This may not be what the Army would considers "leap ahead," but it is pretty cool. Last year, we wrote a story about the Rapid Equipping Force deploying its new Expeditionary Lab, or Ex Lab, to forward areas in Afghanistan so scientists could produce quick fixes to real soldier problems.
REF officials -- working out of these high-tech, shipping-container encased labs -- can take an idea from a soldier and make fixes such as a small aluminum part for the M249 squad automatic weapon's bipod that lets gunners swivel left and right to shoot targets instead of having to reposition the squad's most casualty-producing weapon.
KitUp! got the chance to check out a few of these battlefield innovations Wednesday during a tour of one of these highly-mobile Ex Labs at Fort Belvoir, Va. A scientist working out of the lab last year modeled the M249 bipod part on special software, made a plastic part using the lab's 3D printer and then custom milled the part out of aluminum.
The Ex Lab only had to churn out a handful of these bipod fixes to fulfil the request, but the concept has been submitted to Program Executive Office Soldier for evaluation, said Master Sgt. William Pascual, operations NCO at the REF.
Part of the problem, he said, is it's hard to get the word out about these fixes.
"Nobody else knew about it," Pascual said. "I briefed the REF to a bunch of sergeants major here, and they were just like 'Woah. How come we didn't know about this?'"
Below is a video with more details of the new bipod fix. It starts out a little slow with introductions, but stay with it. It's pretty interesting.