WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — Many scientists and engineers go directly from school to laboratories and do not get the opportunity to work side by side with customers who use the products they create.
For a behavioral scientist in the 711th Human Performance Wing here, that’s not the case.
First Lt. Anthony Eastin, a member of the the Battlefield Air Targeting Man-Aided Knowledge (BATMAN) team in the Airman Systems Directorate, had an upcoming deployment and saw an opportunity to conduct field research downrange. He then shared what he discovered from his fellow deployed Airmen with his team at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
The mission of the Airman Systems Directorate, part of the 711th HPW and Air Force Research Laboratory, is to exploit biological and cognitive science and technology to optimize and protect the Airman's capability to fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace.
Some of that mission is tasked to the BATMAN team.
"Essentially, the BATMAN team is charged with finding out what the operators need and what is available out there to make them lighter, smarter and deadlier," Eastin said. "Our goal is to find commercial off-the-shelf technologies, test them, give it to the operators and find out if that's good enough, or we create new technologies that haven't been developed yet."
Eastin explained that in the past, operators out in the field were left to their own devices to create and rig various technologies.
"The operators don't have a lot of experience in creating software materials or brand new technologies — they would literally just go to Best Buy or Radio Shack," he said.
But since 2005, the experts in the 711th HPW have worked in-house and with industry partners to create gear and technologies to best assist Airmen.
"This wing is all about collaboration," said Dr. Rajesh Naik, the wing’s chief scientist. "Whether it’s collaboration between the wing and our industry partners, or between the various experts within the wing, our goal is to work together to advance human performance for our Airmen."
The wing employs teams of experts in fields such as mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, software engineering, psychology and human factors, among others.
"There's a vast expertise across the table," Eastin explained. "When we are presented with a problem, we all can come together and use our individual insights toward a solution, which will be largely beneficial for the operators."
The directorate stresses the three I’s — interaction, innovation and integration.
"The Bat Rack, for example — one of our operators came to us and explained that they had just received tablets (tuff pads) and that they loved them. They told us that this is next generation material and this is what they want to use," Eastin said. "But the problem was that they needed the tablets to be mounted on them.
"They said, 'And, oh, by the way, we are deploying in three weeks.’"
The tablets enable combat controllers and other operators to use android mapping applications (or apps) that allow them to conduct close air support, best place to land an aircraft, etc., he said.
This type of mounting device hadn't been developed yet, so the BATMAN team had to create a completely new product.
"So we sat down and created solutions for this. Human factors expert Capt. Caroline Kurtz designed the mounting system that puts the tablet on the operator's chest and makes it easily accessible," Eastin said. "Within two to three weeks, we had it mass produced and given to the operators for their deployment.”
Four months later, Eastin then deployed.
Eastin was the executive officer to the commander of Joint Special Operations Air Component-Central, a unit that had air combat controllers, pararescuemen and many other special operators. These operators could be charged missions such as infiltration, extraction, targeting enemies, and close air support. The very tech that his BATMAN team had designed and produced at Wright-Patterson AFB was on the chests of these special operators in Qatar.
"I noticed many were wearing a Bat Rack for their tablets,” he said. “I asked them, 'Do you know what this is?' and they said, 'No, we just got them out in the field and we've been using them.’”
After Eastin explained his team had created the Bat Rack, one of the operators took him into a room stacked with them.
"So, the team here provided a solution for the operators who needed to be able to wear their tablets on their gear, and I got to see firsthand all the operators using it downrange,” he said.
Eastin wasn't just an observer; he saw the opportunity to interact with Airmen in the field as a way to obtain even more feedback.
"When I was out there, I was able to interact and talk with (the operators) to see what they needed. Then I was able to link up the 720th Expeditionary Special Tactics Group commander with Dr. Gregory Burnett and the BATMAN team here," Eastin said. "This enabled us to have conversations with the people who are actually deployed and not just when they are in training.
"It was extremely beneficial to have one of us on the BATMAN team deployed with the special operations group,” he added, “because if they had any issues with tools or tech for their missions, I could link them directly with the 711th (HPW)."