Engineering workshops now available in war zones.

Author:Jean, Grace V.

U.S. Special Operations

Command has come up with a workshop-in-a-box concept that turns engineers in war zones into real-world MacGyvers.

The so-called mobile technology complex comes in five different configurations inside a shipping container. The shops are filled with machine tools, computers and communications equipment. There also are other tools for bending, turning and molding wood, plastics and metals.

"This is a way to take engineering talent, innovative capability, creative juice and get it close to the operator," said William Shepherd, director of science and technology, during the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, in Tampa, Fla.

Eight of these mobile shops have been deployed to various locations in Afghanistan as part of an ongoing year-long experiment.

"This is the end pipe for us to push technology and capability forward," said Shepherd. It's a way for the command and engineers to understand what the operators are doing and a way for operators to work with the engineers in designing, innovating and creating solutions that are appropriate for them, he said.

The project is part of a $5 million SOCOM program that seeks to expedite technology to the field. It is expected to double next year to $10 million.

"It's pretty much for anything that bubbles up from the field," said Shepherd.

The science and technology directorate also oversees a more traditional program of applied research and advanced technology development. Funding for the program totaled $19.2 million this year. Next year the budget is expected to jump to $23 million.

Focus areas include persistent surveillance, thermal protection, visual...

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