It’s the “little things” that count when it comes to supporting our Soldiers and Marines in war zones. The little things include adequate clothing and equipment to support them in dismounted operations. It may not sound like a big deal but moisture wicking t-shirts matter a lot to warfighters who have to “hump” 100 pound packs up mountainsides in Afghanistan. The same is true for lighter weight, longer lasting batteries for the growing number of electronic systems that the troops must carry. Or how about fire resistant clothing that can reduce the chance of injury for soldiers riding in vehicles or helicopters?
The problem is that there are a lot of these little things. The Army’s Rapid Fielding Initiative currently has a list of some 64 items that must be provided to each soldier prior to his or her unit deploying. They range from clothing to targeting scopes to navigation aids. Moreover, many of these little things the Army provides are growing in technological sophistication. The new XM25 individual airburst weapon system fires a variety of programmable or smart grenades that can be used against targets in caves and behind walls. It is a game changer. Then there is the improved night vision goggles that allow soldiers to operate both outside at night using image intensification and inside darkened buildings with infrared.
The Army tends to treat each of these little things as an individual item when it comes to setting requirements, writing contracts and providing resources. Basically, the Army generates separate requirements for each item and tends to fund them individually. This wastes time and money. In some cases, the Army relies on private companies to integrate different items. Moreover, when it comes to acquisition strategy and R&D investments it is difficult for the little things to compete with major weapons systems. This is a problem for the most deployed and employed weapons system in the Army: the individual soldier. Their clothing and equipment needs tend to get less attention and priority in comparison to a new vehicle or helicopter.
PEO Soldier has been trying to take a comprehensive approach to the clothing and equipment needs of the individual warfighter. It has formulated the Soldier as a System approach to managing the array of little things that constitute the clothing and equipment needed to support both dismounted and mounted warfighters. The challenge PEO Soldier faces is to manage the array of items in an increasingly tough budget environment.
The Army needs to consolidate its processes when it comes to soldier clothing and equipment. It needs to simplify its requirements process; reduce the contracting burden and fund clothing and equipment as a system, rather than as individual items. The Army would also be wise to expand its use of private sector product integrators. Above all, the Army needs to fund soldier clothing and equipment as one or more programs of record.
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