ABERDEEN, MD – The commander of the U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center has officially notified the Pentagon of further delays to an experimental program to deploy robotic First Sergeants to remote outposts in Afghanistan.
Colonel Gordon Graham, who only assumed command of Aberdeen in mid-August, announced on Monday that the Portable Rocker-Chevron Eight, or PRC-E8 program, is still at least six months away from a workable prototype and $20 million over budget.
"At the rate we're going, I think we're going to have trouble just getting the PRC-E8 into service before the planned end of combat operations in 2014," Colonel Graham wrote in an e-mail to Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno.
The PRC-E program is part of an Army initiative to both increase its expeditionary readiness and reduce its deployment footprint. Because a human First Sergeant consumes valuable chow, water, and bandwidth, the Army has been toying with the idea of creating a solar-powered automated staff non-commissioned officer ever since 2001.
The first models, the PRC-E5 and PRC-E6, were extremely primitive, consisting of an automated loudspeaker that just repeated the phrases 'Shut up!' and 'Hurry up!' every five minutes.
The first real breakthrough for the program was the PRC-E7, developed in Iraq aboard Camp Victory in 2008. That particular model was advanced enough to detect enemy incoming mortars in time to immediately call troops into an outdoor formation to chew them out for walking around their outpost in flip-flops.
According to Colonel Graham, the PRC-E8 was designed to address the flaws in the PRC-E7 program. The original model was a Jetsons-style robot equipped with a mechanical chest-poker, but was scrapped after several malfunctions resulted in the poker shattering soldiers' sternums or puncturing lungs.
The current design is a loud klaxon that goes off periodically, with no one sure why it goes off or how to turn it off. It contains no interface or controls, aside from a sign that opening it and tampering with it is a court-martial offense.
An earlier and more primitive model dubbed the "Sarge-a-Phone"
The PRC-E program traces its roots back to World War II, when staff non-commissioned officers used to record hours of verbal abuse on 78 rpm records and ship them to far-flung U.S. military units around the globe.
The program was briefly resurrected in 1965 by the American Forces Vietnam Network for its popular radio program, "Get Your Fucking Hands Out of Your Fucking Pockets, Vietnam".
Because of pending budget cuts, the Army is attempting to make the PRC-E8 a Joint Services project. However, this has exponentially increased costs and led to further delays, as the Air Force PRC E-8 is unable to operate outside of a climate-controlled facility and the Navy PRC E-8 keeps ordering Army platoons to swab sand dunes.
The Marine Corps has refused to join the program, arguing that it would be more cost effective just to pay local nationals to scream random undecipherable words at Marines standing post.
Colonel Graham also announced the widely-anticipated cancellation of the PRC-E9: a planned $100 million airship that would be able to simultaenously monitor hundreds of outposts, scan 3,000 computers for inappropriate browsing and observe countless patrols for the unauthorized removal of personal protective equipment.
The PRC-E9 had come in for heavy criticism, with some questioning its value in a combat zone and observing that it could only be deployed on the largest Forward Operating Bases.
Until the PRC-E8 becomes operational, commanders in the field have been issued GBOSS and Aerostat surveillance systems as a temporary stopgap measure to help monitor remote outposts and report disciplinary infractions.
Investigative reporter Dark Laughter also contributed to this report.