Battery charger takes center stage during Senate budget hearing.
It’s not often that objects as small as battery chargers and solar blankets become the center of attention at a U.S. Senate budget hearing where multibillion-dollar programs are discussed, but for a few minutes of the March 8 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, U.S. Army officials touted the need for such items to take a load off of the backs of soldiers.
John McHugh, secretary of the Army, estimated that one platoon on a 72-hour mission requires 400 pounds of batteries. He compared the Modular Universal Battery Charger to a predecessor system, which would require four chargers to do the work of one Modular Universal Battery Charger. Those four chargers weigh a combined 85 pounds and must be plugged into a wall for power. “This little 6-pound recharger is able to work off of just about any available source of energy,” McHugh said. Possible energy sources include a solar blanket, tactical vehicles or residual power from used batteries. The chargers, he said, “take enormous weight off the backs of our soldiers, provide them greater operational flexibility and allow us to reduce convoys bringing in fuel, where every fourth convoy results in a casualty. These are important things for soldier safety as well.”
Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), who chairs the committee, called the device a “four-point success story,” because it improves troop safety and mobility, reduces costs and improves security for energy sources.
Gen. Raymond Odierno, USA, Army chief of staff, cited the network as the service’s number one priority, along with the Ground Combat Vehicle; the more mobile, survivable and network integrated Joint Light Tactical Vehicle; lightening the load for soldiers; and maintaining a lift and close attack helicopter capability.
Regarding the network, Gen. Odierno testified, “It’s critical to our ability to manage information and command armed forces at all levels both at home and abroad.” He added that the service has made “significant progress on this critical program due to the series of Network Integration Evaluation exercises that field tested equipment.”
The Network Integration Evaluation exercises are a key component of the Army’s new acquisition strategy for battlefield information technologies. The service’s entire acquisition process has come under heavy fire and is being revamped, largely due to billions of dollars spent on major weapon systems, such as the Comanche helicopter, that ultimately get cancelled.
McHugh admitted that anyone needing to write a primer on what not to do with major acquisition programs could look to Army initiatives in recent years. Acquisition reform efforts passed by Congress have led to significant changes, he said. “It was something that caused the Army to take a cold, hard look at itself.”
The problems were caused primarily because the service could not contain the requirements for major weapon systems, McHugh testified. “We didn’t understand that you have to have reliance upon mature technologies, that sometimes good enough is good enough.”
He cited the Ground Combat Vehicle as an example of an improved process and told the committee that the service had cancelled its first request for proposals and reduced the number of requirements from about 900 to closer to 600.
Gen. Odierno agreed that the service is making progress. “We are now taking a fundamentally different approach to how we do business with acquisition reform. Through a new affordable, incremental equipping strategy, we are making better business deals and better contracts, emphasizing competition and saving even more money as governmental stewards,” Gen. Odierno told the committee. “By more closely linking the development of requirements with the acquisition cycle, we are building the flexibility to integrate new technologies incrementally. Additionally, we are looking to develop more efficient testing and evaluating strategies by eliminating redundancies in our testing programs.”