Imagine a team of Soldiers or Marines conducting a sensitive site assessment of a dilapidated chemical factory in the Middle East that may contain unknown Toxic Industrial Chemicals (TICs) or possible precursors to chemical or biological agents. Or perhaps a team of Sailors are required to board and search a non-descript Mediterranean fishing vessel at sea and discover clandestine laboratory equipment. Today these Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors have limited capability to assess these threats. In the future, these same service members will use the enhanced capabilities provided by the Dismounted Reconnaissance Sets, Kits, and Outfits (DR SKO).The U.S. Army DR SKO Project Management Team located at the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground will deliver 444 DR SKO systems to the Joint Warfighter. The team works under the Joint Project Manager for Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Contamination Avoidance (JPM-NBC CA), one of eight Joint Project Management Offices within the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense. The DR SKO Project Management Team is comprised of fourteen engineers, specialists, and logisticians matrixed from the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center.
“Our system provides a modular baseline suite of modern detection, identification, and protection equipment to support the ever changing threat environment, especially for toxic industrial hazards,” said Mr. Edward Conley, DR SKO System Manager.
When fielded, the DR SKO will provide a dismounted reconnaissance system with enhanced Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear (CBRN) defense capability for all military services, packaged in modular cases and shipping containers. The system can meet any Warfighter configuration required.
As a Joint Program, DR SKO contains a holistic solution set. Understanding concepts of employment and ensuring operational requirements were technically achievable and allowed the program to successfully meet the diverse needs of the Services. The solution set that is currently in the DR SKO required numerous end user coordination meetings and design reviews to translate operational needs into materiel solutions.
Despite the extensive coordination with the user community, the DR SKO team experienced difficulty early in the acquisition process.
“Originally, the strategy included initial entry into the acquisition process at the Low-Rate Initial Production decision. The lack of independently verified data to support evaluation of key performance parameters drove a change in strategy,” explained Anne Hise, Lead System Engineer, “this afforded the team time to perform risk reduction testing to verify performance in a relevant environment.”
After completion of the technology development acquisition program phase, the contractor, FLIR, assembled the DR SKO test systems. The test team initiated full developmental testing and operational assessments at various test centers.
Identifying user requirements included identifying test requirements. Connie Wolf, Test Manager, emphasized that the DR SKO program thrives due to the team cohesiveness and collaboration with the Stakeholders. “An upfront relationship with the independent evaluators, such as the Army Test and Evaluation Command is essential to a successful test and evaluation program,” Wolf said.
Even though the test and evaluation team approached the program in a unified way, complications arose from some decisive tests. Often, vendor claims could not be verified, forcing a change in the materiel solution set. In other cases, the team discovered that items which actually met industry standard testing did not survive in the broad range of required operational environmental factors.
Marines and Sailors had the opportunity to assess the system during Operational Assessments at Fort Hood, Texas and Moyock, North Carolina. From these events, demonstrated limitations have driven additional changes to the DR SKO capability set. Tim Goetze, Test Engineer, expressed that “discovering these limitations reinforced the decision to characterize the military utility of commercial equipment.”
After concluding the Engineering and Manufacturing Development acquisition program phase, the DR SKO will advance to the Low-Rate Initial Production decision and begin the Production and Development Phase. The Full-Rate Production decision is planned for Fiscal Year 2014 with the first unit fielding within that fiscal year. Fielding DR SKO will help close the capability gap by delivering significantly-enhanced, Government-verified, full-spectrum CBRN dismounted reconnaissance equipment adapted for employment by each Service.