Just more than a year since its dedication ceremony in December 2021, Fort Campbell’s EagleWerx Applied Tactical Innovation Center has established the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) as a pillar of creative solutions for improving warfighter technology.
EagleWerx has provided resources for more than a dozen Soldier-driven projects that could eventually be fielded across the Army, leveraging bottom-up innovation to increase mission readiness.
“The 101st Airborne Division is one of the Army’s largest tactical units, and what we want to do is innovate so we can improve our ability to fight tonight,” said Capt. Tyler Meredith, deputy innovation officer, 101st Abn. Div. “What the Army struggles with sometimes is that we’ll identify a problem and send it to researchers and contractors, who will work on it and give us a piece of equipment five years from now. But we’re deploying today, we’re deploying tomorrow and we’re deploying within this quarter, so we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to best prepare our units.”
The facility is open to Soldiers, regardless of rank or military occupational specialty, or MOS, who have an idea to create or improve a system or piece of equipment.
Soldiers have been working throughout the year to develop solutions using 3D printing, coding and more. Meredith said the facility’s main goal in 2023 is to formalize its procedure for sourcing projects to the Army, since several of them are nearing completion.
“The Makerspace is the big thing that we have here, and it’s really like a garage or a tinkerer’s shop,” he said. “We’ve got textile capabilities, industrial sewing machines, laser engravers, CNC routing machines and different pieces of heavy equipment. There are also about seven or eight 3D printers, which is what a lot of Soldiers have gravitated toward, but we’re also wanting to go more into areas like electrical engineering and design.”
If a Soldier’s vision can’t be realized through the Makerspace alone, EagleWerx enables them to connect with community partners in academia or industry through their relationship with the Civil Military Innovation Institute. One of the facility’s most successful projects saw researchers from Vanderbilt University work with the division to develop and test a lightweight exosuit that can be integrated into Soldiers’ uniforms.
“That exoskeleton is primarily designed for field artillery Soldiers to better move rounds,” Meredith said. “[Vanderbilt] will come through every two months, they’ve continued to refine that project and they’re looking at going into production in the near future [through HeroWear]. They’ve got one that goes over the uniform, one that’s embedded inside for sustainment Soldiers and they’ve started prototyping male and female versions to account for different body types.”
EagleWerx also allows Soldiers like Staff Sgt. Richard Machowski, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Abn. Div., to pitch their own projects and generate ideas.
Machowski first visited the facility in April 2022 and proposed developing a dummy thermite round to mark targets for the FGM-148 Javelin, a portable anti-tank missile system. He said the idea was inspired by observing footage of tank attacks during of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The Javelin uses thermal imaging – which our enemies know - and goes off heat signatures to hit its target ... thermite burns hotter than anything minus the sun and lightning,” he said. “There’s no way to spoof or fake it, so it makes for almost foolproof mark ammunition.”
Machowski said the concept for his round has been sent forward to Army partners capable of working on munitions, and could potentially be developed within a year. He has also contributed to a variety of in-house projects aimed at using EagleWerx’s 3D printing capabilities to improve weapon systems, some of which Meredith said are nearly 100% complete.
“We’ve got a 60mm mortar clamp that’s very low cost, $2 piece of plastic,” Meredith said. “It’s designed to go on the lip of a 60mm mortar so that when you use that weapon system in direct fire mode you can aim it more accurately. We’ve done prototyping for the last two months or so, and we actually just did our first live fire with it.”
While the plastic was used as a cost-effective material for the project’s design and feedback stages, the team is currently working on a metal solution to source to the Army as well as a 60mm mortar dummy round for pre-marksmanship instruction.
“We’ve also got a mechanical iris,” Meredith said. “The PVS-30 is the optic that goes on our units’ sniper rifle throughout all the sniper sections, and we have developed a lens cap with improved capabilities. What we’ve developed is a 3D-printed filament that sits on the end of the optic that lets you control the amount of light that goes inside, and that’s valuable because it’s a $13,000 optic and if you let too much light into it you can fry the components.”
As EagleWerx strengthens its partnerships with local universities there are many projects expected to be completed in 2023, Meridith said.
“We’ve got some things coming up that we’re calling design sprints,” he said. “The first one’s going to be Jan. 24-26 with Kevin Galloway from Vanderbilt, he’s a mechanical engineer and professor there. We’re going to be focusing on engineer tasks like lane breaches and markings, trying to find ways to more effectively accomplish those tasks and prototype solutions.”
Future design sprints will bring together Soldiers and researchers to discuss camouflage, sustainment, among other innovations. Meredith said the workshops will begin on a monthly schedule through March, giving Soldiers another way to apply their skillsets to developing projects.
“All they need to do is show up,” he said. “There’s no rank requirement, no MOS requirement and no problems too big or small; we’re here to help facilitate innovation at any level. All it takes is a Soldier with a problem and an idea, and we help them run with it.”
EagleWerx, 89 Screaming Eagle Blvd, is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays.