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Soldiers Check Out Next-Generation Combat Technologies

January 10, 2014
By George I. Seffers
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U.S. Army kicks off ninth annual experiment.

  • The Rhino Robotic Rotorcraft is one of more than 60 systems being evaluated by soldiers at Fort Benning, Georgia, during the ninth annual Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment. The systems are all designed for tactical units below the company level.
  • Fort Benning soldiers are assessing a light weight command launch unit for the Javelin anti-tank weapon system.
  • U.S. Army soldiers operate a 50-H Phoenix Sense Through the Roof Unmanned Aerial System during the 2011 AEWE. The $8 million helicopter contains multiple sensors to detect occupants within a compound.

Soldiers involved in the January 6-February 19 Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment (AEWE) will help decide what technologies will be used on the battlefield of tomorrow. The ninth annual exercise, Spiral I, incorporates more than 60 technologies in various stages of development, including Nett Warrior, unmanned aircraft and robotic ground vehicles, all of which are designed to help soldiers do one thing: perform their missions more effectively.

Systems being evaluated are designed specifically for tactical units below company level. The effort will directly inform the maneuver force’s ability to operate with a high-level of precision and adaptability, sustain a high degree of situational understanding and integrate joint capabilities to win wars and maintain peacekeeping efforts, according to Army officials. “We have everything from very early prototypes to programs of record,” says Michael Emerson, AEWE team project officer. “The one thing they all have in common is that they have to have a workable prototype to put in the hands of soldiers. If it’s too early in the development phase, we don’t look at it. It has to be something we can execute with.”

The systems are divided into several categories, including network architecture, mobility, lethality, mission command, unmanned systems, sustainment and force protection. Nett Warrior is included under the network architecture category. The system is an integrated, dismounted leader situational awareness system for use during combat operations. It provides situational awareness to the dismounted leader, allowing for faster and more accurate decisions in the tactical fight, Army documents say. Nett Warrior now includes a chest-mounted Samsung Galaxy Note II smartphone. The system is being fielded to Army Rangers and 10th Mountain Division soldiers.

The AEWE also includes the Sky Watch Huginn X1 small, unmanned aerial system, which weighs about three pounds and is designed for use by light infantry, airborne and special operations forces. The aircraft can carry a variety of sensors and could be operated by all soldiers in the unit.

Soldiers also will get the chance to run the Avatar II robot through its paces. The system is capable of negotiating sand, gravel, grass, rocks and stairways. It can be deployed in under three minutes and operates with swappable radio cards, giving users the ability to control the robot on a variety of different frequencies and power levels. Multiple robots also can be operated simultaneously on the same frequency without interference.

The DP-12 Rhino Robotic Rotorcraft offers a range of capabilities. For example, it provides organic air support to small air and ground units in hostile urban and mountainous terrain; provides force protection to soldiers and small units; automates resupply to small units in hostile conditions; and increases mission command and tactical intelligence, according to the Army’s AEWE Spiral I Systems Book, which describes all of the technologies involved.

Begun in 2004 to help speed delivery of prototype systems to the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, the AEWEs offer a number of benefits, Emerson maintains. “The first is to get credible soldier feedback early in the development process. It gives you an opportunity to check your azimuth and then go back and make design changes as needed,” Emerson says. “It’s a live, force-on-force venue so we’re actually testing the technologies in an integrated environment as they’re used in the real-world,” he states.

The AEWEs complement the Army’s larger Network Integration Evaluations (NIEs), according to Emerson. “If a system looks like it would be the right fit for a future NIE, we’ll make that recommendation to the folks out at the Brigade Modernization Command. If they see a piece of equipment or a prototype that’s a little too early in development for them, a lot of times they’ll encourage [the company] to participate in an AEWE as part of a preliminary look,” he explains.

Systems that complete the AEWE may be adopted for further development by other agencies within the Defense Department and may participate multiple times, says Australian Army Major Jared Hunter, an exchange officer who helps integrate technologies for the AEWE. “That’s something we’ve definitely seen this year,” Major Hunter says. He cites one example of a radio system that was a rough prototype last year and has returned for this AEWE. “They got feedback and came back this year with a much sleeker production radio. The biggest benefit to industry is getting a system into the hands of soldiers, getting feedback in a venue where they are not being assessed for acquisition, where they can make sure that it works, form meets function and all that,” he adds.

 

The goal of the Defense Advanced Research Project's Agency Legged Squad Support System program is to demonstrate that a legged robot can unburden dismounted squad members by carrying their gear, autonomously following them through rugged terrain, and interpreting verbal and visual commands. The system has been placed in the hands of Fort Benning Soldiers during the AEWE.

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