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Soldiers Dress For Success

September 2003
By Maryann Lawlor
E-mail About the Author

Next-generation capabilities send message: “Resistance is futile.”

Future U.S. Army warfighters are more likely to resemble adversaries from an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Star Trek movie than GI Joe. The service is fully engaged in its effort to rebuild soldiers’ uniforms from the skin out to increase lethality and survivability and at the same time lighten their load. The work complements radical design changes to platforms such as tanks and unmanned vehicles.

As part of the push toward transformation, all of the services have been adopting technologies that support network-centric warfare. From an operational perspective, these new capabilities have improved situational awareness and the coordination of operations. However, for the individual soldier, they often mean adding another piece of equipment and a few more pounds to an already heavy and cumbersome ensemble.

To address this problem, the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center, Natick, Massachusetts, was instructed to strip the soldier down to the skivvies and redesign the combat uniform to be both functional and comfortable. After 10 months of concept development, the Objective Force Warrior (OFW) program recently entered the second phase of preliminary and detailed design work under a $100 million contract awarded to Eagle Enterprise Incorporated, a division of General Dynamics. The company, located in Westminster, Maryland, also will conduct Phase III of the project, which will involve prototype development and demonstration.

Dutch DeGay, systems engineer, OFW, Natick Soldier Center, explains that the progress toward lighter, more lethal and more deployable forces is occurring in three stages. The legacy forces, those in operations today, wear uniforms that feature improvements but are essentially the same as they were 20 years ago. The interim force represents the second stage with Stryker Brigade combat teams that will don Land Warrior technologies.

The Objective Force, the third category of warfighting capabilities, envisions how the Army will be outfitted and will fight in the future. This will be a more sustainable, more survivable force that can deploy anywhere in the world in roughly 96 hours, DeGay explains. The vehicles and capabilities of the Future Combat Systems (SIGNAL, November 2002, page 39) is one pillar of the Objective Force. The OFW is the second pillar of the future military, which will be made up of soldiers so well equipped and protected that DeGay describes the warfighter as “an F-16 on legs.”

As a result of the OFW program, troops will be connected via a local area network and leverage every sensor on the battlefield, including vehicles, unmanned ground and aerial vehicles or other soldiers. Sensors and electronics are part of the combat uniform. In 2010, when the OFW system is fielded, it will be called Land Warrior Advanced Capability. After using Land Warrior systems in experiments, several problems were identified that have since been resolved. Although Land Warrior is a step up from current systems, DeGay relates that essentially it is an electronics suite put on a legacy soldier.

The OFW program is a much more aggressive approach to improving the combat soldier. Starting at the skin, the warfighter’s uniform is being built outward holistically, integrating as many functions and sensors as possible. “For example, our legacy soldiers right now weigh anywhere from approximately 65 to 125 pounds [in uniform and gear]. And when you get to the special operations community, rucksacks alone can weigh 100 pounds,” DeGay explains.

Warfighters are carrying not only weapons and ammunition but also from five to nine electronic devices, each device requiring a different battery. For a 72-hour deployment, the soldier must carry enough power to sustain the equipment, he adds. In addition, soldiers must carry bulky chemical/biological protection suits that are worn on top of the basic uniform. “The reason that we have a rucksack that is so big is to carry all the extra gear because the soldiers become their own supply point,” he says.

The OFW will weigh 50 pounds from the skin out. This weight reduction is being accomplished in a number of ways. Multifunction, multipurpose batteries will reduce the number and types of power that need to be carried. In addition, multipurpose electronics, such as a single sensor that is half the size of current night-vision goggles, allow the warfighter to see in both the infrared and thermal realms.

By using new textiles, one uniform will keep the soldier warm in cool temperatures and cool in warm temperatures. DeGay describes a next-generation chemical/biological system, called the selectively permeable membrane, as a “textile one-way valve.” The material is the weight and texture of a cotton t-shirt and allows the body to shunt heat and vapor but does not allow anything back through. The garment’s protection is effective for up to 21 days.

Today’s helmets, which feature a variety of electronic devices, can weigh as much as nine pounds. This causes mental stress because over time warfighters are so uncomfortable that they can become distracted, DeGay says. “So the soldier has to fight the system as opposed to fighting the fight,” he explains.

The OFW helmet replaces between 12 to 13 sensors, each of which must be individually carried or mounted. The OFW sensors are integrated into the helmet, which weighs between 4 and 5 pounds. “So, I have all those sensors that I can wear that are part of my helmet, and it’s a one-stop shop. I put my helmet on and essentially power up my command and control platform, and I never have to worry about all these things that have to be snapped on, turned on, and tied on—those kinds of things. And it gives me greater capability than we’ve ever had in the past,” he says. The helmet includes a global positioning and radio antenna, onboard radio and an infrared target designator and locator.

In addition to the change in sensors, the OFW helmet design replaces traditional microphones and speakers with bone-conduction technology. A dime-size sensor placed on the soldier’s head registers the vibrations off the cranial cavity and pushes them through the communications network. This technology eliminates interference from ambient noise. Because it is a speaker and a microphone in one, the warfighter no longer needs to wear a separate device as a microphone nor cover the ear with an earphone.

System voice control will allow a warfighter to manipulate the onboard computer through the microphone. Soldiers can engage their communications, sensors or computers without taking their hands off of their weapons. Using artificial intelligence algorithms, the OFW team has been able to filter out ambient sound as well as adjust for differences in dialects and stress-related changes in voice tone, such as shouting.

Once the sensors have gathered information, the warfighter must have a practical way to view the information. DeGay says the current thinking is a 1-inch by 1-inch transparent monocle that would sit approximately 1 inch to 1.5 inches away from either eye but would appear to the user as a 19-inch color monitor of 800 by 600 pixels. “That allows me to see a head-up display, but it’s not a backed monitor, so I can see through it. The soldier can take advantage of his or her organic 180-degree vision,” he explains.

The next-generation identification friend or foe capability will involve a device similar to those worn for laser tag. If a weapon is pointed at an enemy soldier and an ally crosses in the line of fire, an onboard system emits a tone as the trigger is squeezed so the shooter knows that a friendly soldier is being engaged. “We’ve never had that capability at the individual soldier level,” he notes.

DeGay emphasizes that the OFW uniform is being designed to be a unisex system because both men and women will be operating in the unit of action. Form, fit and function are all being considered. Weight, height and body type are being taken into account to ensure that the uniform fits correctly for optimum effectiveness. The system can be tailored to fit individuals through a system of pads.

The design increases survivability by enhancing comfort. Up to 20 vent points in the uniform will allow the body to shunt heat out from under body armor. The current body armor is more than 20 layers of Kevlar with two carbide ceramic plates, which retain body heat. “The running joke is you can’t make them take it off in the winter and you can’t get them to put it on in the summer. You have problems with physical stress and heat stress and that’s part of the reason they took their plates out of the rear of their body armor in Somalia, and a number of those soldiers got killed. It was because of heat, bulk and weight,” DeGay offers.

Body sensors integrated into the uniform shirt read diastolic and systolic blood pressure, resting heart rate, core body temperature and skin temperature. This information will be relayed to field medics so they can respond to the wounded soldier in most critical need.

Tourniquets embedded in sleeves and pant legs also will improve the chances of survival of a wounded soldier. Because they are integrated into the uniform, a medic or bleeding soldier will not have to waste critical time trying to find a tourniquet in a rucksack. The tourniquets are powered, so they can be activated using one hand, and operate in a pulsing motion so that a measured amount of blood continues to flow to the limb.

Many of the improvements that are being incorporated into the OFW uniform ensemble are the result of feedback from the field. The team at Natick continuously receives comments, from soldiers in operations as well as those involved in exercises, about how to improve both functionality and comfort.

The numerous and varied advantages that these capabilities will bring to the field will certainly affect how battles are fought in the future, DeGay shares. The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command is in the process of writing new doctrine to accommodate the Objective Force as newer, faster, lighter, more lethal platforms whether they are a vehicle or a soldier, he says. They must determine where to place them in the battlefield and the responsibilities they will carry out.

“Now you have completely reshaped the battlefield. A company is roughly 120 men and a platoon is roughly 40 men because we’ve always gone to war with 3-to-1 ratio, three of our soldiers for every one of theirs. Now you start to have capabilities and technologies so my Objective Force Warrior could potentially rival the power and lethality of a traditional squad, which is nine men, because of all those things they can take advantage of. They’re tied into a tactical local area and wide area network. They can send information, whether it’s streaming video, pictures, reconnaissance or orders at a moment’s notice back and forth to one another and use tactical e-mail or instant messaging. They can leverage every platform on the battlefield to get a better picture of what it is that they’re going into. That ultimately makes our soldiers more survivable,” he explains.

The Army currently has the capability to network the warfighters as envisioned by the OFW program; however, the current challenge is determining how to secure that network. “We have the function that we want. Now we have to make it ruggedized, and when we say ruggedized, we don’t just mean that soldiers don’t break it. We mean that other people can’t break into it. And that’s where we’re at,” he shares.

OFW systems are being built with an open architecture and in a modular fashion. DeGay emphasizes that the uniforms being designed today cannot be scrapped every time a new capability is developed, so interfaces are being developed that allow new equipment to be inserted as it becomes available.

Although the OFW is an Army-only program, the other services are examining the system the Army is developing to ensure interoperability. OFW leverages both the Joint Tactical Radio System and Warfighter Information Network–Tactical because those are the base platforms on which the Future Combat Systems are being built. Members from both programs are on collaborative working groups to ensure that the soldier platform and the vehicle platforms complement each other and duplication is avoided.

DeGay says power supply is the holy grail for the program, and it is one of the areas for which the Army is looking to industry for assistance. Among the solutions the OFW team is examining are fuel cells, solar power and rechargeable batteries. In addition, he says that processing power can never be too great, and work in the artificial intelligence area is crucial.

Additional information on the Objective Force Warrior is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.natick.army.mil/soldier/WSIT.

Building a Better, Stronger, Faster Warfighter

Creating the U.S. Army’s soldier-size system of systems is a monumental task that requires expertise in a number of fields. Phase I of the Objective Force Warrior (OFW) program involved concept design and architecture. After winning the contract as lead technology integrator, Eagle Enterprise Incorporated and its team of more than 15 companies set to work on the second phase of the project. Among the specialties the companies represent are modeling and simulation, communications, biometrics, weapons and sensors.

Michael D. Bolon, president, Eagle Enterprise Incorporated, Westminster, Maryland, relates that one of the more difficult challenges the team faces is designing a system that does not overload the warfighter with either equipment or information. Bolon, who also is senior vice president of engineering design and development, General Dynamics Land Systems, notes that developers must keep in mind that soldiers will be in stressful situations when wearing the OFW combat uniform. They must simultaneously manage information, situational awareness and power consumption. Consequently, the equipment must be as intuitive as possible.

Detailed modeling and simulation technologies are allowing the team to address this challenge by tailoring the system interface that prioritizes the view of tasks. In addition, training will be an important part of helping soldiers adapt to the new capabilities they will have on the battlefield. “Training is important. They will need to know how to use these sophisticated technologies and how not to be distracted by it at a critical time,” Bolon explains.

He points out that interoperability also is a key concern in designing the OFW ensemble. The system will be operating in a joint environment, so communicating and networking with the other services will be necessary and need to be practiced.

Although the vision for the OFW combat uniform is broad, Bolon warrants that both the commercial and military members of the design team must be careful not to fall into the trap of embracing technology for its own sake while forgetting the soldier.

Collaboration between the industry team and the Army has made the project both realistic and achievable, Bolon says. Because the military has been open about sharing information about existing and emerging technologies from organizations like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the companies have been able to leverage advances in areas such as robotics.

Bolon relates that he is pleasantly surprised that the program has been able to stay on time with a fairly rigorous and ambitious schedule, which he views as an indication of the importance the Army places on this project. Although a spiral development approach would get these capabilities into the field sooner, the real benefit of the OFW is its comprehensiveness as a system of systems, so fielding bits and pieces as they become available would not be beneficial, he adds.

Because the OFW ensemble consists of so many capabilities, the outfit could be fairly costly; however, it must be affordable to the Army, Bolon maintains. “If the Army can’t afford to equip the soldiers, then we’ve failed in our mission,” he says.