Sixty years of partnering

Soldiers install solar shade at the Base Camp Integration Lab at Fort Devens, Mass.

Soldiers install solar shade at the Base Camp Integration Lab at Fort Devens, Mass. (U.S. Army photo by David Kamm)

Natick harnesses the benefits of partnerships, collaboration

NSRDEC Public Affairs

Soldier Systems Center opened in 1954, scientists and researchers have worked with a partners from prestigious colleges and universities, industry and other Army and Department of Defense organizations.

More than 700 U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center scientists, engineers, researchers and equipment designers work with their counterparts to provide a wide range of capabilities. There are nearly 90 people who are matrixed from NSRDEC to critical partner organizations. The agreements result in personnel assigned to NSRDEC, but who work for other organizations such as Program Executive Office Soldier and Product Manager Force Sustainment Systems.

“Partnering is the cornerstone of acquisition. As we apply science and technology to change the art of the possible, partnerships enable us to turn the possible into the real….real military and defense capability,” said Dr. Jack Obusek, NSRDEC technical director. “No single organization can do that alone.”

Among the many partnerships, several stand out as being critical to NSRDEC’s successful mission accomplishment.

NSRDEC’s close collaboration with PEO Soldier results in a force multiplier for the Army. There are nearly 40 NSRDEC employees matrixed to PEO Soldier working in areas from Soldier protection to load carriage.

“It is a team effort. We remain absolutely committed to, and dependent on, both our organic research and development facilities and our industry partners,” said Brig. Gen. Paul A. Ostrowski, PEO Soldier. “Together we push the limits of technology to provide dominate force protection to Soldiers.”

The collaborative efforts result in innovative Soldier protection concepts like female body armor — body armor specifically designed for females and smaller Soldiers. The project’s goal was to create a sizing system and body armor design offering improved fit, comfort and performance of the body armor system (vest, front/back plates and side plates). Hailed as one of Time Magazine’s Best Inventions of the Year in 2012, the innovation is being used in Afghanistan and has proven to be popular with female Soldiers.

Another recent innovation is the Individual First Aid Kit. The IFAK improved previous first aid kits by enabling the Soldier to carry double the amount of supplies while improving access.

NSRDEC also works closely with PM Force Sustainment Systems with aerial delivery capabilities and improved quality of life while deployed. To demonstrate the commitment to improving personnel and cargo parachute systems, better field feeding, and making living conditions better for Soldiers in the field, there are 50 people matrixed to PM FSS from NSRDEC.
An important capability being used in Afghanistan developed through the NSRDEC/PM-FSS partnership is the Joint Precision Air Drop System, a self-guided parafoil system primarily for Container Delivery Systems payloads. Using GPS, the cargo parachute can fly to a pre-determined location on the ground with an accuracy of 150 meters or less. This system increases the capacity for delivering critical resupply to remote areas of the battlefield while keeping aircraft and air crews safe while reducing the dependence on ground convoys that expose Soldiers and vehicles to enemy threats.

The JPADS 2K (700 to 2,200 pounds) is certified on C-130 and C-17 aircraft and recently fielded improvements to enhance accuracy with terrain avoidance software, a one-time use parafoil and modular Airborne Guidance Unit in response to urgent requests from commanders in Afghanistan.

For airborne operations, Soldiers now have the ability to use a special navigation system during descent with the Parachutists Navigation System. The PARANAVSYS is a Soldier-wearable (chest, wrist or otherwise mounted to the parachutist) multipurpose navigation system designed for military free fall operations. It will allow for enhanced mission planning and improved parachutist infiltration capabilities and use for follow-on ground missions. The system provides jumpers with real-time situational awareness on their current location, ground speed, wind speed and direction, and other essential information for successfully navigating to pre-planned impact points.

The NSRDEC and PM FSS partnership also includes academia. In conjunction with the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, NSRDEC scientists and PM FSS, along with university students and professors, are conducting research related to fabric porosity under dynamic pressure changes. This research focuses on existing and future parachute canopy materials and how they react in flight.

Other critical partnerships with PM FSS exist in contingency basing by providing improved living conditions and increased force protection.

NSRDEC and PM FSS, including 20 matrixed personnel, are teaming for testing and testing support at the Base Camp Integration Lab. The BCIL consists of two 150-man Force Provider expeditionary camps located side by side in the same perimeter. Using advanced wireless monitoring devices, data from the baseline camp reducing power, water, electricity and fuel consumption through innovations in flexible photovoltaic panels, other alternative energy systems, water reclamation systems, microgrid electric power distribution and advanced insulation systems.

To provide increased force protection for expeditionary basing, NSRDEC and PM FSS partnered to develop the Modular Ballistic Protection System. Working with the University of Maine, the partnership created the MBPS, a quickly erectable, redeployable and lightweight ballistic protection system. MBPS provides ballistic protection for Soldiers and equipment in expeditionary basecamps where mobility and rapid deployment requirements prevent the immediate use of heavyweight systems like sandbags and concrete barriers. MBPS provides force protection in the shelters where they work, sleep, eat and live, as well as MBPS stand alone systems for use with any shelter or equipment needing protection. All MBPS designs provide ballistic protection capability and can survive blast overpressure associated with these threats.

The partnership also involves feeding, food safety and preservation efforts. Applying technology developed by industry, the collaboration applied ultraviolet lighting systems to provide a fully automated, low-cost shelf life extension to maximizes freshness and quality of fresh fruits and vegetables. The technology is also being evaluated for application to Navy refrigerated storerooms and the Army’s Multi-Temperature Refrigerated Container System.

Other collaborative efforts in field feeding, also taking place at the BCIL, involve NSRDEC and PM FSS testing a 150-troop configurable kitchen installed alongside an equivalent all-electric kitchen. The kitchen serves as the initial platform to demonstrate new capabilities made possible by modular appliance technologies projects to determine energy savings of fuel-fired appliances relative to the all-electric kitchen.

NSRDEC has important partnerships with Massachusetts’ state university system. NSRDEC’s recent agreement with the University of Massachusetts-Lowell is a collaborative research partnership  and exemplifies the promotion of innovation. Together both organizations recently announced the program, known as Harnessing Emerging Research Opportunities to Empower Soldiers, at UM-Lowell campus, which enables NSRDEC researchers to work closely with professors and students. This partnership combines the capabilities of both UM-Lowell and NSRDEC’s unique facilities, intellectual capacity and knowledge base to expedite research and development efforts and allows for innovation and emerging technologies for transition.

HEROES is a collaborative research and development opportunity with NSRDEC scientists and engineers sharing more than 5000 square feet of laboratory, office and conference space on site at UM-Lowell along with students and faculty.

“We will bring together some of the best minds from both organizations to brainstorm new solutions to challenges our men and women in face,”  said Marty Meehan, UM-Lowell chancellor. “We are going to be able to, in this collaboration, help our troops and clearly save lives.”

Not yet a year old, HEROES has over a dozen broad-based areas of collaboration between NSRDEC researchers and UM-Lowell faculty and students. These areas include efforts in flame and thermal protection, chemical/biological warfare protection and detection, ballistic protection, and antimicrobial protective materials. Other research is being conducted in the areas of airdrop, nutrition, power generating nanocomposites, wearable thermoelectrics and combat ration safety and novel polymer packaging technology.

NSRDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.

RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness — technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment — to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.

Dr. Obusek speaks at HEROES kickoff event--Dr. Jack Obusek, director of the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, speaks at the kick-off event for the Harnessing Emerging Research Opportunities for Soldiers collaborative effort between the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and NSRDEC (U.S. Army photo by David Kamm)

Dr. Obusek speaks at HEROES kickoff event–Dr. Jack Obusek, director of the
U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center,
speaks at the kick-off event for the Harnessing Emerging Research
Opportunities for Soldiers collaborative effort between the University of
Massachusetts-Lowell and NSRDEC (U.S. Army photo by David Kamm)