Soldiers are renowned for finding ways to modify and improve their issued gear to meet the realities of life in the field. Often, that involves using liberal amounts of duct tape. Then there are the more substantial efforts to build a better piece of gear. The U.S. Army this week paid tribute to some of that work in the form of its "Top 10 Greatest Inventions of 2008" awards, which recognize equipment that was fielded within the Army during 2008.
The first one on display here is the Enhanced Mobile Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment Vehicle, from the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development, and Engineering Center. The EMRAID vehicle integrates a number of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities onto a single, rapidly deployable platform.
The A in EMRAID stands for "aerostat," a Greek-derived word that refers to any lighter-than-air object that stays in one place--in this case, a tethered blimp. Here we see a RAID system undergoing tests at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan in 2003. "Forward operating bases often receive direct and indirect fire on a daily basis," the Army says, and the RAID equipment lets those remote units quickly "detect imminent attacks and take the appropriate actions to defeat enemy forces."
Defense contractor Raytheon has worked with the Army on battlefield aerostat systems. But while the now award-winning Enhanced Mobile RAID assemblage encompasses RAID, along with other systems, Raytheon was not involved with EMRAID, according to the Army. These aerostats have civilian uses, too. Raytheon, for instance, contributed a RAID setup for this year's Indianapolis 500 race to help with security and "situational awareness."
RAID systems can also be placed on towers, as well as Hummvees and fixed-wing aircraft. The primary electronic equipment typically is an electro-optical/infrared sensor with laser rangefinder and laser illuminator, according to Raytheon. That can be augmented with radar sensors, acoustic detection sensors, video transmission gear, and communications relays.
The second of the inventions in the Army's top 10 list for 2008 is the One System Remote Video Terminal A-kit, from the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development, and Engineering Center. The kit is a modular video and data system that lets soldiers in the field receive near-real-time surveillance image and geospatial data directly from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other aircraft.
The OSRVT displays not only video from cameras aboard the UAVs that are widely used in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also geospatial information about where exactly a given aircraft is located--a key factor for troops making tactical plans on the fly.
The OSRVT A-kit allows soldiers "to egress vehicles faster and more safely in case of an emergency," the Army says, "and also enhances situational awareness with unmanned aerial vehicle surveillance for mission planning, intelligence gathering, and monitoring of enemy activity, resulting in greater Soldier safety and survivability." Here, a pair of GIs set up one of the remote video terminals in an exercise at Fort Dix, N.J., in 2008.
Among the UAVs that send data to the One System Remote Video Terminal is the RQ-7 Shadow, seen here. Ground troops aren't the only ones who have benefited from the system. The OSRVT also served as a baseline interface for video systems used by Apache helicopter pilots to get information from UAVs.
Caption byJon Skillings / Photo by Tarah Hollingsworth, UAS PM Contractor, via U.S. Army
This is an example of the kind of information that soldiers receive via the One System Remote Video Terminal.
A recurring theme in the Army's annual top-inventions awards is safety and survivability for its soldiers. Thus, it's no surprise that one of the 2008 winners is Combat Gauze for Treating Hemorrhage in Injured Soldiers, from the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research. "Hemorrhage accounts for 50 percent of the deaths among combat casualties," the Army says, "and a high percentage of these deaths are potentially preventable with prompt and effective treatment of hemorrhage."
The Combat Gauze dressing, from Z-Medica, of Wallingford, Conn., is designed for the treatment of severe external bleeding, especially when a tourniquet cannot be applied. The gauze is impregnated with kaolin, a clotting agent.
Named for its listening capabilities, the Whisper system, from the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, uses electronic warfare gear to detect radio-controlled improvised explosive devices (IEDs). It has been used in reconnaissance vehicles in combat engineer companies.
Another good listener is the Projectile Detection Cueing (PDCue) system, from the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center. The Army describes the PDCue 4-Corner System as a low-cost acoustic gunfire detection system that can detect and pinpoint the origin of incoming sniper fire. It's tied into the CROWS Lightning machine gun station mounted atop Humvees; the system supports both the M240 and M249 small arms weapons. The operator inside the vehicle can monitor and control both PDCue and CROWS Lightning from a single user interface.
CROWS is short for Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station, and the XM153 CROWS system is also on the top 10 list for 2008. Like the PDCue system, it was developed by the Army's Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center. Traditionally, one soldier in a Humvee stood up through a roof in the vehicle to man the roof-mounted machine gun, which is a terribly vulnerable place to be. Gunners in those situations are exposed to gunfire and explosions, and also have suffered high rates of injury from vehicle rollovers. CROWS allows the soldier to remotely aim and fire the roof weapon from inside the Humvee. It can be mounted on other vehicles as well.
The Army has continued to work on the remote gun system, and now is fielding CROWS II. This photo shows the display viewed by the gunner, who in this case is sitting inside a mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, in July of this year.
Even with the gunner no longer exposed, soldiers inside the vehicle are still urged to wear their seat belts for safety's sake.
Caption byJon Skillings / Photo by Pfc. Cody A. Thompson, 40th Public Affairs Detachment
This Sergeant First Class has his hand on the CROWS II controller. CROWS II weapons can include the M-2 .50-caliber machine gun, M-240 machine gun, MK-19 automatic grenade launcher, and the M-249 squad automatic weapon. Laser and thermal devices are used to locate and track targets. If the vehicle loses electricity, the gunner can undo the lock clutches to fire the weapons manually.
Caption byJon Skillings / Photo by Pfc. Cody A. Thompson, 40th Public Affairs Detachment
As heavily armored as MRAP vehicles are, there still can be a need for further protective layers. Hence, the MRAP Expedient Armor Program Add-on-Armor Kit, from the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, which is intended to help defend against IEDs and explosively formed penetrators. But the kit doesn't add to the already formidable weight of the MRAP, according to the Army: It "uses armor physics, as opposed to armor mass, to defeat the threat, which led to a 50 percent reduction in weight."
On a related note, there's the MRAP Armor Weight Reduction Spiral Program, from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. "The program's goal was to introduce lightweight composites, new materials, and enhanced ballistic mechanisms to reduce the add-on weight of final armor packages," says the Army. "The program's technical approach combined cutting-edge high-performance computing with highly instrumented terminal effects experimentation."
Depending on their configuration and their payload, MRAPs can weigh upwards of 16 tons, compared with roughly 5 tons for a Humvee.
Gunners can't always be tucked away inside their vehicles. For situations in which that's the case, there's the Overhead Cover for Objective Gunner Protection Kit, from the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center. Says the Army: "The Overhead Cover offers ideal concealment, weapon maneuverability, and weight while providing protection against hand grenades, rocks, incendiaries, and liquids such as bleach and acid that have been thrown onto turret gunners."
Finally, we come to the Light Machine Gun & Medium Machine Gun Cradle, also from the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center. It "provides a more stable and more accurate firing platform and reliable, twist-free ammo feeding regardless of weapon orientation," the Army says. "The cradle eliminates the hazard of a full-length belt of ammo hanging loose from the weapon as well as machine gun stoppages due to twisted or snagged ammo by keeping ammo in-line with the feed tray."