November 29, 2007:
The German army recently
developed a set of high-tech gear for its infantry. When the troops finally got
a chance to try the stuff out, the equipment developers were dismayed to
discover that the soldiers found the new "Infantryman of the Future"
gear more of a hindrance than a help. That's surprising, since the German
program, like many similar ones in other NATO countries, are based after a
nearly twenty year old American Land Warrior
In the 1990s, the American Land Warrior concept was
more than ambitious, it was revolutionary, so to speak. But that version had a
science fiction air about it, and was not expected to appear for two decades or
more. The brass eventually got more realistic, especially after September 11,
2001. That, plus the unexpectedly rapid appearance of new computer and
communications technologies, caused them to reduce the weight and complexity of
the original Land Warrior design. At the same time, this made it possible for
the first version of Land Warrior to undergo field testing much sooner and,
even though that resulted in the cancellation of Land Warrior, many of the
individual components continue to be developed. Eventually the troops will have
wearable computers, wi-fi capability, and all manner of neat stuff. Eventually.
Late last year a battalion of U.S. infantry tested
the current Land Warrior gear. Many of the troops involved were combat
veterans, and their opinions indicated that some of the stuff was worth carrying
around the battlefield, and some wasn't. But once the stuff got to Iraq, for
testing by a few hundred troops, it was a different story. When people are
trying to kill you, all help is appreciated, and evaluated differently.
German soldiers commented that they could do a lot
better with some commercial gear. This made it clear that the German army brass
were out of touch with what was really going on in the world. German soldiers
knew more about what the Americans were doing in this department, than the army
bureaucrats in charge of the "Infantryman of the Future" program.
Many of the young troops, as well as NCOs and officers, understand English, and
were able to get into the message boards and email lists U.S. troops were using
to discuss their experiences with Land Warrior.
What's really disappointing is that the German
"Infantryman of the Future" developers did not correct some of the
obvious flaws with their system. Just having a few troops involved with the
development process, to give some realistic feedback on prototypes, would have
saved everyone a lot of embarrassment. The German system, which would cost
about $30,000 per soldier, simply doesn't work, and should never have gotten
outside the lab.