There needs to be a revision of the old joke about the world’s greatest lies—You know, “The check’s in the mail” and a few others. The updated version of the joke would include the line, “This is the first time that the Soldier has been viewed as a system.”
Although some recent industry participants have refused to let reality interfere with a good briefing introduction, the fact is that the U.S. Army has been examining, studying and prototyping “soldier systems” and “warfighter ensembles” for more than two decades.
As an example, early SIPE (Soldier Integrated Protective Ensemble) concepts were already under exploration at the NSRDEC (Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center) prior to Operation Desert Storm. As with the systems now “emerging” two decades later, the SIPE concept emphasized that “The Soldier is a System,” and focused program objectives on “Improved combat effectiveness; Improved survivability and sustainability; lighten[ing] the load; [and] synergism.”
Those underlying objectives have remained fairly constant over the intervening years, as multiple ensemble concepts have evolved and eventually emerged from the experimentation process. At least two of the designs are now combat proven and being upgraded for expanded fielding. Most significantly, the U.S. Army is building on these combat experiences with pending acquisition actions to consolidate some of these diverse technologies and capabilities under a single new Ground Soldier Ensemble program.
The recent AUSA (Association of the United States Army) Show provided a showcase to update activities on many current efforts as companies jockey for position on the new acquisition program.
The most well known U.S. soldier ensemble effort is “Land Warrior.” Under Program Executive Office Soldier and prime contractor General Dynamics C4 Systems, Land warrior reflects a merging of earlier efforts and subsequent field test activities. The system combines computers, lasers, navigation modules, radios, and other technologically advanced equipment to improve soldiers’ ability to communicate on the battlefield, their situational awareness, and, ultimately, their ability to fight effectively and survive.
In the summer of 2006, the Army conducted an extensive operational assessment of the Land Warrior at Fort Lewis, Washington. Also examined was a Mounted Warrior ensemble, designed for combat vehicle crewmen, which included communications and displays that will improve situational awareness on or off the vehicle.
The 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment (“Manchus”), within the Fort Lewis-based 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, conducted the battalion-level assessment from May through September 2006.
Although the Army officially terminated the full Land Warrior program in 2007, a recognized residual need for some level of enhanced warfighter ensemble capabilities led to the subsequent Iraq combat deployment of that single battalion with approximately 440 Land Warrior systems and 147 Mounted Warrior systems.
And even without a formal program of record, hardware modifications based on the combat experiences of that battalion within the “4/2” SBCT are now being incorporated into approximately 1000 new Land Warrior ensembles that will soon be fielded to “5/2,” the second Stryker Brigade Combat Team based at Fort Lewis.
“For a while we were calling it Land Warrior Next Generation but now the Army is just calling it ‘Land Warrior for Next Brigade,’ explained Susan Pasternack, Land Warrior program director at General Dynamics C4 Systems. In terms of hardware evolution, Pasternack acknowledged that engineers had previously explored a “fusion” concept that consolidated elements into a single man-worn package, but added that user field reports were not happy with that idea.
“They don’t want everything in a single box,” she said. “They still want a separate controller so that it isn’t as bulky as when we put it all together. But we did combine the helmet module, the computer and the navigation module all into a single module. On the controller unit, one of the things they did a lot of in Iraq if they lost voice comms or even other times, was text messaging,” she explained.
“On the earlier system you would have to call up a virtual keyboard and ‘mouse’ letter to letter. But they were using that. One night one of the platoons lost their voice comms. But they were still able to send short messages, so their position location was going through. And they sent text messages all night as they did their mission.
So one of the things we are doing is to add a keypad, so they use their eyepiece to make sure of what they are typing in but they can send their text messages much faster. Again, we’re doing everything we can do to combine modules and reduce the weight. We actually went beyond what had been in the Land Warrior requirement in doing that,” she added.
Funding for the “5/2” brigade systems was contained in the 2008 War Supplemental, which was signed on July. The manufacturer expects to start delivering the first of those 1000 systems in March 2009. Since the 5/2 is up at Ft. Lewis, a few hundred systems from the 4/9 that returned from Iraq are being used by the 5/2 to start their training. So they actually started training about June of last year, when some of the systems came back.
Because the two systems are compatible, they will continue to use those as we start delivering the new systems. It’s all EPLRS (Enhanced Position Location Reporting System) based so, as long as the network is configured so that they can add in, they are completely interoperable.” Pasternack acknowledged that the company is currently “working on” equipping “another brigade after the 5/2.”
Tactinet / Tacticomp
Although not a full warfighter ensemble, another combat proven soldier system, another new related programs is the Tacticomp™ system from SNC (Sierra Nevada Corporation). Noting that the system recently marked its third “in combat” anniversary, the company announced a recent award to equip a sixth U.S. Army brigade with the capabilities.
Unlike Land Warrior, which has evolved under sponsorship of PEO Soldier, Tacticomp, and its related Tactinet™, came into being under the ASPO (Army Space Program Office) within the PEO (Program Executive Office) for Intelligence, IEW&S (Electronic Warfare & Sensors).
SNC representatives describe Tacticomp as “a modular fighting system that uses state-of-the-art computer, communications, and global positioning technologies to network the dismounted warfighter. The system is integrated on the soldier and provides multiple display options including; helmet-mounted, handheld, or wrist worn displays.”
The system provides situational awareness through maps and imagery, “blue [friendly] force” information and both voice and text messaging. Additionally, the system has upstream and downstream video feed capabilities, enabling soldiers to view information from sources like UAV (unmanned aerial systems), PTDS (Persistent Threat Detection Systems), OSRVT (One System Remote Video Terminals), and other assets in theater, all through their helmet mounted viewer. Finally, a network of vehicle-mounted satellite communications systems allows on-the-move flow of this information to any data system within the satellite footprint.
“In a single brigade basis of issue now we have roughly 350 of the small handheld computers, 140 of the vehicle-mounted computers, and six satellite access—wideband on the move systems that are mounted in Stryker vehicles to provide the satellite communications link,” explained Joe Reed, director of Army programs at SNC. “Then, for each of those six—at each of the battalion headquarters and two at brigade headquarters—they’ve got a fixed TOC that also gives them satellite access. So it’s roughly a dozen satellite access points, half of which are on the move. And in addition to that, for each of our vehicle-mounted systems there’s a router, which we call a virtual access point mounted inside the Stryker vehicle. And it gives the Tactinet access to feeds to PTDS and any other video feeds that are currently going down to the OSRVT. They can now be plugged right into the Tactinet system inside the Stryker vehicle.”
“Our helmet mounted display is both a monitor and a camera,” he continued. “And, because we’ve got the ability to send back the video, you can imagine the data flow including a soldier in Baqubah is taking down a building when he sees something. The video goes back through his mesh network to his battalion Stryker, then it goes via satellite communications back to BIAP (Baghdad International Airport). Then the command post at BIAP can see what is going on inside a building in Baqubah. And with Land Warrior all they have is image capture right now. They can take a screen shot and they can send that back. We can stream video and stills as well. We can do voice over IP communications. We can provide situational awareness in real time. It’s got moving maps, text chat, and all that. All of that is done on these devices and this network. So it really is an awesome system – and it’s fielded.”
Tacticomp is currently being used by 2/101 BCT, as well as 2/25 BCT and 2 Stryker Cavalry Regiment (SCR). Reed noted that fielding was just completed to 1/25 SBCT.
“Next on the list is the 56th Stryker Brigade—Pennsylvania National Guard,” he said. “They will be deploying in February so we will start their training in the December-January timeframe. 4/2 [SBCT], in which 4-9 [The Manchus] is located, and 5/2 are both Land Warrior [equipped]. But all of the rest of the Stryker brigades we will have fielded to in the March-April timeframe. And we just finished fielding SEAL Team 8.”
BAE Systems is introducing soldier ensemble design efforts. “We’re showing the ‘Integrated Warfighter,’” explained Andy MacDonald, an Army program capture manager at BAE Systems’ Mobility & Protection Systems. “This is the true beginning of ‘Soldier as a system.’”
“What we’re trying to do is to remove as much weight as possible from the soldier’s head,” he said. “That was our first goal. But how do you do that? Well, you take the night vision device and you remove all of the ‘non-sense.’ In other words, you remove the battery. You remove the casing. The only thing you want to put on the soldier’s head is that which is required to create the signal, and then move that signal down to an integrated computer or processing device. That will remove a lot of the weight off a soldier’s head. The soldier is carrying enough weight as it is, just with the helmet.”
He continued, “The two heaviest things that a soldier carries are water and batteries and both require a huge logistics tail. Well we can’t do anything about the weight of water but we can do something about the weight of batteries. What we did was, every soldier has two SAPI [Small Arms Protective Insert] plates. They have a weight of 6 pounds. By adding one pound to this weight, we can remove all of the battery requirements. We have turned the SAPI plate into a battery not only is it a SAPI plate but it is also a battery. We can charge this battery in 15 minutes and it will last 24 hours. And because it’s an array battery, which means it’s spread out over the entire face of the plate, if the soldier’s plate is struck, it will only destroy that small bit of the battery and the rest of the battery will function. It will also have a redundant capability because he carries two plates.”
“And our long term goal is, in order to charge this, all he’s is going to have to do is lean up against a strip in his vehicle he won’t have to plug anything it and it will charge passively. So as he’s driving along from one site to another all of his batteries are recharging. 15 minutes and he’s done,” he said.
Noting that the functioning prototype of the new battery/SAPI design had only been completed one week prior to AUSA, MacDonald added, “Now the next step is to take the technology and start getting it out there; getting it integrated into some of these other systems and see where it would go.”
Ground Soldier Ensemble
One place where many new soldier ensemble technologies and design concepts might surface is the GSE (Ground Soldier Ensemble) program.
A November 2008 government program summary describes GSE as “a system-of-systems that provides dismounted soldiers increased situational awareness, decreased reaction times, and reduces the risk of fratricide. GSE capabilities are informed by combat experiences from the LW (Land Warrior) system. LW deployed with the 4/9 Infantry for a year long combat tour in Iraq. The performance of LW in Iraq validated the need for a dismounted battle command system for today’s Warfighter. The Army terminated the LW program due to competing priorities and total ownership cost concerns. However, a recognized need still exists for the Army to provide these capabilities to the Ground Soldier. The path to continue to fulfill this need is the Ground Soldier System, with the first GSE increment which focuses on battle command and situational awareness.”
GSE is entering a technology development phase, with an acquisition strategy that features competitive awards of up to three contracts. Each of those contracts, currently projected for award in March 2009, will cover a 21 month effort: a nine month prototyping phase and a 12 month refinement phase.
Based on a favorable acquisition decision, the follow-on GSE production phase currently estimates the purchase of 11,538 ensembles over five production years. And it’s a safe bet that somewhere during that timeframe, someone will give a briefing that includes the words, “This is the first time that the Soldier has been viewed as a system.”