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Army trying to catch up with demand for gear.

The U.S. Army has budgeted at least $3 billion for the next five years to equip soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan with new combat gear, ranging from helmets, gloves and boots to satellite receivers, radios and advanced rifle sights.

Under a program called "rapid fielding initiative," each soldier receives a set of standard equipment that started out with 15 items and has grown to 49. The items were selected based on soldier feedback from across the Army. It will cost about $10 million to equip each brigade.

In recent months, RFI program officials have been scrambling for funds to keep the supply lines moving and to make up for lost time, given that thousands of soldiers now on the battlefield have not yet received any new gear. The RFI program needs about $511 million every six months to fill the projected needs, said David M. Cowan, director of" operations for the RFI. "Starting out, we did not have enough equipment for every soldier and we've been playing catchup," he told an industry conference.

Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, Army chief of staff, directed the RFI office to equip at least 120,000 deployed soldiers by the end of this year. As of late April, about 40,000 had received the new gear.

For fiscal year 2005, the goal is to equip 225,000 soldiers, Cowan said. Beginning in October 2004, the Army intends to provide gear for 20,000 soldiers per month. The chief of staff said he wants to equip the entire operational force by the end of fiscal year 2007, including the active, reserve forces and the National Guard.

It will be tough to meet this goal, however, because suppliers cannot keep up with the demand. "Industry is responding well, but the volume of soldiers deploying in the second quarter of fiscal year 2004 exceeds industry's ability to ramp up production," said Cowan. Also complicating the RFI deliveries is the availability of transportation. "We don't have enough strategic airlift to ship the equipment, so we contract commercial services," said Cowan. Moving the equipment for one brigade alone takes up 70 pallets--the equivalent of 14 C-130 or four C-17 cargo aircraft loads.

Soldier Equipment Designated for the Rapid Fielding Initiative Program

* Modular integrated communications helmet

* Repair parts kit

* Knee and elbow pads

* Grapping hook

* Door ram

* Battle axe

* Fiber optic viewer

* Quickie saw and replacement blades

* Modular entry tools

* Halogan tool

* Double key--cuff

* Assault ladder

* Advanced combat helmet and accessories

* Modular lightweight load carrying equipment accessories

* Individual combat shelter

* Multipurpose tool

* Black fleece bibs

* Silk weight underwear

* Hydration system

* Goggles

* Gloves

* Cold weather cap

* Infantry combat boot (desert)

* Off-the-shelf socks

* Moisture wicking T-Shirts

* Combat belt

* Weapon light

* M249 forward rail system

* M122/A1 tripods

* M24 small binoculars

* Viper/Vector 21/Mark

* VII laser rangefinders

* XM26 lightweight shotgun

* PRC-148 multi-bad radio

* M249 soft ammo pack

* Lightweight GPS rceiver (not an individual issue item)

* M4/M16 magazines

* TA31F-4X advanced combat optical gun sight

* M145 machine gun optic

* M68 close combat optic

(Not every item is intended for each individuals soldier)
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Title Annotation:Up Front
Author:Erwin, Sandra I.
Publication:National Defense
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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