USA — Defense acquisition program saves Soldiers’ lives

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — When it comes to rapid­ly field­ing equip­ment for an urgent Amer­i­can war fight­er need, a pro­gram run by the U.S. Army Research, Devel­op­ment and Engi­neer­ing Com­mand quick­ly deliv­ers the goods.

Fire-resis­tant ghillie
A 1–175th Infantry Sol­dier puts the Fire Resis­tant Ghillie Suite through the paces dur­ing a wear­a­bil­i­ty test. The new ghillie suit was acquired for U.S. Army and Marine Corps snipers in record time through the Defense Acqui­si­tion Chal­lenge Pro­gram
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In July 2010, William “Randy” Everett of RDECOM’s Inter­na­tion­al Tech­nol­o­gy Inte­gra­tion Team donned a shag­gy, heav­i­ly cam­ou­flaged mil­i­tary sniper out­fit, called a ghillie suit, and entered a meet­ing room at the Office of the Sec­re­tary of Defense Com­par­a­tive Test­ing Office in Arling­ton, Va.

As Everett walked through the con­fer­ence room he was met by peo­ple laugh­ing and snick­er­ing at the odd sight.

Once calm returned, Everett, in a low and rev­er­ent voice, read aloud a let­ter from the com­man­der of the Army’s 11th Armor Cav­al­ry Reg­i­ment. The words somber­ly recalled how the com­man­der had lost two Sol­diers in Iraq when their ghillie suits caught on fire and they burned to death.

The let­ter stressed the need for a fire-resis­tant ghille suit and strong­ly rec­om­mend­ed that the Army resource one — pron­to.

Everett had care­ful­ly cho­sen this moment to deliv­er the commander’s mes­sage to the right audi­ence.

With­in hours, a call went out to find a fire-resis­tant ghillie suit for mil­i­tary snipers. Source One, a small busi­ness in Flori­da, sub­mit­ted a pro­pos­al to the Defense Acqui­si­tion Chal­lenge, or DAC, pro­gram, and soon there­after, Pro­gram Exec­u­tive Office Sol­dier, aware of and under­stand­ing the require­ment, spon­sored the pro­pos­al.

Neal Nguyen, the PEO Sol­dier prod­uct man­ag­er for pro­tec­tive cloth­ing and indi­vid­ual equip­ment, shoul­dered the project and col­lab­o­rat­ed close­ly with the RDECOM ITI Team and Source One to deliv­er the ghillie suit as quick­ly as pos­si­ble.

Accord­ing to Thomas Mulk­ern, direc­tor of RDECOM’s ITI sec­tion, Con­gress insti­tut­ed the DAC pro­gram in 2003 to intro­duce “inno­v­a­tive and cost-sav­ing tech­nolo­gies into the cur­rent acqui­si­tion pro­grams of the Depart­ment of Defense.”

DAC allows any­one with­in indus­try, both large and small, to pro­pose alter­na­tives to com­po­nent, sub­sys­tems or sys­tems lev­el of DoD acqui­si­tion pro­grams,” Mulk­ern said.

“The program’s hall­mark is the abil­i­ty to review com­mer­cial-off-the-shelf prod­ucts and process­es so the DOD can save dol­lars in the research and devel­op­men­tal phas­es of a prod­uct,” he added.

Since begin­ning, the DAC pro­gram has saved an esti­mat­ed $375 mil­lion in DOD research and devel­op­ment, or R&D, by avoid­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing, pro­cure­ment and life cycle sup­port costs. Addi­tion­al­ly, more than 2,000 pro­pos­als have been eval­u­at­ed and 130 projects have been fund­ed from 35 states and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia.

More than 70 per­cent of the award­ed projects have been to Amer­i­can small- and medi­um-sized busi­ness­es, and more than 25 per­cent to non-tra­di­tion­al defense com­pa­nies. Twen­ty-three projects have been deployed to Oper­a­tion Endur­ing Free­dom and Oper­a­tion Iraqi Free­dom.

DAC projects nor­mal­ly begin with­in a year, and end with­in 18 to 24 months after con­tract award. They may be field­ed faster based on need and prod­uct avail­abil­i­ty.

For the ghillie suit, PEO Sol­dier received $185,000 to pur­chase and test suit sam­ples. Nguyen over­saw the test­ing and eval­u­at­ed the fire-resis­tant suit and acces­so­ry kit.

In 10 months, a record time, the project was com­plete. The fire-resis­tant ghillie suit is now being field­ed at the U.S. Army Sniper School at Fort Ben­ning, Ga., at the U.S. Marine Corps Scout Sniper School at Marine Corps Base Quan­ti­co, Va., and at the Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Tar­get Inter­dic­tion Course at Fort Bragg, N.C.

“It is unknown how many Sol­diers and Marines may be saved by this, but if even one life is saved it is mon­ey well spent,” Everett said.

When eval­u­at­ing DAC pro­pos­als sub­mit­ted by indus­try the RDECOM ITI Team focus­es on the 24 sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy chal­lenges iden­ti­fied by Mar­i­lyn Free­man, deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary of the Army for research and tech­nol­o­gy, .

The Army sub­mit­ted 21 pro­pos­als for fis­cal year 2012 fund­ing. One is a Kore­an Advanced Text Trans­la­tor, which is a sig­nif­i­cant require­ment for the Com­bined Forces Com­mand / U.S. Forces Korea and a doc­u­ment­ed oper­a­tional need.

“The Army recent­ly announced that the Kore­an text trans­la­tor and eight oth­er projects have been approved for fund­ing,” Everett said. “These rep­re­sent a DOD invest­ment of $6.5 mil­lion for Army pro­grams in fis­cal year 2012.

“As a result, if all projects are suc­cess­ful, the esti­mat­ed cost avoid­ance and sav­ings is in excess of $70 mil­lion, a sig­nif­i­cant return on the DOD’s invest­ment,” he added.

The approved DAC projects include: a tac­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tion and pro­tec­tive sys­tem; a uni­ver­sal bat­tery charg­er; a deploy­able shelter/detention sys­tem; improved alloys for pro­tec­tion of armored and tac­ti­cal vehi­cles; a pro­tec­tion kit for gun­ners; improved mor­tar man­u­fac­tur­ing; a light­weight com­bat vehi­cle crew­man hel­met; and an enhanced com­bat vehi­cle crew cov­er­all.

“Only the DAC pro­gram pro­vides the vehi­cle for items like this to quick­ly gain access to the acqui­si­tion life cycle,” Everett said.

U.S. Army