US Army, vendors show off futuristic gear at Fort Lauderdale trade show
With robots that peek around corners and body armor for dogs, the military and industry are meeting this week in Fort Lauderdale for a winter convention and trade show that’s beginning to chart the future of a smaller, cheaper Army.
“We must fundamentally change the way we do business,” Army Gen. Ann Dunwoody told an opening session of the Association of the United States Army’s Institute of Land Warfare’s winter symposium.
Dunwoody, chief of the Army’s Materiel Command, the unit that equips soldiers, added that “the reality is, over the last 10 years, we’d become unaffordable.”
And that means doing more with fewer forces in an Army that Dunwoody, the Pentagon’s first four-star female, called “more lethal” than ever with “more capable” soldiers that are more “survivable.”
Her division managed the drawdown from Iraq, through Kuwait, which included selling off used equipment to allied foreign militaries, and will be doing the same for Afghanistan. She reported Wednesday, that the U.S. had equipment valued at $47 billion in Afghanistan now.
The Army’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Raymond Odierno, speaks Friday. The main event for this group comes in October when the AUSA holds its massive contractors trade show at the Washington, D.C., Convention Center. This winter show gives foreign militaries and U.S. contractors a chance to hear military leaders start to grapple with the Obama administration’s order to reduce the Army by 80,000 troops to 490,000 over the next six years following the withdrawal from Iraq and downsizing in Afghanistan.
Part of the buzz this year is “in this drawdown period, how the industrial base shifts for the next threat,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Roger Thompson, a vice president with the Association of the United States Army, the conference sponsor, a support group that also lobbies for soldiers’ benefits.
Out on the exhibition floor, some 200 vendors are showing their warfare wares in a winter showcase that has been bringing industry representatives and senior Army leaders to Florida since before the 9/11 attacks.
“Anything and everything you can imagine, it’s here to get the Army’s attention. This makes Sharper Image look like a Boy Scout camp,” said retired Army Master Sgt. Al Betancourt, attending the conference as a Pentagon contractor.
Doggy armor, for example, alongside blast-resistant underwear for troops.
“It’s ballistic for any size dog — from your beagle who’s sniffing for drugs at the airport to special forces like the team that went after Bin Laden with a dog with them,” said Armor Works’ Mark Phillips.
Dunwoody, who is due to retire later this year, put cyber attacks along with terrorism as a top-tier threat the military will tackle in the future. And while some vendors were promoting network integration and protection, the technologies that have developed over a decade of warfare from Afghanistan to Iraq still dominated.
One firm was showing off a sleeker, vacuum-packed pocket-sized 1,200-calorie military ration pack, designed to be lighter, take up less room and taste better for troops taking their meals in the field.
An Army subsidiary called the Rapid Equipment Force was showing off its 1.2-pound, $13,200 “throw-bot,” a remote-controlled robot no bigger than a football with a camera that can do the work of a traditional scout. Hence it’s nickname, “the Recon Scout.”
“Instead of a soldier going over the wall, the robot goes over the wall,” said Sgt. 1st Class Mario Whitaker of Houston, demonstrating it with a toss.
And drones are still the darlings.
Boeing brought a prototype of its A160 Hummingbird spy drone, an unmanned helicopter guided by remote control from up to 200 miles away. It’s now in testing under a $49 million contract to deliver three with multi-functional capabilities to the Army, said Boeing representative Rich Stanley. It can be a spy from the sky, of course, but it also could haul supplies to forces in remote sites, with a troop on the ground guiding it in for a drop, or fire up to eight Hellfire missiles.
Alongside it was a mini spy chopper, about the size of a motorcycle, that Stanley said has already been tested in Belize. “We can look through three layers of trees,” he said, “and tell good guys from bad guys really well.”
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