Southern Indiana firms eye major defense contract for trailers

Date: Friday, July 1, 2011, 6:00am EDT

Two Southern Indiana companies have worked together to produce a new communications trailer intended for use by the U.S. military.
Joel Embry, owner of product development firm JT Embry & Associates LLC in New Albany, designed the trailer, which is set up with technology to send real-time information to soldiers.
The U.S. Department of Defense has ordered three trailers to perform field tests, Embry said, but he expects a much larger order later this year.
“I think most battalions in the Army will have these things,” Embry said.
He declined to disclose the amount of the contract, and information from Defense Department officials was not immediately available.

Intelligence contacts led to meeting
Embry previously owned Television Systems Inc., which sold broadcasting and editing equipment and eventually caught the attention of federal defense and security officials.
When he sold his company to Decisive Analytics Corp. in 2005, Embry continued to work for DAC, handling the work for government intelligence agencies.
He left DAC and founded his own product design firm in 2009 at the Purdue Technology Center in New Albany, maintaining his contacts in the federal government.
Last year, he attended a meeting in Washington, D.C., and learned about a Defense Department initiative to transmit intelligence collected from various sources out to soldiers on the front lines who need to act on it.
“Some of the designs for trailers (to transport communications equipment) looked like something from World War II,” Embry explained. “I thought, ‘There’s a better way to do this.’ ”

Trailers can fit into military aircraft for quick deployment
Embry noticed some needed changes from the previous military trailers immediately.
For instance, he said he knew from his broadcast experience that putting fragile communications equipment on top of a trailer’s axle, where it would be routinely jostled, was not a good idea.
So, in Embry’s plan, he moved the axle back.
Other features of his trailer that differ from the existing units include a 40-foot mast for an antenna that can collapse and an air conditioning unit.
Embry also chose aluminum for the trailer’s exterior, making it durable, but lighter and more fuel efficient than the steel used in existing units.
“We can put three on a C-130 (military aircraft),” Embry said. “Basically, one man can deploy this thing and have it up and running within 10 minutes.”

Firm had to build prototypes in four weeks
Embry formed a separate entity, Operational Technology Group LLC, to contract with Century Industries to build the trailers.
John Uhl, vice president of Century Industries, said his manufacturing firm typically prefers to take several months to prepare for a custom order.
But Embry said he needed three trailers built in four weeks.
“It might look like a simple project, but we were starting from zero,” Uhl said. “Nobody has done this before.”
Century’s staff made three-dimensional computer models and then used computerized cutters to build the trailers.
Staff members worked overtime and on weekends to get the job completed by the deadline, Uhl said.
Elements of the project did mirror the company’s other typical work, he noted, such as mobile stages, collapsible marketing trailers and concession trailers used at fairs and festivals.
“The common theme is that we start with something that has to be compact to travel and then expand to something considerably larger,” Uhl said. “Along those lines, we have been doing that for decades.”

Trailers must pass military specifications
Embry declined to disclose his research and manufacturing costs as well as what he is charging the military for the units.
But he said the three trailers were expected to ship this week to military bases for field tests.
If the tests are successful, more will be ordered for soldiers to train on before trailers are shipped to war zones.
Embry said that if all goes as planned, the government could order as many as 100 trailers within the first year.
“The military has sort of jimmied things together in the past, and this is the first purpose-built trailer they have had,” he said. “If it’s the trailer of choice, as it seems like it will be, there will be a lot of them out there.”

Getting it ‘rite’
The Department of Defense recently launched an initiative known as RITE, or Relevant Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance to the Edge.
It involves providing real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to war fighters on the front lines.
According to a U.S. Joint Forces Command news release, a recent demonstration tested systems that submit intelligence information to soldiers using mobile applications on handheld devices, including smartphones.
That data would be transmitted by soldiers manning a trailer designed by New Albany, Ind., entrepreneur Joel Embry and built by Century Industries Inc.   in Sellersburg, Ind.
The Joint Forces Command recently held its Empire Challenge 11 at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., where it tested such mobile communications.
“That’s what this program is really trying to get at — getting tactically relevant information to a soldier at the leading edge in a handheld device, taking advantage of great commercial technology and adapting it to our use,” said John Kittle, the Empire Challenge11 program manager, according to industry publication Defense Systems.