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Soldiers Use Equipment Of the Future

November 2007
By Rita Boland
E-mail About the Author

 
Soldiers from the 2nd Infantry Division, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, employ the Land Warrior system in Iraq. The 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry is the first unit to use the technology in combat operations.
The next generation of warfighting technology is deployed and changing how the military carries out missions.

The U.S. Army has networked the battlefield, providing troops with the first digital systems they actually wear. Capabilities formerly reserved exclusively for use on vehicles are now available at the individual level, altering how warfighters manage combat operations. This cutting-edge technology improves situational awareness and interoperability as well as command and control.

Soldiers from the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, out of Fort Lewis, Washington, are the first troops to take the Land Warrior and Mounted Warrior systems into combat, employing them in support of operation Iraqi Freedom. Land Warrior is a modular, wearable fighting system that combines various technologies with mission equipment and is designed for every soldier down to the team leader. Mounted Warrior has the same capabilities, but is mounted on the Stryker vehicles for use by crew members. The Army has 232 Land Warrior systems and 140 Mounted Warrior systems currently in Iraq.

The systems have been in theater since April, and the regiment is using them in every mission, increasing tactical awareness of each other and vehicles. “They’re faster; they’re more efficient; and they’re able to accomplish their mission better than any unit over there right now,” says Lt. Col. Brian Cummings, USA, product manager, Land Warrior. The Land Warrior program is run by the Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

By implementing Land Warrior, the Army has transitioned capabilities formerly reserved for use on vehicles to the soldier level. All the radio systems that are vehicle based, such as Bluetooth and single channel ground and airborne radio systems, now are available to troops on the ground. Land Warrior extends the network down to every soldier wearing the system. In essence, every soldier becomes a sensor.

Land Warrior affects decision-making on all levels. Instead of knowing only the location of vehicles, leaders know the exact positions of their dismounted troops. Commanders can obtain different perspectives of the battlefield, and all leaders and small units have increased command and control on the battlefield with enhanced situational awareness of where units are in relation to one another. While the system has lethality components such as lasers, Col. Cummings believes the biggest payoff is the enhanced command and control.

Land Warrior has affected how troops operate in several ways, including changing the use of the tactical chemical light (referred to as “chem light”) system. Chem lights are fluorescent sticks of different colors. Paul Meyer, chief engineer for Land Warrior, shares that in traditional operations, soldiers use chem lights of various colors to denote specific situations. For example, a green light means a building is clear. Land Warrior has taken the concept of marking buildings and items and brought it into the digital world. The lights are replicated so soldiers can view all the designations on their systems through a simple graphic distributed to all Land Warrior systems. “Anyone coming into an area can get an immediate idea of where enemies are located, what is clear and what their objectives are on this mission,” Meyer states. “That has probably been the most effective feature of the system and has really changed their [troops’] tactics and procedures as they go in on these missions.” As soldiers move through a village, all the buildings can be numbered, and the lights on the display will change based on operations, reducing redundancies.

The system improves situational awareness in other ways as well. Col. Cummings recalls a scenario in which soldiers were moving toward an assault in the dark with all their body armor on and had come to a body of water. “Imagine being out at night and trying to find out where that crossing point is,” he says. Using Land Warrior, troops  who already knew the location of the crossing point were able to put a light on the display to alert their fellow soldiers where to cross.

Unlike most system deployments in which troops have limited or no knowledge of the technology before receiving it in theater, the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, trained and performed assessments on the Warrior system before deploying. Program officials trained with FortLewis warfighters in Washington for more than a year.

Officials from PEO Soldier began working with the regiment in the summer of 2006. They performed a full doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership and education, personnel and facilities assessment to determine the impact of giving the system to every soldier in the regiment. After the assessment, the battalion commander and battalion command sergeant major determined that the systems should be provided down to the team leader level, not to every individual. Land Warrior has so much capability that soldiers below team leader have no need for the systems to carry out their assignments. To fulfill their roles and duties, those soldiers require only tagging devices and voice communications. 

Before deployment, Land Warrior underwent several interoperability certifications to ensure it worked with technologies the brigade currently uses. Officials say there have been no interoperability issues with the system.

 
Troops from the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, use Land Warrior during operations in Iraq. The soldiers had the opportunity to train with the equipment and to provide feedback on its development before using it in the field.
Col. Cummings describes the decision to train and further develop Land Warrior with troops stateside before deployment as “the hardest and smartest thing we ever did.” Throughout the process, system developers had the benefit of the soldier perspective and made adjustments to tools as necessary. “It has been totally invaluable to me,” Col. Cummings states. He advocates that other acquisition projects use the same model in their work.

Along with benefits from training with the systems before deployments there were challenges. Meyer relates that from a design perspective the feedback was priceless, but from a systems perspective, it resulted in the need to make some critical decisions. When PEO Soldier delivered the Land Warrior systems to FortLewis, the systems were considered essentially complete. When the feedback started coming in, developers had to balance the necessary adjustments with all the desired changes. “It was quite a challenge from a systems engineering perspective, but ultimately I think that’s how you’ve got to do it,” Meyer says. Having a good relationship with the user community will result in a good solution, but, he insists, developers will miss the right solution until they receive honest feedback. Not all program offices have the courage to solicit that honesty. “You’re probably going to get your feelings hurt,” Meyer shares.

By training with Land Warrior prior to deployment, soldiers were able to familiarize themselves with the technology and actually use it in the field. Often in combat zones troops lack the time, money or effort to train and build combat operations. As a result, new equipment falls by the wayside as warfighters concentrate on carrying out their missions and staying alive. 

To help with the transition to combat use, system engineers and other personnel traveled to Iraq to assist the soldiers with any issues they might experience in theater that did not present in training situations. One difference between using the systems for training and employing them in combat is a common dynamic—soldiers feel more comfortable in their natural environment than they do when deployed. At FortLewis, regiment troops could maneuver without using maps, but in Iraq everything is foreign, and warfighters are in a different environment every day. “You don’t just want the system, you need the system,” Col. Cummings states. He adds that the regiment uses no paper maps; they are totally reliant on screens and systems.

That digitization gives the Land Warrior soldiers an edge over other units. Roy Harris, senior engineer for Land Warrior, explains that the Army does not produce maps quickly, and the ones used in legacy systems are fairly outdated. With Land Warrior, troops can download the latest imagery, which includes buildings that have been knocked down or destroyed. “It’s a great capability to have the newest and greatest digital maps on the system,” Harris shares.

While some Land Warrior program officials have returned to the United States, Col. Cummings says he has 17 staff still in theater, though many of them are not doing support work. The colonel estimates that the logistics and repair positions number fewer than 10. In addition to the supply personnel and engineers, a cell that collects lessons learned is gathering information about the systems daily.

Every quarter, the commander of the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, gives Land Warrior and Mounted Warrior developers a report card that serves as a checklist of changes he would like. Systems developers try to respond to his requests every six months. The tactical chem light feature was developed as a result of the list. Through the report card process, Land Warrior developers can respond rapidly to meet current user needs and also can look forward to receiving future needs that will help to improve the system.

Part of making the system effective is securing it against enemy capture and use. The military has procedures in place to deal with captive soldiers and systems, and the developers of Land Warrior have built in safety features as well, such as the ability of users to zero out the systems. The systems have little tactical vulnerability that enemies could exploit because of the combination of technology, tactics and procedures. “It’s a multilayer defense,” Meyer explains.

The success of the systems has attracted interest from other Army units. Col. Cummings says a brigade headquarters now has several devices as well as a cavalry unit attached to the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment. PEO Soldier provided Land Warrior and Mounted Warrior systems as well as in-theater training to the cavalry unit.

Now, officials are pushing to deploy the next version of the system. The updated system will be lighter, will have more capability and will use less power. In response to a request from the commander, developers are working to reduce the weight from the current 10 pounds as well as the necessary cable so the system takes up less real estate on the human body.

According to Col. Cummings, PEO Soldier is taking a three-pronged approach in moving forward with the system development. The first effort is to continue to support the troops with the current system. “For instance, we integrated robots to help counter improvised explosive devices,” the colonel says. The second effort is to build another brigade’s worth of systems as early as next calendar year with improvements based on what they have learned. The third effort is a project for a new ground soldier system, which is a program of record associated with Future Combat Systems and is approaching the Milestone B decision in December.

For now, Col. Cummings states, troops are using Land Warrior in ways that will change the way the Army fights, describing the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment troops as operating at the forefront of future operations. “This is probably the greatest starting point for digital systems on soldiers in the history of the Army,” he says.

Web Resources
Program Executive Office Soldier: www.peosoldier.army.mil
Fort Lewis, Washington: www.lewis.army.mil