Procurement: January 30, 2004

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One of the little noticed after-effects of the Afghanistan campaign was the establishment, in early 2002, of the Rapid Fielding Initiative (RFI). This was an army program that recognized that American army troops did not always have the best weapons and equipment. RFI was intended to do something about that, and do it quickly. 

You could see RFI coming. There were three existing trends pushing it. First, there was a lot more new technology coming on the market that troops could use. Some of it came from the companies that created equipment for the hiking and camping market (boots, rucksacks, all manner of outdoor clothing). Other stuff came from hunting suppliers (new gun sights). There was a flood of new electronic gear, like lighter and more reliable GPS receivers and computer gear. The second trend was that the troops were all on the Internet, and like never before, were in touch with each other via military related BBSs, listservs and chat rooms. Troops have always been coming up with new ideas about how to use civilian gear for military purposes. But before the Internet came along, each soldiers discovery spread slowly. Now, information about new discoveries gets spread army wide within hours. Finally, there was SOCOM (Special Operations Command), which had long possessed it's own RFI powers, and budget to go with it. SOCOM could buy neat new weapons, as well as equipment. SOCOM could also afford to buy expensive stuff (night vision gear and satellite phones). SOCOM personnel were on the Internet as well. By 2001, thousands of soldiers were speculating on the Internet how much more effective they could be if they had SOCOMs freedom to quickly get new stuff that allowed them to do their job better. 

When American troops went into Afghanistan in early October, 2001, it was several hundred SOCOM Special Forces that did most of the work. Once the media got to the Special Forces guys, stories started coming out about the non-standard gear they were using. American infantrymen being sent to Afghanistan saw those stories, as did people in the Pentagon. Connections started to get made. Among other things, someone in the Pentagon realized that the army would not look too good if too many journalists interviewed too many troops who had bought civilian equipment with their own money. Especially if the new equipment, from a civilian supplier, was obviously superior to the stuff the government was giving the troops. With this kind of incentive, the Rapid Fielding Initiative was quickly set up and became a big success. 

The Iraq campaign gave the RFI another workout. A typical incident involved all the raids troops had to make and the problems with getting through sturdy locked doors. Some troops knew of special equipment police departments used, others knew of special equipment fire fighters used to break into burning buildings. The proper equipment was soon in the troops hands, and many lives, both American and Iraqi, were saved. Stories came back from Afghanistan and Iraq about how great the RFI gear was and all was well with the troops and the brass in the Pentagon.

 


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