The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) provides innovative solutions for the complexities of current and future operations in military environments. The command works closely with some United States partner nations to create, integrate, and deliver technology-enabled solutions to military personnel all over the world. U.S. Army Brigadier General Anthony Potts, RDECOM’s deputy commanding general, spoke to Diálogo during the opening ceremony of the institution’s new technology center in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on March 24th, right after he had visited Chile to see the projects in development between the Chilean and U.S. armies.
Diálogo: Why was Chile chosen to headquarter the main RDECOM office in South America?
Brigadier General Anthony Potts: That decision was made in the early 2000s. As a DCG [deputy commanding general], I should probably understand the analytical underpinnings of why that happened. But I think it was just a partnership with the Navy, which already existed in Santiago, Chile. As you know, when we stand up a new office, as the Department of Defense, the best way, or easiest entry point, is when one of our joint services is already there. So, we had a joint service that was already there; we partnered with them to help stand up that office, and they gave us a foothold in South America. Today was a great example of that with the opening of the International Technology Center here, in Brazil. I think it just gave us that opening we needed to get started in South America, and now allows us to branch out.
Diálogo: You have spent the last few days in Chile. What is your assessment of their military in terms of science, research, and development?
Brig. Gen. Potts: I am very impressed with the Chilean Army; they are a great partner and have great capacity. We are looking at some of the work they are planning and preparing to do in Africa, as well as looking at some of their science and technology. Specifically, we have a partnership with them involving sand intrusion from the deserts in the northern part of Chile with their tanks, so it is of great interest to us to partner in this endeavor because we have some of the same conditions with our armored vehicles. We just don’t have that same type of very fine powder, almost talcum powder like sand, with intrusion. I have been watching the Chilean Army as they work with us, as they work with their munitions, and now they are sending a person up to Detroit, Michigan, for the ESEP [Engineer and Scientist Exchange Program] to work with our TARDEC [Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center], and we are going to collectively figure out how to help our armored vehicle fleets in these types of conditions. It helps the Chilean Army immediately solve a problem. I said immediately, but really as we resolve these issues, and then of course as a partner nation, in the event that the U.S. has to operate in an environment similar to that, we will benefit from the technologies.
The other thing that is very impressive to me is the work they are doing at the Research and Controls Institute on munitions: the storage of munitions, how long we can store them, how to test those munitions, how to test the fuses, how to test the explosives to make sure they are safe, and to maintain their storage and extend that storage life so we can maximize the resources. Of course, as we support and learn from the research they are doing, the benefits also apply to our munitions storage facilities in the United States and around the world. I am very, very impressed with the Chilean Army and their use of science.
Diálogo: Signal processing for speech recognition is a project that both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy are working on together with Chilean universities. What is the relevance of this research?
Brig. Gen. Potts: Over time, capabilities with our scientists and engineers are growing by leaps and bounds. The challenge we are having is the complexity that comes with operating that capability. The best way we communicate is by talking to each other. It is best if we can recognize each other’s speech and language style. Then, we can teach a machine how to recognize our speech, so you can have a soldier talk to a machine, and that machine operates on his behalf, instead of using a lot of buttons, a lot of typing and a lot of joystick control. Just imagine if you could simply tell the machine what operation you want it to perform, and the machine can go and do that. This type of science and technology in this partnership is absolutely amazing because of where it will take us in the future.
Diálogo: Are there any other projects going on with other U.S. partner nations?
Brig. Gen. Potts: We are working on nanotechnology with one of the universities here in Brazil. The beauty of nanotechnology is both strength and weight reduction. For instance, our ballistic protections (bullet proof vest), which soldiers use all over the world, tend to be heavy because they are obviously intended to stop the impact of a bullet. So, with nanotechnology we figure out how to make it lighter and the material stronger. We can then do one of two things: either we can keep the same level of protection and drop the weight so that our soldiers are unburdened, or if we find there are adversaries out there that have found more lethal means to attack our troops, then we can keep the same weight in our vests, but add capability for it to be more protective. It is really about protecting our soldiers, while also unburdening them.
Diálogo: What is the relationship between RDECOM and U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM)?
Brig. Gen. Potts: Major General Wins is the commanding general of RDECOM. One of his focus areas is operationalizing RDECOM. And so, in other words, we don’t just do science and technology for science and technology’s sake. We do science and technology for a couple different reasons. One is because it helps lead to partnerships with other countries. We can partner, we can gain advantage, both them and us, from the technologies that we might not otherwise find or discover. Then the ideas will come out, and because we are a Department of Defense agency, we are looking for these breakthrough technologies that will foster leap-ahead capabilities that enable our soldiers, sailors, and airmen to fight our nation’s wars, if necessary.
That put us into a direct-line relationship with our COCOMs and, particularly in this case, with SOUTHCOM because we have to understand what their needs are from operational capabilities. Each of our regions has different and unique challenges, for example, RDECOM Americas, is obviously focused on the Americas, particularly South America, but we have some work in Canada. That allows us to find those unique environments. For instance, here we have the jungles of Brazil. It is an environment that we simply cannot replicate in the Unites States. We have some jungle terrain in Hawaii, but it is not the same triple canopy, which is very difficult terrain, and it leads us to experience unique challenges with communications. How do you see through it? How do you have sensors? They have some tremendous border challenges – just the sheer magnitude and length of the borders – and as a partnership, we can find technological solutions to potentially help with border security. How do we enhance our soldiers’ performance, both Brazilian and American, in a jungle environment? We can come down here and test things collectively and take that back to the United States to find ways to purify water. How do we do that? We can take advantage of the water resources that are out there without soldiers having to carry water with them for extended periods of time. That is a science and technology that we really want to go after, that we really want to understand. It can be as simple as the technology behind uniforms, how light-weight our uniforms are. Are they right for that type of extreme jungle environment? So, SOUTHCOM makes a perfect partner for us.
Diálogo: Do you have anything to add for our readers?
Brig. Gen. Potts: I have been here [South America] for just under one week, but I am absolutely amazed at the partnerships we have in Chile and Brazil. The excitement of the partnerships with our South American friends is something that South America should be proud of, and the Americans should be proud of. I am excited to see what we can accomplish as partner nations.