Gung-ho gadgets for U.S. troops

The U.S. Army is playing up its ability to get high-tech tools to soldiers in the field more quickly and more affordably.

-Jonathan Skillings

Staff Writer, CNET News.com

This isn’t a gold-plated weapon. Rather, it’s an $850 off-the-shelf magnetometer that troops are using to find weapons hidden in walls and under the ground. The civilian version of this metal detector is used to find buried power lines.

Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Rather than weapons, the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force is focusing on devices such as surveillance systems for searching out explosives, or handheld computers with voice recognition that carry a stockpile of phrases in Arabic. The goal isn’t to devise the gadgets from scratch; instead, the unit looks for commercial products or items already in the production pipeline.

The use of off-the-shelf technology means that even with modifications for military use, the gear can get to soldiers much faster than it would through the traditional acquisition process, according to the head of the Rapid Equipping Force. The unit has about 20 people in Afghanistan and Iraq who work directly with soldiers and commanders to determine their requirements.

“What we don’t want to do in my organization is develop (a tool) over a two- or three-year period and give it to the soldier three years from now,” Col. Gregory Tubbs, director of the Rapid Equipping Force, said at a press briefing Friday, according to a transcript of the briefing. “If I’m looking for immediate warfighter needs, I want to help the soldier today.”

The Army showed off some of the gadgets at the Pentagon press briefing.