The Rapid Equipping Force Customer Focused Innovation in the U.S. Army

By Hayagreeva Rao, Robert Sutton, David Hoyt
2013 | Case No. L20 | Length 31 pgs.
The Rapid Equipping Force (REF) was a center of innovation within the U.S. Army. Its origins traced back to 2002, and by 2013 it had developed solutions to thousands of problems faced by soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. It addressed problems as varied as finding Taliban munitions hidden in caves and wells, identifying potential improvised explosive devices (IEDs), reducing the demand for fuel to run electrical generators at remote outposts, providing airborne surveillance, and preventing vehicles from being disabled by flat tires. The REF had always worked closely with troops in the field, but under the directorship of Col. Peter Newell, beginning in July 2010, it had actively collaborated with academia, industry, and other organizations within the military. Newell’s directorship ended in May 2013, at a time when the war in Iraq had ended, and the war in Afghanistan was winding down. Wartime funding, the source of most of REF’s budget, would soon be ending; and overall military budgets were facing significant cuts. Looking into the future, how could the army best utilize the capabilities the REF had developed, and the lessons it had learned? Could the REF’s culture of innovation be scaled in a peacetime army? Could its unique attributes be preserved in a way that could be scaled the next time the army was called upon to go to war? Could it focus its efforts on supporting Special Operations in Africa and other regions of tension?

Learning Objective

This case can be used to address several learning objectives. Leadership can be explored by examining steps Newell took as its director. Scaling change can be addressed by examining the REF’s role in the army, inhibitors of its efforts, ways of overcoming those inhibitors, and ways that the innovative approaches taken by the REF could be propagated throughout the army.
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