International partnering is a win-win proposition: RFEC Americas

RFEC - Americas

U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command scientists and engineers are stationed around the globe to explore international collaboration opportunities in scientific research and technology development, opportunities that will potentially close capability gaps for the U.S. Army.

Three regional RDECOM Forward Element Commands, known as RFECs, represent this international endeavor:

  • RFEC Atlantic
  • RFEC Americas
  • RFEC Pacific

From basic science to insights on maturing technology, foreign research contributes to the development of U.S. products and provides solutions that improve American capabilities.

Founded in 2004, RFEC Americas, headquartered in Santiago, Chile, is the newest and smallest of the three forward element commands.

Like RFEC-Atlantic and Pacific, RFEC-Americas has direct roots in the Standardization Program, specifically with its Ottawa, Canada, office.

RFEC-Americas has 12 people assigned: four in Santiago; two in Buenos Aires and two in Ottawa; and one person each at NORTHCOM, SOUTHCOM, ARNORTH and ARSOUTH.

Col. Julian Williams

Col. Julian Williams

“We are part of the U.S. mission and execute our program to meet Army goals in the context of broader U.S. government goals as articulated in the U.S. Embassy strategy,” said the RFEC-Americas commander, Col. Julian R. Williams Jr.

The three offices in partner nations are located within the U.S. mission, which ties its activities tightly with those of other executive-branch agencies (including the Air Force Office of Aerospace Research and Development and the Office of Naval Research – Global, which also have regional offices in Santiago).

Williams said the relationship is strong, makes for better programs and is somewhat unique among the RFECs.

“Our strategy and implementation plans incorporate guidance from not only the Departments of Defense and the Army, the combatant commands and Army service component commands, but also from the Department of State,” he said.

Venues for synchronization include joint commission meetings (executive agency level bi-lateral meetings organized by the State Department and the partner nation Ministry of Foreign Affairs), bi-lateral working groups (high level meetings between the Office of the Secretary of Defense, COCOMs, and partner nation equivalents), and staff talks (U.S. Army Component Commands and partner nation armies).

“We are scientists and engineers working in subject areas of universal importance such as alternative power and energy, disaster relief technologies, mitigating environmental impact of operations and manufacturing, and water purification,” Williams said. “For a combatant command or Army component command, we are a smart and soft power tool that can be used to meet their goals in a benign manner.”

Williams said their “sweet spot” is when a project or workshop meets the requirements of many stakeholders.

“Our portfolio consists of visitor and subject matter expert visits and exchanges, workshops, and seed projects,” he said. “The portfolio is balanced across subject areas and partner nations in a manner similar to that of a venture capitalist.”

RFEC-Americas studies a partner nation of interest by qualitatively determining three characteristics for both S&T and TSC support: capacity, capability and the willingness to engage.

Canada shares in the common defense of North America through the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The RFEC office in Ottawa conducts S&T search at defense laboratories, globally-ranked universities and innovative industries.

Two innovative industries found by ITC-Canada are Mawashi Protective Clothing, Inc., and Medicago, Inc.

Mawashi designs protective clothing based on biomimetics, the study of the structure and function of biological systems as models for the design and engineering of materials and machines. Their research in strong but light structures that exist in insects (exoskeletons), mammals (horns), and sea life (shells) has led to innovations in helmet design and armor. Mawashi research is under review by RDECOM, PEO Soldier and special operations forces.

Medicago is developing biotechnologies to produce vaccines and enzymes in a species of the tobacco plant. The vaccines can be produced rapidly and the process of making them does not result in allergic reactions in the recipient. An ITC-Canada seed project with Medicago four years ago led to the development of an enzyme which may speed up the conversion of biomass (seaweed) to butanol in a proposed sustainable energy project between the U.S. and Chilean navies.

The government, economy and people of Chile have undergone dramatic change over the past few decades. The successful transition to a democratic government has enabled a vibrant Chilean economy, referred to as “The Miracle of Chile” by Nobel laureate economist Martin Friedman.

“The Chilean Army, which numbers about 40,000, is one the most professional in Latin America,” Williams said. “Our relationship with the Dirección de Proyectos e Investigación del Ejército, the RDECOM-equivalent, is very close.”

As a result, Williams said, there have been many exchange visits between S&T leaders, seven Engineer and Scientist Exchange Program assignments (five from the U.S. to Chile and two from Chile to the U.S.), an exchange agreement, and workshops in power and energy and extreme condition operations.

“The Army of Colombia is large, combat-experienced and very capable,” Williams said. “It, as well as the other armed forces of Colombia, has developed technologies, techniques and expertise in areas to counter the risk they face – often in the jungle or near rivers –domains in which we have not practiced.”

Columbian areas of expertise are: soldier protection, CIED and de-mining, tropical diseases, jungle and high humidity physiology, riverine warfare, communications in the jungle and mountains, and the use of small UAVs that can operate through and above a jungle canopy, Williams explained.

The ITC taps into this creativity through S&T search at universities and industries in Colombia. For example, MinePro, LLC, a small company in Medellin, developed a boot that protects the lower leg and foot from blast injury. It has been field tested and is currently undergoing foreign comparative tests in the United States.

“We are fortunate to have access to senior leadership of most of the armies in the Americas and their science, technology and engineering leaders through the Conference of American Armies,” Williams said.

The CAA is a voluntary organization of 22 member armies and other observers that has the common goal of improving interoperability in peacekeeping, disaster relief and humanitarian operations.

“There is a lot of regional expertise in these operations,” Williams said. “The Army of Uruguay, for example, has conducted PKO (peace-keeping operations) since 1929 and in a per capita sense, commits more forces to PKO than any other nation.”

Recent natural disasters, such as earthquakes in Chile and Haiti and flooding in Colombia, have required a combined recovery effort, assisted by SOUTHCOM. These joint efforts are practiced annually by CAA member armies.

RDECOM has assisted the CAA improve interoperability in areas of counter-IED, HF radio evaluation, GIS platform evaluation, and non-lethal weapons by providing subject matter experts at annual S&T working group meetings and to work on integrated product teams.

“Our end products can be counted in the number of technology information papers, seed projects, workshops, visits and exchanges of scientists and engineers,” Williams said. “We cannot easily count the most important end products of our work – partner nations who share our culture and understand our policies; trusted interoperable partner armies; and friendly partnerships. These take time to develop and the timing is right for the U.S. Army to develop and sustain partnerships in the Americas. If we do not, we may lose our position as partner of choice.”

RFEC Americas 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.