Infantry: Land Warrior's Hidden Gems


August 7, 2007: The U.S. Army has been getting some good reviews, from users in Iraq, for some of the new technologies developed for its Land Warrior program (an effort to enhance infantry performance with a lot of technology that was never ready for prime time). Although the Land Warrior program is officially dead, the general concept lives on with many new items the combat troops are using. The problem with Land Warrior was that is tried to be revolutionary, while the troops really wanted evolutionary items. Although the army halted work on Land Warrior last year, it sent some of the equipment to Iraq, to see how well it performed in combat. The current Land Warrior gear includes a wearable computer/GPS/radio combination, plus improvements in body armor and uniform design.

Troops who had earlier tested Land Warrior in the U.S., found it too much hassle, and not enough benefit. But the troops in Iraq, who were in combat, found lots of useful aspects to the Land Warrior gear. For one thing, the camera attached to the rifle, that sends live video to the eye piece (that appears like the equivalent of a 17 inch display, when flipped down over the eye), allows troops to just point their rifle around a corner, over a ledge, or into a room, to see what's there without risking a bullet in the head. The personal radio is also a superior item, and the maps that can be put onto the eyepiece are very useful. The army has mapped most of Iraq, in great detail, and digital versions of all those maps are available, and can be moved to the wearable computers of Land Warrior equipped troops. This might have not made a big impression on the troops back in the States, but in the combat zone, you can never have too much help in figuring out where the hell you are.

The Land Warrior GPS is still too slow. But when troops have settled down for a while, like a lull in the battle, and the GPS has ten minutes or so to nail every ones position, the eyepiece does indeed give a good picture of who is where. NCOs and junior officers find that real useful, and the troops find it reassuring to know who is where.

The original, 1990s, Land Warrior concept was a lot more ambitious. Revolutionary, so to speak. But that version had a science fiction air about it, and was not expected to appear for two decades or more. The brass eventually got more realistic, especially after September 11, 2001. That, plus the unexpectedly rapid appearance of new computer and communications technologies, caused them to reduce the weight and complexity of the original Land Warrior design. At the same time, this made it possible for the first version of Land Warrior to undergo field testing much sooner and, even though that resulted in the cancellation of Land Warrior, many of the individual components will continue to be developed. Eventually the troops will have wearable computers, wi-fi capability, and all manner of neat stuff. Eventually.

Late last year a battalion of infantry tested the current Land Warrior gear. Many of the troops involved were combat veterans, and their opinions indicated that some of the stuff was worth carrying around the battlefield, and some wasn't. But once the stuff got to Iraq, for testing by a few hundred troops, it was a different story. When people are trying to kill you, all help is appreciated, and evaluated differently.




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