Equipping to Achieve the Decisive Edge

BG Paul Ostrowski, Program Executive Officer, PEO Soldier

In January, Armor & Mobility spoke with the head of the Army’s soldier equipment acquisition office, PEO Soldier, about his office’s priorities now and going forward.

BG Ostrowski was interviewed by A&M Editor Kevin Hunter.

A&M: Please speak to your role as Program Executive Officer-Soldier and describe your office’s mission.  

BG Ostrowski: PEO Soldier is ultimately responsible for the acquisition of many of the equipment items worn or carried by the dismounted soldier. We develop, acquire, field, and sustain the best equipment available as quickly as possible so our soldiers can remain protected, lethal, and situationally aware on the battlefield. We are always looking for new innovative technologies to give our troops the decisive edge.

We collaborate with our joint partners to efficiently get the best equipment in the hands of warfighters. The Advanced and Enhanced Combat Helmets, Nett Warrior, M4A1 Carbine, M320 Grenade Launcher, Enhanced Vision Goggle, M110, Pelvic Protection System, helmet sensors, M240B, Thermal Weapons Sights, and Joint Effects Targeting System represent just a small number of the numerous joint program efforts we have established and maintained.

A&M: Please describe efforts by PEO Soldier to keep soldiers protected with less materiel bulk. 

BG Ostrowski: Reducing the load on soldiers is a core goal of PEO Soldier. PEO Soldier is making strides at addressing both evolutionary and revolutionary aspects of reducing soldier load. From an evolutionary perspective, we remain in a full court press to reduce soldier weight and bulk by 10-25 percent on a variety of equipment. We and our partners in industry are constantly working on lighter, better capabilities. The new generation of Thermal Weapons Sights, for example, represents an average of 15-percent lower weight and an increase by 41 percent in range performance across all variants. The Soldier Power System has the ability to replace a variety of batteries and chargers, representing a significant weight-savings on a 72-hour mission by decreasing the number of batteries required to sustain the soldier. The Air Soldier System will represent at least a 25-percent weight savings without inhibiting the ability to integrate with the aviation platforms.

This said, we must do better and need to look for revolutionary approaches that will achieve our goal of soldiers carrying no more than 30 percent of their body weight for our most expeditionary of forces (Airborne and Light Infantry brigades). To achieve this, we must look for approaches that provide 24 hour/7 day-a-week guaranteed resupply in any weather condition. Solution sets include precision aerial resupply—something that is being done effectively now in Afghanistan—and robotics, which can augment light infantry formations in bearing the weight burden. By lessening soldier load and bulk, we achieve overmatch by ensuring every soldier retains the ability to carry the fight to the threat once he or she reaches the objective.

In both approaches, our goal is to work with our industry partners to develop lighter and more capable solutions. One thing is clear, we must re-invent our training to incorporate resupply into our most expeditionary of mission profiles in order for the revolutionary approaches to work. We have learned over time that soldiers will only carry less if they have 110-percent confidence that no matter what occurs over the course of the mission, they will obtain the necessary resupply to endure and push the fight. This is very much like a paratrooper who has no hesitation jumping from a perfectly good aircraft. It’s the belief, the trust, that no matter what, his parachute will operate as advertised, delivering him safely to the ground.

(Army photo)

(Army photo)

A&M: How is PEO Soldier working with other Army and joint offices to apply lessons learned to improve readiness? 

BG Ostrowski: PEO Soldier leverages soldier feedback and  lessons learned to inform equipment improvements throughout the acquisition lifecycle. It is our standard practice to solicit input early and often during the developmental process. Soldiers drive our process by directly supporting Limited User Tests as well as developmental and operational tests. To affect readiness, we work closely with units and ensure New Equipment Training (NET) is executed for all soldiers. Additionally, in our sensors and lasers product line, we have initiated an Advanced NET training opportunity focused to train the unit leader on advanced weapon and sensor tactics.

PEO Soldier and the Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE) are teamed in actively soliciting warfighter feedback. Through MCoE’s Soldier Survey efforts and PEO Soldier’s Outreach Program, we continue to find new and innovative ways to ensure feedback informs product improvement and follow-through. PEO Soldier’s Program Managers (PMs) and Product Managers (PdMs) assist MCoE’s Test and Evaluation Office in survey questionnaire development, including establishing learning demands and study issues and developing the survey strategy and concepts. The Soldier Survey provides feedback to MCoE organizations, PEO Soldier, our PMs/PdMs, and other Army/DoD agencies to assist in their respective missions, including system improvements, requirements and materiel development, modernization, and prioritization and funding decisions.

Additionally, PEO Soldier participates in the Joint Readiness Training Center’s (JRTC) Science & Technology team’s “Muddy Boots” Councils and NCO training mentor focus groups conducted following each JRTC rotation. Recent outcomes from survey efforts include fielded systems like the Improved Outer Tactical Vest/Soldier Plate Carrier System, Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage pattern, and 5.56 Enhanced Performance Round. Other examples include ongoing Army Modernization efforts like “Squad: Foundation of the Decisive Force,” Ground Combat Vehicle, and Soldier Protection System. Finally, every soldier can submit feedback of suggestions anytime through “Ask the Command Sergeant Major” link on the PEO Soldier website.

When looking at the joint aspect of soldier capabilities, we work with our Special Operations Command, Marine Corps (USMC), and Air Force counterparts. We share emerging technologies, requirements, and common product lines ranging from fire resistant uniforms, body armor, and small arms to thermal optics and goggles. We also work very closely with our partners on a variety of programs and initiatives. We participate in joint forums, including the Joint Services Small Arms Program, Cross-Service Warfighter Equipment Board, and the Joint Clothing and Textile Governance Board. We also just signed an agreement to work with the USMC on recovering battle-damaged protective equipment for forensic analysis. This kind of analysis will help us better understand the kinds of trauma that protective equipment has to endure, which will in turn help us develop the Soldier Protection System—our modular, scalable, next-generation force protection system.

A&M: How is PEO Soldier working to promote partnering with industry in delivering more effective and efficient know-how to the nation’s soldiers? 

BG Ostrowski: PEO Soldier hosts Industry Days to acquaint industry with our goals and efforts to help generate new ideas and encourage industry in participating in our efforts. We recently held one such Industry Day with the roll out the new Soldier Protection System. This effort to provide improved and lighter personal protection involves everything from helmets and hard armor inserts to electronics and ballistic eye protection. PEO Soldier encourages the widest possible industry participation [as] competition [both lowers costs and drives innovation].

We also accept submissions for non-developmental items through the Soldier Enhancement Program (SEP). Anyone, including soldiers, industry, and civilians, can submit a product to us through our website (www.peosoldier.army.mil/SEP). If the suggestion represents a capability that soldiers need or an enhancement on an existing program, we then purchase a small number of the items for evaluation. If the item performs well in the evaluation, it’s possible that it can become a fielded product. In fact, almost 30 percent of our current portfolio received SEP funding at some point in their development, so we’re always looking for new possibilities to increase soldiers’ effectiveness.

A&M: What are some of the key challenges you see looking ahead regarding Army ARFORGEN and DoD requirements? 

BG Ostrowski: There are no specific challenges associated with our mission related to Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN) or DoD equipping requirements. The Army, of course, will have to make informed decisions regarding the commitment of resources based on strategic priorities. We will be fully prepared to support those objectives.

Our biggest concern is addressing the challenges associated with the ever-expanding mission sets our Army is being asked to do in the future. Over the last 12 years of combat, we have maintained a counterinsurgency focus—and rightfully so. However, though we must maintain focus on current operations, we must also look to what the Army will be asked to do in terms of upcoming missions. Addressing legacy and new emerging and evolving missions in areas such as counter-proliferation, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, space, cyberspace, missile defense, etc., will continue to challenge our Army. We must address this ever-increasing mission demand by continuing to provide the nation with the Army it expects and deserves.

A&M: Feel free to discuss any other accomplishments and current/long-term objectives. 

BG Ostrowski: In Fiscal Year 2013, PEO Soldier fielded 4,541,420 items to soldiers, which included weapons, integrated soldier systems, protective equipment and clothing, night vision devices, thermal weapons sights, and laser designation systems. PEO Soldier is always striving to improve soldier lethality, survivability, and ability to operate in any environment. By fielding the best equipment possible to our soldiers, we save lives and provide America’s Army with the decisive edge it needs. We will continue to team with our industry partners, science and technology counterparts, and sister service material developers to ensure our soldiers have exactly what they need to execute every combat mission and get home safely to their families.