ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — When it comes to rapidly fielding equipment for an urgent American war fighter needs, a program run by the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command quickly delivers the goods.
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 ghillie suit and strongly recommended that the Army resource one — pronto.
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.
“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.