The U.S. Army’s single most important piece of equipment does not come from a lab or a factory; the greatest weapon the Army deploys is the Soldier, and the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) in Massachusetts is focused on developing capabilities that increase warfighter capacity to fight and win on the future battlefield.
To achieve decisive overmatch capabilities, Soldier and squad performance is enhanced by technologies that empower, unburden and protect troops while increasing quality of life. NSRDEC is working toward this goal in concert with a number of critical strategic partners, including Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier. NSRDEC leads a collaborative effort across the military research and development community while partnering with the Army medical, acquisition and Science and Technology (S&T) communities, and researchers in academia focusing on both physical and cognitive performance.
These efforts provide the Army with innovative S&T solutions to optimize Soldier and team performance and improve combat readiness.
“PEO Soldier is always looking for ways to increase Soldiers’ capabilities with current and future gear, and to reduce Soldier load,” said Brig. Gen. Brian P. Cummings, Program Executive Officer Soldier. “We share that information with our partners, such as Natick, to ensure Soldiers get the best equipment possible.”
NSRDEC, part of the U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command (RDECOM), is an active component of both RDECOM’s Army Soldier and Squad Performance Optimization S&T Strategy and the Army Human Dimension Strategy.
It leads the Soldier-focused research in supporting the Army Training and Doctrine Command Force 2025 and Beyond guidance. Scientists and researchers at NSRDEC explore Soldier and squad performance based on prior and current work in the areas of nutrition, biomechanics, injury prevention, cognitive science, human factors and human dimensions research. NSRDEC also studies Soldier and squad technology integration and anthropology, combined with Soldier systems engineering architecture and systems integration.
The importance of human performance optimization is crucial to both the Army’s current and future operations.
“This collaborative effort on the part of the Army S&T community is critical to the future of the Army and will have a tremendous impact not only on the Soldier of today, but also on the Soldier of 2025 and beyond,” said Douglas Tamilio, NSRDEC director.
In accordance with the Army Human Dimension Strategy, the Army can only maintain the decisive edge in the human dimension — cognitive, physical and social components — through investment in its human capital. With this investment, the Army is capable of developing cohesive teams of trusted professionals who improve and thrive in the ambiguity and chaos of future conflicts, Tamilio said.
However, the Soldiers of tomorrow also need advanced technologies to augment their optimized human performance.
Recently, NSRDEC teamed with Tufts University School of Engineering to create the Center for Applied Brain and Cognitive Sciences to examine four specific areas, including the principles that govern interactions between people and devices such as smart phones, head-mounted displays and tablets, and autonomous robotic platforms aimed at augmenting and optimizing human cognition, mood and physical capabilities. Other research will focus on the effects of frustration, mental workload, stress, fear and fatigue on both cognitive and physical performance. Research continues on the effect of load and physical fatigue on cognitive performance and applying cognitive science
findings related to interaction, communication and cohesiveness among Soldiers and squads.
NSRDEC is also researching the effects of nutrition on Soldier performance. Working with the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences’ Human Performance Resource Center and the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, NSRDEC’s Combat Feeding Directorate is looking at the role nutrition plays in Soldier performance and how it can augment the current nutritional components of combat rations with naturally occurring performance optimization compounds to help prevent injury, lessen muscle fatigue, reduce injury recovery time and provide mental alertness.
Through 3-D food printing, researchers are attempting to provide individual nutritionally tailored meals to Soldiers in the field based on requirements possibly transmitted through vital sign monitoring devices embedded in their uniforms or equipment.
NSRDEC is also looking into other Soldierborne sensor concepts that will provide information about friendly and enemy forces, civilians on the battlefield, and actual and potential threats in the area of operations using smartphone technologies, augmented reality, ground and aerial intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms.
NSRDEC continues its research into flameresistant, bullet/blast-resistant and smart textiles, high-performance fibers and wearable power, and is now aided by the Secretary of Defense’s recent announcement of the formation of the Revolutionary Fibers and Textiles Manufacturing Innovation Institute, a $75 million Department of Defense investment in advanced manufacturing.
Other areas of research to optimize Soldier and squad performance focus on human/machine teaming to enable missions and the capabilities of autonomous resupply to unburden the Soldier.
Additionally, to reduce reliance on batteries and provide alternative power sources in the field, NSRDEC is conducting research into different types of wearable solar power capabilities and energy-harvesting devices.
To deploy Soldiers and force projection platforms around the world into any environment, research into aerial delivery technologies is adapting current GPS-guided cargo parachute systems to use autonomous visual navigation systems for areas where GPS is unavailable or blocked by terrain or man-made structures.
NSRDEC researchers are also working on adaptive vision protection technologies that enable a Soldier’s eye protection to instantaneously change based on lighting conditions while also preventing injury from lasers and blast debris.
Working with Product Manager Force Sustainment Systems, a Base Camp Integration Lab was created to explore expeditionary basing concepts to improve quality of life, and reduce logistical requirements, fuel and water consumption, and base camp solid and liquid waste.
The Harnessing Emerging Research Opportunities to Empower Soldiers, or HEROES, program — a collaborative NSRDEC and University of Massachusetts-Lowell effort — has produced advanced nanotechnologies including super omniphobic coatings and materials that repel solids, gels and a range of liquids including toxic industrial chemicals and chemical warfare agents. Other advanced material research may lead to autonomous self-decontaminating protective uniforms.
In the Army S&T community, NSRDEC’s research and development efforts must contribute to readiness today, tomorrow and in the future, as well as provide overmatch capabilities by developing and adapting technologies to empower, unburden and protect Soldiers across the full spectrum of operations. Along with its partners, NSRDEC will ensure dominance through superior scientific and engineering expertise, Tamilio said.
No one can predict where or when future battles will take place, or what adversary Soldiers will face, but NSRDEC and the Army’s S&T community is prepared to provide the capabilities to have decisive overmatch in any situation.