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Future Soldiers Wear Computers, Talk to Machines

August 2006
By Rita Boland
E-mail About the Author

 
The U.S. Army’s Program Executive Office Soldier is integrating its Land Warrior product with Stryker vehicles. The Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Fort Lewis, Washington, is working with the technology during doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel and facilities assessments.
Researchers are developing the next phase of warfighting by integrating humans with equipment and vehicles.

The U.S. Army’s Land Warrior program is making new strides—or more specifically, making new treads—in equipping soldiers for 21st century warfare. Army troops are testing Land Warrior Stryker Vehicle Integration Kits to study the effects of the human factor on the capability and to assess its worth in combat situations. The technology will connect warfighters on the ground directly with each other and with vehicle crews without needing to exchange the information only at the leadership level. At the same time, the ability to use a weapon will not be inhibited.

Land Warrior is an integrated fighting ensemble designed to provide greater situational awareness, lethality and survivability to soldiers. The vehicle integration kits (VIKs) connect soldiers with voice and data communications. Land Warrior equipment    mounted in a Stryker vehicle provides voice, data and power connectivity through the VIK umbilical connection. Mounted troops wearing Land Warrior equipment can communicate with other Land Warrior troops in the same vehicle, Land Warrior-equipped troops on the ground, Stryker crew and Land Warrior-equipped soldiers in other Stryker vehicles. To connect with the vehicle crew, communications interface with the Stryker’s vehicle intercom system. Dismounted Land Warrior-equipped troops have the same connectivity and interoperability as their in-vehicle counterparts as long as they are in range of their Stryker vehicles.

Troops in Fort Lewis, Washington, are performing doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel and facilities (DOTMLPF) assessments on the Land Warrior Stryker VIKs. “We started doing new equipment training with the 2nd Infantry Division,” says Lt. Col. Brian Cummings, USA, product manager, Land Warrior program. “We’re outfitting the entire battalion with Land Warrior [equipment], Mounted Warrior [equipment] and putting Stryker integration kits on their Stryker vehicles as well.” The colonel works at the Program Executive Office Soldier, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, which manages the Land Warrior project.

The 2nd Infantry Division assessment is the first attempt to test the Land Warrior VIKs at a battalion level, which sets it apart from other testing. Col. Cummings and Paul Meyer, chief engineer for Land Warrior, are gathering feedback, making adjustments to the technology and working to meet the Milestone C requirements to get Land Warrior VIKs into the field. “This is really unprecedented,” Meyer says. “The Army has really taken a leap forward here.”

Col. Cummings and Meyer are working with the Stryker Brigade Combat Team. They intend to leave behind any systems the division would like to keep at the end of the assessments.

This summer, the program office will conduct limited user tests to help Army acquisitions personnel make a Milestone C decision, which includes the VIKs, on Land Warrior. The decision is expected during the second quarter of fiscal year 2007. Land Warrior will go into operational tests in 2008.

Though the technology is not scheduled to deploy soon, it is field-ready now, and the schedule can be adjusted should a unit want to use it more immediately. “If the unit decides to deploy with the system, we’re going to support this decision,” Col. Cummings explains.

Program developers stress that the Land Warrior Stryker VIKs are ready for field use now. “This is technology that is ready today,” says Mark Showah, director, Integrated Solutions Group, Battle Management Systems Division, General Dynamics C4 Systems, Scottsdale, Arizona. “If these soldiers like it, there’s no reason they can’t take it with them into theater.”

Assessments on the VIKs will help developers determine what level of training and which capabilities soldiers at different command levels need. Battalion commanders may be more interested in the ability to monitor troop locations and communicate orders, while forward-deployed soldiers may want to focus on engaging the enemy and avoiding harm.

According to Col. Cummings, soldiers at different command levels have differing comments on Land Warrior’s use. The basic corps soldiers say they are more lethal when equipped with Land Warrior technology because they can engage targets at a more effective range. They also have more situational awareness of their own location and the location of allies. At higher command levels, leadership can use the multifunctional laser capabilities to determine range, to point lasers on weapon systems and to update and send accurate data automatically. Col. Cummings also explains that the assessment at FortLewis will help answer questions regarding the level at which the equipment should deploy: individual soldiers, key units or another level.

Product developers believe one benefit the Land Warrior and VIK technology provide to the warfighter at all levels is self-sufficiency. Once soldiers have trained with the various components, the software passes information automatically and troops use the systems instinctively, as a private sector partner explains. “You really don’t want soldiers to be thinking about the software when they’re on a mission,” states Susan Pasternack, manager, Strategy and Business Development–Warrior Systems, General Dynamics C4 Systems. “It has to be intuitive.”

In the same way, Stryker vehicle crew members need to be able to use the VIKs without extra workload. The kits, which are black boxes containing computers, feature software that collects data from the dismounted Land Warrior technology without human intervention and converts it into usable information. The crew does not have to perform special commands to trigger the translation. Showah explains the relationship between the Stryker crew and the VIKs. “The software is transparent to the operator in the vehicle,” he says. “The crew member does not have to operate any additional hardware to interact with a soldier.”

 
Land Warrior increases troop lethality, survivability and situational awareness. Using the technology, warfighters can share voice and data as well as graphic images such as maps and reconnaissance photographs.
The system includes a gateway and software that controls the gateway. The gateway receives the voice information and data from the Land Warrior equipment, and it translates that data into voice transmitted across intercom and data that populates the system. With the system in place, the Stryker vehicle crew can hear and see dismounted soldiers and the ground troops can know the locations of the vehicles as well. With all troops and crews connected, soldiers deploying from their Strykers can rendezvous more easily, even when a meeting point changes, because Land Warrior VIK users can determine the precise locations of meeting participants.

Troops with Land Warrior equipment stay in contact with each other and the vehicles through various communications equipment, including a body-worn computer and navigation system, and they can control all their systems without taking their hands off their weapons. In addition, troops can take advantage of other capabilities, including access to maps so they can view the locations of friendly and enemy forces.

The Land Warrior equipment also can be used to view other graphics such as reconnaissance photographs. These tools provide increased capabilities down to the soldier level and have such a strong impact on tactics, techniques and procedures that program personnel expect them to change how the infantry operates. “It will have a huge impact on being able to see and be tactically aware of where all soldiers are at any time,” Col. Cummings says.

Each Land Warrior unit has two batteries that when combined provide 24 hours of power. When the power from one battery runs out, the system switches to the other battery without user interruption. For shorter missions, soldiers could install only one battery to reduce the weight of the load. By integrating Land Warrior with the Stryker vehicles, the batteries can be charged in the vehicles.

The system’s configuration, flexibility and self-sufficiency in transmitting data are major focus areas for developers as a result of troop feedback. Before the rollout with the 2nd Infantry Division, other assessments were conducted, including one in December 2005 with more than a dozen noncommissioned officers at Fort Benning, Georgia. Pasternack says the soldiers found Land Warrior easy to use but wanted the equipment to be adaptable to the individual. Soldiers on different missions or even individual soldiers on the same mission might find a specific configuration best suited for their needs.

In the most cumbersome configuration, Land Warrior adds 17 pounds to a soldier’s load. To reduce weight, researchers are examining how to integrate the common equipment with the individual. “Not everybody needs every piece of equipment,” Col. Cummings explains.

Other equipment tests have been done at the platoon and company levels. These missions, similar to the one at FortLewis, assess the usability of the tools in situations with multiple users. Showah asserts that until the product is tested in that environment, users and developers cannot understand the full implication of how the equipment will be used, how it will affect the users and other factors involved when Land Warrior and VIKs are employed in mission-type scenarios.

Pasternack also says it is important for troops to use the equipment in the field and to understand its capabilities compared with what they use today. The various tests and assessments achieve key goals: They ensure troops will be well trained and provide feedback for future improvements.

Even as testing and assessment continue on the VIKs, organizations involved with the Land Warrior program are looking to the future. Researchers are working on projects such as Air Warrior Block 3, which aims to equip rotary wing aircraft with communications tools similar to those of Land Warrior. “We’re working with getting them situational awareness, getting them human factor capabilities,” Showah explains. “We’re asking, ‘What kind of equipment is the future air warrior going to need?’”

Another program underway is Future Force Warrior, a next-generation warfighter capability that examines how advanced computing technologies, sensors and other communications tools will fit together for future forces. The common denominator across all the projects is situational awareness.

As the work on future systems continues, developers are discovering more uses for Land Warrior. One of these involves countering improvised explosive devices (IEDs). As IEDs continue to be an effective weapon for insurgents, researchers are working on a number of Land Warrior projects to increase soldiers’ awareness of IEDs. Soldiers can use Land Warrior to populate the current operational picture quickly with IED locations. While certain aspects of Land Warrior’s IED applications are classified, developers stress that the equipment improves situational awareness, and when troops determine the location of an IED, soldiers can spread the information quickly using the system’s capabilities.

Other uses for Land Warrior include reconnaissance missions, and developers are using the FortLewis assessments to study that aspect of the technology. By the end of the DOTMLPF, product managers hope to have a better picture of the end version of Land Warrior “It’s a delicate balance of adjusting the must-haves or just-fix-its with the wants or the neat things,” Col. Cummings says. “We’re really focusing on what the soldier needs for the mission.”

Web Resources
Program Executive Office Soldier: www.peosoldier.army.mil
General Dynamics C4 Systems: www.gdc4s.com
Stryker Brigade Combat Team: www.lewis.army.mil/3bde/mainpage.htm