Ever wish, on hearing yet another of our soldiers or Marines has
been killed or wounded while operating in dangerous areas of Iraq or
Afghanistan, that you could do something — anything — to reduce the
chances it will happen again?
Such a powerful and
understandable sentiment seems to be operating in the minds of millions
of Americans backing Democratic presidential candidates who promise, if
elected, to begin immediately withdrawing our forces from harm's way
(at least the Iraqi part). Unfortunately, this approach is unlikely to
prevent more American forces, or for that matter civilians, from
To the contrary, our defeat and retreat under
fire from one or both of these fronts in this global War for the Free
World will set the stage for vastly worse carnage, certainly abroad and
probably at home.
Those who subscribe to that assessment —
and even many who do not — hope that, by supporting large and growing
defense budgets, the troops will get what they need in the way of
equipment to do their missions and receive the protection required to
do so safely. To a very considerable degree, that is the case.
if there were something more we could do, something that might make a
real difference — both to the safety of our guys on the ground and to
their success? My guess is that millions of Americans would be willing
It turns out that there is something else we
as civilians might be able to do to transform the effectiveness and
survivability of infantry soldiers and Marine "ground-pounders," troops
who are obliged to perform today's tough jobs in urban settings and
elsewhere pretty much the same way their grandfathers did in World War
II. It involves a device known as a "Jake" — an infantryman's personal
mobility, sensor and weapons platform best described as a "Segway on
The invention of the Jake is a classic American
story. It is the brainchild of Russell Strong, a brilliant engineer and
innovator known in his industry as "Mr. Tractor" for his revolutionary
designs in the agricultural and heavy equipment industries. He started
out in 1999 trying to perfect a means of providing revolutionary
mobility to wheelchair-bound individuals. When he presented his concept
to veterans wounded in Vietnam and Somalia, they urged him to adapt it
for their comrades fighting today's wars — and tomorrow's.
result is a compact unit with two Humvee-size wheels in back and two
smaller wheels in front, the capacity to carry either two soldiers
(and, where needed, a few more hitching rides on running boards), one
soldier and up to a 2,000-pound pallet of gear, or no soldiers at all,
thanks to the Jake's ability to be operated by remote control. This
platform relies on its agility, speed and ability to operate in a
"swarm" to give unprecedented options to troops fighting in alleys and
other areas or working to interact constructively with civilians, while
Powered by a hybrid electric engine, Jake can move stealthily in
combat and with minimal disruption in crowded marketplaces. Each
platform can also serve as a source of electrical power for the
military, something always in short supply in forward operating
Visionary military leaders like the Army's
retiring vice chief of staff Gen. Richard Cody have called the Jake
"the warrior transformer." Interestingly, the more junior the
personnel, the greater the appreciation for the contribution such
devices might make, now and in the future. Some preparing to deploy to
Iraq have, when shown an early Jake prototype, pleaded with Mr. Strong
to let them take it along.
So, what's the problem? The very
qualities that make the Jake such a potentially transformative asset
cause many in the institutional military to recoil from its early
adoption. Like IBM, which once famously failed to appreciate that the
day of the large, immensely expensive mainframe computer was giving way
to the era of PCs and proliferating software, the Armed Forces need to
appreciate that Jake represents the advent of an era when "networked"
or "distributed" warfare is the norm — not something to which
lip-service is paid.
For their part, many defense contractors
recognize Jake could enable them finally to overcome the weight-barrier
to equipping foot soldiers with more firepower, technologies designed
to counter roadside bombs and snipers and the integrated support of
unmanned aerial vehicles.
In the absence of a stated military
requirement for Jake, however, few are willing to provide the $10
million to develop and equip the first dozen prototypes needed to
evaluate this platform and begin evolving concepts for its utilization.
As things stand now, without a change of heart in the Pentagon or
intervention from Capitol Hill, the whole effort to realize the Jake's
promise could come to naught.
There is, as a result, an
opportunity for the American people to help. Find out more about the
Jake at www.AmericanAgility.com. If you like what you see there, make a
contribution to allow Russ Strong and his team to overcome the inertia
that has for too long kept these assets from saving the lives, and
contributing to the success, of our brave troops in harm's way.