notice, and seemingly with no input from the troops who would use it.

“We got stuff on the shelf that we probably didn’t need, and it is still on the shelf,” Capel recalled. Not so with today’s acquisitions, which he said are getting used or added on to existing equipment, vehicles or weapons as quickly as they arrive.

“Everybody is using it, because they are the ones who said we need it,” Capel said.

“Today in the theater, if you have a requirement, … [or] figure out that you need something new, … you write it down and the institution figures out how to get you a prototype,” Mayville said. “It is fundamentally different than what I remember as a youngster, when things were just kind of dreamed up from above and came down to us.

“Now,” he said, “it is a survey that goes from the field back to the Army that generates those requirements.”

The requesters, in turn, evaluate the equipment and gear to determine if it will benefit other soldiers. “Everybody [who] goes downrange becomes a test bed for something,” Mayville said. “If you dreamed it up, invariably you become the test bed, because it was your idea.”

One example of a bottom-up request came from a young warrant officer who recommended mounting a hoist in every UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. This would essentially make every UH-60 medevac capable, able to hoist someone from the ground, without sacrificing crew space inside the aircraft, Mayville said.

“It was a brilliant idea,” he said. U.S. Army Forces Command and the Army Aviation Center are evaluating the proposal to determine if it has Armywide application.

Mayville cited other new technologies that are bringing unprecedented capabilities to warfighters. The Excalibur autonomous-guided projectile, fired from the M777 howitzer, uses Global Positioning System technology to alter course when it confirms an enemy target. “The level of precision in this thing is phenomenal,” Mayville said.

The Rover III system is providing front-line forces the capability to receive imagery directly from unmanned and manned aircraft. Companies and platoons using the system can tap into real-time video feeds available only at the brigade level just two years ago.

“I think that’s an example of technology that you are able to push down things further and further to units that are very necessary for a decentralized fight,” Mayville said.

Meanwhile, the division’s 3rd brigade is working on a company fusion net to take on its upcoming deployment. As envisioned, the system would enable each company to mine national data bases directly for the intelligence it needs – such as to identify a suspect it has photographed.

“What is cut out are all the tiers of analysts,” Mayville said. “The fundamental message is that it is the folks in the theater, doing what they are doing, that is … driving most of these requirements.”

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