ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, Oct. 2, 2014) — The Army has decided to retain the Rapid Equipping Force and move it under U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, despite the drawdown and pending sequestration, said Col. Steven A. Sliwa, REF director.
The move to TRADOC will be no later than the start of fiscal year 2016.
“However, that move could start as early as tomorrow,” said Sliwa, speaking at a National Defense Industrial Association breakfast here, today.
Rapid Equipping Force, or REF, has not been unaffected by the drawdown, he said. REF is being downsized to a core number of personnel, but the structure will remain, allowing it to expand, should the need arise.
Some of the lost billets didn’t simply go away — some were transferred to Program Executive Office Soldier, known as PEO Soldier, Sliwa explained, adding that REF will remain headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, close to where PEO Soldier is located.
Another change is that “PEO Soldier has been designated as REF’s milestone decision authority,” Sliwa said, adding that REF has formed a close partnership and has a great working relationship with that organization since they partner on a number of issues.
The authority for REF moving to TRADOC and becoming an enduring organization, he said, was a memo signed by the under secretary of the Army, Jan. 30. The delay between when the memo was signed and the actual move is to ensure “authorities and relationships are worked out.”
NOT IN IRAQ — YET
The other big news is that REF plans to open a small office in Kuwait, said Sliwa, who returned Oct. 1, from a 10-day requirements assessment trip to Iraq and Kuwait.
Although REF does not currently have a presence in Iraq, that could change, he added.
The Kuwait office could also assist in Afghanistan, even as the REF’s Afghanistan office becomes smaller, commensurate with the lower troop levels there.
The Afghanistan REF office will retain the useful expeditionary lab, he said, which is capable of rapid prototyping custom-designed equipment to the warfighter. The lab includes a 3-D printer.
An anticipated future change, Sliwa said, involves funding REF from the base budget instead of the overseas contingency operating budget, which is now the case.
“We’re working hard to get the budget into the base and I think we’ll be successful in the near future” he said.
The base budget does currently pay salaries and funds brick and mortar requirements such as “keeping the lights on,” he added.
GOOD MARRIAGE TO TRADOC
Since U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, known as TRADOC, anticipates the near-term needs of the Army, as well as the Army of 2025 and beyond, it’s a good organizational fit for REF, Sliwa said, since REF would also like to be able to better anticipate future needs so it’s better prepared to deliver, rather than just react.
As the Army moves to a regionally aligned force, TRADOC and REF need to be prepared to anticipate needs that are specific to that region. A Soldier in Africa or South America “could be on the edge of a future-named operation” and technology solutions need to be thought out in advance before that happens, he said.
The REF should always be anticipating things and asking questions like, “What if Korea went down tonight,” he said.
HOW REF WORKS
In a nutshell, when units downrange have an urgent requirement, they send a “10-liner” request to REF. That gets the ball rolling, he said.
First, a determination is made whether or not there’s other equipment already out there that could be re-purposed to fit the requirement, or perhaps a program manager, or PM, is working on something very similar that might accomplish the task.
If nothing in the inventory meets the need, then a determination of cost and priority is made. Also, the REF will check if there’s a commercial off-the-shelf, or COTS, product already available. If not, then industry and/or academia solutions might be sought, he said.
Although this sounds like a long, drawn-out process, it’s really fast, as the “rapid” in the REF name implies. If the item is purchased via COTS, it might just take a credit card swipe, but if the item is more complex and requires development, it might take weeks or even a few months. The goal is within 90 days, if not much sooner, Sliwa said.
Unlike a program of record, the REF approach accepts a certain amount of prudent risk, he said, since purchases are typically limited and need to be done quickly. Some items turn out to have only a one-time use, but others can sometimes turn into programs of record. The latter include IED-detection equipment, hybrid power and language translation devices.
Not all requests come in the form of 10-liners from the field, he said. The Army G-3/5/7 also has authority to approve requirements and delegate authority to the REF — and they sometimes do, as was the recent request for mobile Patriot missile radar.
One thing the REF does not do, Sliwa emphasized, is step on the toes of the PM and his or her program of record. REF “does its best work as a partner. When we partner with the PM, when we partner with industry, when we partner with academia, that’s when the REF magic really takes place.”
HINTS TO INDUSTRY
Since many, if not most in the audience were industry reps, Sliwa provided some suggestions on pitching products in these lean times when contractors are chasing fewer defense dollars.
Ideally, the product should be small, lightweight and use less energy. The direction that the Army is taking is being more mobile and expeditionary, he said. Green generators with solar panels and efficient computers were snapped up by the Army for those reasons. Also, the Army is always looking to lighten the Soldier’s load.
And, the system should work with other systems, as opposed to a stand-alone system, he said. Case in point might be communications and mission control gear working as a system of systems. Dual-use systems are even better, meaning the same system can also be used for something completely different.
The systems or products should ideally also be simple, easily maintained and not require a lot of training, he said.
Sliwa then checked off items the Army would be very interested in acquiring, including social media exploitation, improved optics and sensors, new positive ID tools along the lines of biometrics and facial recognition, remote surveillance capability, tunnel and underground facility detection devices and batteries with longer life.
A concluding comment from the director: Although changes are here and others are coming, the REF “will continue to support the warfighter, from the FOB (forward operating base) to the foxhole.”
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