BATMAN labs makes gear that helps warfighters

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s “BATMAN lab” has an expanded mission to make the job of Air Force rescuers easier on the ground.

The high-tech Wright-Patterson laboratory – short for Battlefield Air Targeting Man-Aided kNowledge — was given the go-ahead this month for four more years to create new technologies for combat forward air controllers and pararescuemen. Forward air controllers aid aircraft in targeting locations, and pararescue crews find and recover downed airmen.

The lab has outfitted literally outfitted the “warfighter” from head to toe, with a helmet-mounted Heads-Up Display to heated boot insoles.

“Ounces are pounds to our operators, so anything we shed off (can) make them more effective in the field,” said Gregory Burnett, BATMAN chief engineer.

Among other innovations, the lab has worked with high-tech companies to develop a small, chest-mounted laptop computer and a device known as the “bat hook” that clips onto a power line to let special operators recharge batteries, Burnett said.

The goal of smaller, lighter and portable gives troops the flexibility to carry other things, he said.

“We’re adding all these advanced portable technologies to increase survivability and lethality,” he said.

Jill Ritter, BATMAN program manager, declined to disclose the program’s budget.

Some of the high-tech products have made it onto commercial store shelves.

The General Dynamics ltronix laptops, which produces the military’s wearable computers, have been used by civilian police forces and utility maintenance crews, and Gerbing’s heated insoles are available commercially, according to the Air Force.

Defense Research Associates of Beavercreek has worked with the BATMAN lab on several projects, such as the bat hook. The laboratory has not only solved problems for the Air Force but brought needed skills to the region, said David McDaniel, the company’s electrical group manager.

“Our skill sets have been improved significantly based on tackling these type of developments for AFRL,” McDaniel said.

The warfighter helps test and evaluate performance before the final product gets produced, Burnett said.

With the added, the lab has started work on medical-related issues such as finding ways a pararescueman, or PJ, can use small, mobile physiological devices to monitor several patients simultaneously, Burnett said.

Research may take three months to two years on an emerging technology or device, he said.

The lab has developed a tactical vest to ease weight distribution, wrist mounts with microcomputers and displays, and a wireless data/audio link to reduce the number of cables or “snakes” on a uniform.

Other advances have improved audio files to record voice notes and so-called 3-D audio to improve soldiers situational awareness in the field, according to the Air Force.

‘We’re researching the whole spectrum,” Burnett said. “What ultimately gets produced, time will tell.”

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