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Battlelab brings force protection to the fight

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFPN) -- Running through a dust-filled Baghdad street with bullets flying, a field medic reaches two injured soldiers. One with a chest wound is barely breathing. The other is losing blood fast from a gunshot wound to his leg. There isn’t time to save both. So who dies and who gets to go home?

This medic’s nightmare may soon end because of the simplified automated ventilator, or SAVe. It’s a portable battery-powered ventilator which can be quickly set up to help someone breathe and allows a medic to move on to another critical patient, saving both. The creation of a prototype was managed by the Air Force's Force Protection Battlelab here.

“We consider it a medic force multiplier,” said Maj. Norman Fox, division chief for the battlelab’s force health protection division. It’s designed to help field medics stabilize patients and get them to a medical facility, he said.

The battlelab identifies innovative force-protection concepts, determines their military worth and then transitions the proven concepts into the field.  The focus is on four areas -- anti-terrorism, concepts, force health protection and modeling and simulation. Battlelab teams are currently working on 42 initiatives. Since the lab's inception in 1997, teams have proven more than 200 initiatives.

“The Force Protection Battlelab exists to work on warfighter force protection issues,” Major Fox said.

One of the battlelab’s proven initiatives is the ruggedized advanced pathogen identification device, or RAPIDS.

It’s a suitcase-sized, field-sustained device that cuts biological detection and identification from days to three hours. By quickly identifying a wide array of agents, it helps determine if people have been exposed and need treatment or if there is a false alarm, he said. Before RAPIDS, cultures were used to identify agents, but that took three days -- precious time that could have been used to properly treat anyone exposed to the biological agent.

Battlelab initiatives come from all sources -- warfighters, government, industry and academia -- anyone with ideas to protect or save lives.

“In the initiative process we go out and talk to people, interview people and get submissions,” the major said.

A determination is made on whether or not a concept is suitable by going through a five-step process to research it, he said. Once accepted, it then becomes a full-blown initiative. An action officer is assigned who then has 18 months to bring it to fruition.

Remote detection challenge and response, or REDCAR, is one initiative under development. It focuses on protecting bases while keeping military members out of harm's way.

“REDCAR is a family of robotics platforms designed to mitigate potential threats and better protect our base perimeters,” said Senior Master Sgt. Frank Crowder, battlelab superintendent and action officer for the REDCAR initiative.

REDCAR uses a Polaris ATV designed as an engagement platform with non-lethal and lethal weapons packages. A security forces member remotely operates it from the safety of a control center while it confronts any potential enemy attempting to breach a base perimeter.

“You can’t replace a life but you can replace a machine,” Sergeant Crowder said. “Potentially, they also free up security forces to respond to higher priority alarms and taskings elsewhere.”

Not every initiative produces a battlefield product. The modeling and simulation division focuses on supporting other initiatives within the battlelab.

“We help determine if the concept is going to be as effective as it proposes to be,” said Lt. Col. Gregory Rau, chief of the battlelab’s modeling simulation division.

Mission rehearsal-type visualizations to effectively train security forces members have proven very promising, he said. By playing through a variety of different scenarios before attempting a mission, the concept is helping mission planners to be safer and even improve the mission.

“We have several different projects going on right now that can help us defend against terrorist attacks,” Colonel Rau said.

Training on a computer eliminates weather and safety concerns and teams are able to run through many more rehearsals in a shorter amount of time, he said. Some newer simulation software allows for after-action review so training members can see what they did right and wrong. Observers can go back and look at a different part of the mission to see something they missed.

A person in any Air Force career field can contribute to the battlelab’s force protection mission because force protection involves people, Major Fox said.

The lab is a cross-functional team, composed of military, civilian, contractors, Reserve and Guard forces. Career fields beside security forces including medical, explosive ordnance disposal and civil engineers. It was created after the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996 and other world events dictated a need to more quickly develop protective concepts.

“We all feel that we contribute to saving lives on a daily basis with the work we do,” Major Fox said. “Everybody here is dedicated and believes in the force protection concept.” 

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