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Tech for Troops By: Frank J. Gaffney Jr.
The Washington Times | Wednesday, March 05, 2008

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 getting hurt.

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.

What 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 to help.

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 steroids."

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.

The 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 deterring attacks.

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 positions.

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.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is the founder, president, and CEO of The Center for Security Policy. During the Reagan administration, Gaffney was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Forces and Arms Control Policy, and a Professional Staff Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Senator John Tower (R-Texas). He is a columnist for The Washington Times, Jewish World Review, and Townhall.com and has also contributed to The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New Republic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Los Angeles Times, and Newsday.

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