Logistics: Rapid Fielding Initiative Does a Million


September 27, 2007: This month, the U.S. Army issued its millionth RFI (Rapid Fielding Initiative) kit. This is a collection of the latest clothing and equipment that is issued to every soldier headed for a combat zone. RFI kits were first issued five years ago. Some of the RFI Kit gear is stuff that was developed by the army procurement bureaucracy. But many of the RFI items were obtained with the help of troops suggestions and initiative, bypassing the procurement bureaucracy.

The original RFI program allows commanders to go out and buy equipment, and even weapons, immediately, without going through the usual lengthily acquisition process. The army began doing this in the 1990s, based on decades of success by Special Forces with a similar approach. So far, this has put over 300 new technologies into Iraq and Afghanistan, and more to come. The primary problem with RFI is getting repairs and spare parts for the new gear. When the army officially accepts equipment into service, it makes spare parts available through the army supply system, and trains soldiers to do the maintenance. With RFI gear, the users have to go direct to the manufacturer for spares and repairs. Sometimes, civilian technicians will be flown to the combat zone. But more often, army technicians will get in touch with the manufacturer and get advice on how to make the repairs themselves. If possible, broken equipment will be sent back to the factory. The army does this itself, sending all sorts of gear back to army maintenance depots. These are usually run and staffed by civilians. While it's more work to maintain the RFI gear, this helps by making it easier to drop RFI items that don't perform up to expectations. The RFI gear really has to deliver the goods if the troops are going to put up with the additional maintenance burdens.

The first RFI kit had fifteen items, the current one has 58. Items include improved cold weather clothing (it gets below freezing in the Iraqi desert during Winter), a strap cutter (to get out of a damaged vehicle when the safety belt is stuck), new ear plugs to lessen the damage to hearing from loud combat noises, and so on. As these items make their way into the official army supply system, they are removed from the RFI kit. But RFI, and the RFI kit, make sure the troops get the latest gear when they need it most, without having to wait for years, as is normal for the army procurement bureaucracy.


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