Keeping the Soldier in PEO Soldier

September 1, 2014
By Rita Boland

Awareness on the battlefield coupled with lighter loads for increased warfighter mobility are key enablers of the future fight. Brig. Gen. (P) Paul A. Ostrowski, USA, the program executive officer, Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier, is focusing his organization on addressing those needs.

The office deals with five Maneuver Center of Excellence (MCoE) and Training and Doctrine Command capability gaps: force protection; lethality; mobility; mission command; and training and leader development. Other than the last one, all contain materiel challenges. “With respect to force protection, my biggest concern remains in increasing the protection levels worn by our soldiers to stay ahead of the threat while simultaneously reducing the weight, rigidity, heat retention and bulk, which allow our soldiers to be more maneuverable than ever before,” Gen. Ostrowski says. As enemies continue to invest in lethal capabilities, PEO Soldier must find ways to deal with such dangers on the future battlefield. One solution is the Soldier Protection System that will begin to field early in fiscal year 2015.

“In the area of lethality, we must continue to address the lack of a counter-defilade capability while simultaneously increasing the range of our small arms and other direct fire systems,” the general explains. Counter-defilade target destruction is the premier capability gap at MCoE. “Our efforts deliver a range of options,” Gen. Ostrowski says. They include the M320 grenade launcher for ranges below 300 meters and the development of the XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement System that will address targets out to 700 meters. Increasing the effective range of current small arms systems remains a function of developing other enablers. PEO Soldier also continues to develop and field the final segment of the indirect fire “kill-chain” by fiscal year 2017 via the Joint Effects Targeting System.

Mobility also deals with lighter weights. PEO Soldier wants to reduce loads by 10 percent to 25 percent in all its equipment. The organization not only researches reducing loads incrementally but also revolutionary approaches to address load on the most austere operating forces, specifically those in airborne and light infantry units. “To get after this, we are looking at the full spectrum of technologies, which will provide next-generation precision, all-weather, 24/7 resupply capabilities via precision drop and low-level drop resupply bundles along with unmanned air and ground vehicles, which can provide resupply capabilities depending on the terrain,” the general says. “By having the vision to capitalize on these capabilities, which industry is seeking for commercial applications, we can go a long way [toward] reducing soldier load. However, with the introduction of technology, we must ensure soldiers actually believe in the capability.” He adds that, with regard to reliable, constant resupply via various unmanned vehicles, “I cannot stress this need enough as it offers the only viable solution set in the near future at closing the weight-burden gap.”

In terms of mission command, PEO Soldier means full situational awareness of threat and friendly locations as well as the ability to network seamlessly collaborative mission planning, intelligence, full-motion video, tactical messaging and command and control via Nett Warrior. That effort takes advantage of commercial smartphones combined with the Army’s tactical network to allow mission planning and continued intelligence updates to the squad level. “Through mission command, we are focused on increasing our ability, through complete situational awareness, to pick the time and place of our choosing to initiate the fight,” Gen. Ostrowski states. He stresses the importance of putting soldiers in a position that eliminates enemies’ abilities to use surprise as an advantage.

Blue Force tracking and continual intelligence updates help troops avoid fratricide while maintaining a full-time picture of the enemy to enable better decision making when it comes to engagement. The area offers plenty of room for improvement, as evidenced in Afghanistan, where 70 percent of all engagements have been initiated by the opposition.

To achieve its objectives, PEO Soldier works with academia, industry and other government entities. It has a project with MIT to advance battery technology, energy self-sufficiency and other solutions to improve mobility. The office additionally works with Oregon State University to develop the most advanced maneuver and targeting sensors ever fielded as well as to examine and refine the buttonology that controls that equipment.

PEO Soldier also encourages as much industry participation as possible because competition lowers costs and drives innovation. The organization holds frequent industry days designed to either find specific materiel solutions or to focus the private sector on overall capability gaps. Additionally, PEO Soldier works closely with other military organizations on a variety of projects designed to help it achieve its goals and give troops what they need to execute missions successfully.

Gen. Ostrowski explains that PEO Soldier judges success on soldier acceptance. “Absolute success is impossible, but we continue to seek it, and we are never satisfied with the status quo,” he states. “Everything can always be better, and there are new technologies to examine, develop and implement.”

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