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June 2003, Horizons Magazine

Article: KeCo Switch
SK Mold & Tool provides war winning technologies.

AFRL official met with the Secretary of the Air Force, Dr. James G. Roche, to report achievement of a short suspense to increase the efficiency of one of the warfighter's tools. Lieutenant Colonel Donald Kessler and Master Sergeant David Coates of the Sensors Directorate, working with SK Mold & Tool of Tipp City, Ohio, delivered approximately 100 field prototypes of the life-saving Kessler-Coates (KeCo) switch to Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) in response to Dr. Roche's direction. "The first units were rushed to special operations units in Afghanistan and Iraq," MSgt Coates said. "SK Mold & Tool, along with Defense Research Associates of Dayton, Ohio, are now under contract for another 1,300."

The 720th Special Tactics Group (STG) at Hurlburt Field, Florida required a lightweight, durable switch enabling ground-to-ground, as well as ground-to-satellite, communications with existing radio equipment. Within 1 month, they produced two field-ready prototypes. Within 3 months, they produced 100 switches and delivered them to the field.

"My background with Security Forces gave me insight into combat operations," MSgt Coates said. "We needed a user-friendly switch that an operation could easily use with gloves or in the dark. When radios are made for special operations, they must be lightweight and use as little power as possible. We designed our switch to be perfectly tuned and, in doing so, we achieved amazing efficiency."

The special operations personnel are extremely pleased with the outcome. "This was an ingenious and intuitive solution to a potentially dangerous problem," said an Air Force combat controller assigned to the 720th STG. "I can carry in excess of 100 lbs of equipment when dropped into a forward-deployed location; that doesn't include food or water.

Recent upgrades to these radios opted to reduce overall weight by using a single antenna port for both ground-to-ground and ground-to-satellite communications. However, this necessitated manual switching of cables, which in live-fire situations could put the troops at extreme risk. The KeCo switch allows the operator to toggle more rapidly between the two functions by simply throwing a switch. Now, forward-deployed troops have one less task to do, thank to Lt Col Kessler and MSgt Coates. "The application of this technology may be quite broad. Many Special Forces use this same communications equipment. It is not unreasonable to think that within a few years, there could be thousands of these switches in use," Lt Col Kessler said. "I've been a ham radio operator for years so, in looking at the problem, the answer nearly jumped out at me. This was not rocket science."

Lt Col Kessler was fortunate to find a partner with MSgt Coates' vast experience. "I knew in our first conversation that this guy had the ability to deliver. He was named project manager immediately," Lt Col Kessler said. MSgt Coats also impressed the AFSOC leadership. To date, AFSOC has tasked MSgt Coates to resolve for other low-level needs. "I guess you could say that he is AFRL's special operations go-to guy," joked Lt Col Kessler.

"We set out to change the way AFRL does business and literally presented a solution to a dangerous problem, and we did it in 3 months. I usually see the beeps and squeaks of technology that won't be in weapons systems for years. This was a great collaborative effort creating safer equipment for the warfighter in weeks rather than years," Lt Col Kessler said.

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