Artillery: March 27, 2000

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The US Army has invested heavily in developing new high tech equipment for the infantry. It's called Land Warrior. Much of it is fanciful, like the wearable computer for every infantryman, and a new weapon (the OICW) that weighs 19 pounds and fires computer controlled 20mm shells. New body armor, plus the new gadgets, adds up to a backbreaking 90 pounds. But the Army has finally found one use for the new gear that does appear to serve a useful purpose that continues a trend nearly a century old. Radio and telephones were mature technologies in 1914, when World War I broke out and were quickly put to work enabling the front line infantry to communicate with the artillery miles to the rear. This created the FO (forward observer) who could call in artillery fire on enemy troops directly in front of the infantry. The field telephones were replaced with portable radios in World War II and for the rest of the 20th century. The one drawback of the FO system was that the FO had to be specifically trained for the task. There were never enough FOs to go around. But the new gear gives the individual soldier a way around the FO problems. One element of Land Warrior is an eyepiece that captures a picture of what the soldier sees, and like a PC Cam, can transmit the image back to someone with a larger and longer ranged weapon (artillery, bomber, tank, missile launcher.) The Army has already adapted the World Wide Web technology for battlefield use. There are also a lot more highly accurate long range weapons. The opportunity is obvious. Send out the troops with their battlecams and GPS equipped radios and let them find the enemy, instantly call in heavy firepower, and move on. Tests of the concept are planned this year. With enough practice and common sense, it could work. Earlier versions did, going back to the infantryman with a field telephone in 1914. So it's not blue sky, but a reasonable opportunity. 

 


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