Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Engineering’s ADM Cuts Costs for Warfighter Training

The United States Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center's Advanced Design and Manufacturing Division (ADM) embarked on a small training project a year and a half ago that has since expanded and amounted to dollars saved for the U.S. Army and the possibility of a new certification for the Warfighter.

It started when ADM was tasked by the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization’s (JIEDDO) training arm, Joint Center of Excellence (JCOE) in January 2012 to provide a solution to a recurring issue: what is a cost-effective approach to training Warfighters on expensive equipment, eliminating the risk of damaging the equipment during training?

The issue came to a head during Husky Mounted Detection System (HMDS) training. The damage caused to the system during the training period had become more expensive than the cost to build the original system.

The HMDS is a kit that attaches to the Husky vehicle, and has four Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) panels, each costing $40,000. The panels detect metallic and nonmetallic explosive hazards, pressure plates, and antitank mines. These panels were often damaged during training periods. The total system with the four panels initially cost $500,000 per upgrade to the base vehicle.

“Warfighters would train with these systems and since they were new to them, a lot of damage would get incurred to the detector in the training process,” said Peter Bryant, a Project Specialist working in ADM’s Technology and Systems Integration Branch. Student drivers were doing roughly $2 million worth of damage per month learning to operate the HMDS. “It just was not a reasonable option, so we were tasked to create a training system that would not total as much in repairs.”

Bryant, along with others from across ADM were able to create the Husky Mounted Detection System Surrogate (HMDSS), a trainer that was created with Aluminum panels and plastic nose cones, and used radio waves to simulate detecting an item. A buried ‘tag’ indicates the threat type of the material found. The system cost is one quarter that of the original. The panels only cost $1000 for a complete replacement, but generally, only the nose cones suffer damage, which total $100 to replace.

“We were asked to just create and test a potential training product. We did and that turned out to be a success,” said Kevin Wallace, Technology and Systems Integration Branch Chief. “From there we ended up building 26 systems for JIEDDO, currently we are building 29 systems and we’ve been tasked to build more, so it’s certainly taken off.”

Since the initial 26 HMDSS Kits were shipped to JIEDDO in January 2011, the ECBC engineers have continued to work on enhancements to the systems, such as a timing mode, Global Positioning System (GPS) mode, and a buried mode which uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags to simulate events that play images of real threats.

“The initial direction was pretty narrow, but as the project has evolved, we have been asked to add more and more elements that the real system has,” said Mark Colgan, an engineer in the Electronic Design and Integration Branch. “Next we are adding additional targets to the HMDSS. Now the HMDSS looks more like the HMDS and has the same functions.”

“The end goal now is not to just have a training item that can be kicked around during practice, but to actually create a training item that Warfighters can become certified in before they go to theater. That is a very different end goal than the initial one,” Bryant said. Wallace said as this project started to grow, the initial group needed to enlist the help of all the branches within ADM as well as some from outside the Division.

“From helping us gather tech data, to technical writers and the Chemical Biological Applications & Risk Reduction Division over in the Directorate of Program Integration, it has been a team effort,” Wallace said.

The group expects to be involved with this project even after the additional HMDSS are fielded, providing logistics support as well as any additional enhancements. Additional partners for the HMDSS include the Letterkenny and Tobyhanna Army Depots. “This was certainly a collaborative effort not only to create the initial product, but also to improve and sustain it in the future,” Wallace said. “I would call this a Division-wide effort, but we have also had help from others within ECBC, several conglomerates and industry partners."

So far, the HMDSS is already fielded at 17 different locations, including three locations outside of the Continental United States, with the current project to go to 11 others. In addition to creating the physical training detector for the vehicle, the project was taken a step further with the development of an iPad application. The application brings all the same features of driving with the HMDSS to the iPad screen. The user simulates driving a vehicle and receiving alerts of potential threats. From there, the driver must determine a course of action to ensure safety. Additionally, the HMDSS application allows the user to go on virtual route clearance missions, and includes a full user manual for the vehicle. The iPad application enlisted the help of ADM’s Conceptual Modeling and Animation Branch as well as the Electronic Drawing and Development Branch.
The iPad application will include an installation manual as well as simulations that are based on events that could actually happen. The manual allows Warfighters to have something light and easy to carry and refer to for questions while in theater as well as having the ability to do refresher training on their own time on an iPad.

In addition to the HMDSS iPad interactive installation guide the group is also working with Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training, & Instrumentation (PEO STRI) to add the threat detection simulation software to the Virtual Clearance Training System (VCTS), which is an interactive trailer where Warfighters rotate in to do interactive training. This potential addition could expand the HMDSS training to the surrogate system, and possibly two interactive training systems.

“The fact that we could do more than just create the initial driver trainer mainly with the resources here is a big deal,” Colgan said. “Since 2010, we’ve been able to make several enhancements to the HMDSS, create the iPad app and the VCTS collaboration.”     

Wallace said although the original intent was to create a training possibility, having the capabilities within ECBC, allowed the group to explore additional options the project ultimately expanding the purpose.
“We’ve just been fortunate enough to have the means to expand more and more,” Wallace said.   
One third of the fabrication was performed at ECBC in the Product Development Facility, all the software for both the HMDSS and the interactive trainings were written in house as well. The new products will help Warfighters get the training they need without the concern of running up a high bill in the process.  
“These projects will end up saving the taxpayer a lot of money,” Bryant said. “Also, Warfighters could learn thorough training on this equipment before going into theater, ensuring success on the battlefield.”

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