After ten years of effort, and about $500 million, the U.S. Army
is halting its Land Warrior program. Well, sort of. A lot of this futuristic
gear for infantrymen is already out there. The Land Warrior program included a
lot of technology that still isn't ready for prime time (like wearable
computers). In effect, the Land Warrior program is dead, but the Land Warrior
concept lives on with new stuff the combat troops are using.
current Land Warrior gear included a wearable computer/GPS/radio combination,
plus improvements in body armor and uniform design. The original, 1990s, Land
Warrior concept was a lot more ambitious. 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 number of items included in the initial
Land Warrior release. At the same time, this made it possible for the first
version of Land Warrior to undergo field testing right now and, even though
that resulted in the cancellation of Land Warrior, many of the individual
components will continue to be developed. Eventually the troops will have
wearable computers, and wi-fi capability.
last year a battalion of 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.
The army has been getting new gear to Iraq and Afghanistan as quickly as it
passed muster with the troops, thereby building the Land Warrior ensemble a
piece at a time. The 2006 tests discovered some communications problems. This
was not unexpected, but the Land Warrior system depends on continuous
communications to provide accurate position information for all the networked
troops, and their commanders.
the field tests tried to prove was whether the usual imperfect communications,
which have long been common in combat, before and after radio was introduced,
render Land Warrior not-worth-the-effort. This is where using combat veterans
was so important. Troops who have not been in combat have to guess if certain
test conditions would result in a battlefield disaster, or just an annoyance,
especially in light of the potential advantages from using Land Warrior.
some of the gear was useful, the overall ensemble was not, which is what killed
Land Warrior. Meanwhile, some components of Land Warrior (Blue Force Tracker
and the wired Stryker) have already proved worthwhile, despite commo and
reliability problems common with this kind of equipment. While Land Warrior is
dead, it's cousin, Mounted Warrior, is not.
Stryker vehicles are using a partial set of the Mounted Warrior ensemble,
a version of Land Warrior for the crews of armored vehicles. The troops liked
all these new electronic gadgets a lot, just as commanders took to Blue
Force Tracker in 2003.
effect, the first beta of Mounted Warrior was installed in the Stryker vehicles
headed for Iraq in 2005. That gear worked well, and the troops were
enthusiastic about using a vehicle that was booted, rather than simply started.
The main idea with this new gear was to provide the troops with superior
"situational awareness." That's a fancy term for having a good sense of where
you are. The Stryker troops always knew where they were, by looking at a
computer screen. There, a GPS placed the vehicle on a detailed map of the area.
half a century of studies has resulted in knowledge of what an
infantryman needs to be more effective. They need to know where they are,
quickly. Having a poor idea of where you are proved to be one of the main
shortcomings of armored vehicles. Infantrymen can just look around, armored
crews tend to be cut off from this while inside their vehicle. The crews are
even more easily disoriented. When the shooting starts, even the commander,
instead of standing up with his head outside the turret, ducks back inside to
stay alive. Infantry aren't much better off. Although they can see their
surroundings, they are often crouching behind something. When getting shot at,
standing up to look around is not much of an option.
Warrior tried to give each infantryman a wearable computer, using an eyepiece
as a display (attached to the helmet, and flips down for use), and a small
keypad to control the thing. GPS puts the soldiers location on the map shown in
the eyepiece. Tests so far have shown that this works, but not well enough to
withstand the rigors of the battlefield.
in Iraq, infantry officers and NCOs, equipped with PDAs, have found the map/GPS
combo a tremendous aid to getting around, and getting the job done. Land
Warrior was also to provide a wireless networking capability, so troops not
only see where they are in their eyepiece, but can receive new maps and other
information. Land Warrior troops were to use a vidcam to transmit images to
headquarters, their immediate commander, or simply to the other guys in their
squad. Perhaps most importantly, the Land Warrior gear provided the same
capability as the 2003 "Blue Force Tracker", and showed each grunt, via his
eyepiece, where all the other guys in his unit are. When fighting inside a
building, this can be a life saver.
showed that there were several serious problems. The battlefield wi-fi system
took about ten seconds to update everyones position. Manufacturers promised to
eventually get down to a third of that, but real-time updates may be a decade
away. The troops can work around that, up to a point. The army is going to wait
for the technology to catch up. In a few years, the equipment should be able to
let everyone know where everyone is before moving out (or into a building).
That would be very useful.
troops provided lots of useful feedback For example, the troops want a keypad,
at least similar to a cell phone, so they can more easily send text messages
(like many of them do now with their cell phones.) The small vidcam mounted on
the end of everyones rifle is being modified so that it will have the ability
to send still pictures to anywhere.
of Land Warrior is already showing up in combat, piece by piece. And this is
changing the way troops fight. Everyone is now able to move around more
quickly, confidently and effectively. This model has already been demonstrated
with the Stryker units. Captured enemy gunmen often complained of how the
Strykers came out of nowhere, and skillfully maneuvered to surround and destroy
their targets. This was often done at night, with no lights (using night vision
gear.) When you have infantry using Land Warrior gear to do the same thing on
foot, you demoralize the enemy. Hostile Iraqis already attribute all manner of
science fiction type capabilities to American troops. But with Son of Land
Warrior, the bar will have to be raised on what's science fiction, and what is
just regular issue gear. This is typical of what happens in wartime, where the
demand for better weapons and equipment, and a realistic place to test it,
greatly accelerates the development and deployment of the new stuff.
most insurmountable problem was a rather mundane one, battery power. Expected
advances in battery technology did not appear, so even if all the technology
worked, there was no way to carry sufficient batteries, much less keep Land
Warrior users supplied with them.