Big Payoff for New Scale

A new scale being tested by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) could end up giving units a little extra time to train just before rapid deployments in addition to being a big safety boost.M1070 HET2.jpgEnough new systems and technologies with battlefield applications are being developed that its pretty easy to dismiss a new way to weigh vehicles as a relatively low priority development (and not all too sexy). But it can matter more than you think.The latest Weigh-in-Motion scale is meant to improve the process for preparing vehicles for airload, as it automatically identifies the equipment, determines the individual axle weights, distance between axles, total vehicle weight, profile and center of balance. It sounds boring, but this is the crucial data that has to be identified to safely load vehicles on cargo planes for transport, and any slight change in the way equipment is loaded on a vehicle means recalculating everything. Since the information is currently calculated in a very low-tech manner by NCOs and officers with minimal training in how to do so (I used to be one), this step in deployment-prep is often done well in advance and the prepared vehicles (and materiel on them) are then quarantined.Vehicle quarantines aren't a big deal for regularly-scheduled deployments. But if youve just been given the warning order for a contingency deployment -- at a time when you would otherwise be training -- you want to spend as much time practicing with your gear as possible before you go. That's not possible with quarantined trucks. Instead, you have to spend months trying to beg, borrow and steal vehicles and equipment to train with, since your stuff is locked up on the flightline. (A situation my battalion found itself in for a few months in the winter of 2002-2003.) A reliable, simplified means of preparing vehicles for airload could someday insert a little more flexibility into that timeline and give units a few extra weeks of quality training.This training is, of course, a possible extra benefit of the new system. The direct and bankable benefit is equipment that is prepared more accurately. Airload planning requires a lot of precision to be done safely, and every extra degree of accuracy makes the trip that much safer for the airmen and soldiers sharing the plane with the equipment. (Possibly avoiding, for example, the June 2002 C-130 crash in Afghanistan that was blamed on a load that wasnt properly prepared.) ORNL estimates that current means of computing the data can often be off by 14% or more. The new system consistently performs without any measurable errors at all.Theres room for skepticism, since Oak Ridge has been talking about this for more than 6 years. But its now moved from the lab to testing at the Transportation Center at Fort Eustis and rapid deployment posts like Fort Bragg and Fort Drum, so well get to see how it does in action.-- Matthew Tompkins

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