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This Army Unit Is Responsible For Blasting Crucial Gear For Soldiers Through The Pentagon Bureaucracy


Minotaur prototype on display in the Pentagon center courtyard. Photo: US Army

The Rapid Equipping Force (REF) accepts orders to make and deliver custom gear that will help soldiers do their job better.

Anyone from a private to the Chief of Staff of the Army can place a "10-liner," the shorthand for the unit's request form. The REF will then evaluate the request and use existing gear or emerging technologies and concepts to build what you need. They will even work with soldiers through the entire process to make sure they get it right; they call this process co-creation.

From submission to completion, the REF can have a solution on the field within weeks instead of years by avoiding the usual Pentagon bureaucracy. They can field as quickly as 90 days according to the official Army website.

To speed up the process, the REF has strategic units around the world near combat zones to be closer to soldiers. For example, at the height of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the REF had teams in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait according to the REF's website.

REF Expeditionary Lab. Photo: US Army

They also have mobile labs that can pack up in a single day and ship it anywhere in the world called REF Expeditionary Labs. According to the REF website, these labs give soldiers access to expert scientists, engineers, and equipment like:

  • 3D printers
  • Global communications suites
  • Fabrication tools
  • Microscopy
  • and more

Some of the REF projects include:

  • Ironman - a 500 round backpack for machine guns
  • Raven - a hand-launched remote control drone for field surveillance
  • Minotaur - robot technology that helps troops safely deal with explosive devices
  • PILAR - a system that locates sniper fire location on an LCD screen
  • and more

RQ-11 Raven. Photo: Wikipedia

The REF was founded in 2002 when the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Col. Bruce Jette was looking for a solution to prevent soldiers in Afghanistan from sustaining casualties from booby traps while searching and clearing caves. He asked the Army:

  • Can robots help Soldiers clear caves?
  • Can a robotic capability be deployed within 90-days?
  • Is there an existing Army unit that can accomplish the task?

Shortly after, Jette was authorized to form the Rapid Integration of Robot Systems (RIRS) to find a solution to his questions. In less than 30 days, they found the answer and deployed it to Afghanistan. Riding on the team's success, Jette recommended to the Army that the REF should be formed. For the past 12 years, the REF has continued to provide solutions for soldiers, and on January 30, 2014 the Army declared the REF an enduring capability according to the REF site.

The following video is an overview of the REF's capabilities:

USArmyREF, YouTube