21st Century soldier

March 1, 2001
A hi-tech cocoon of communications, armor, and navigation gear will make tomorrow's infantryman more aware of what's happening on the battlefield -- and more lethal.

Soldiers outfitted with Land Warrior systems carried out several successful field exercises that demonstrated how the equipment improved their situational awareness and communication abilities.

Infantrymen can stay in contact with other platoon members as well as field commanders using the Land Warrior's communication suite.

Environmental sensors that are part of the LW system measure winds speed and direction. This data is fed to an onboard ballistic computer which helps the soldier more accurately aim his grenade launcher.

Soldiers using Land Warrior can use direction and range information from similarly-equipped soldiers to locate and fire on targets he cannot see directly.

The computer runs a 166-MHz Pentium with 236 Mbytes of RAM and 800 Mbytes of flash disk for storing maps, graphics, orders and other tactical aids.

The GIs of the future will little resemble those of World War II, Vietnam, or even Desert Storm. Forget the old walkie talkies, talking in code over back-pack-sized field radios, and navigating by the seat of the pants. And no one will be cooking C-rations in their helmets.

Instead, if military planners in the DoD succeed, Army ground pounders will be outfitted with Land Warrior (LW). It is a self-contained, wearable weapon that integrates wireless communication gear, computers, GPS navigation, a thermal imager, laser range finder, and a host of other devices. Soldiers wearing it should have an edge in "situational awareness, lethality, survivability, mobility, and sustainment" over the enemy, according to LW program managers.

Recent tests of LW held at Fort Polk in Louisiana pitted a LW-equipped platoon against a well-trained enemy force in three scenarios: an urban-area assault, a platoon ambush, and a parachute jump and airfield capture. Both participants and Army brass were pleased and impressed with LW's performance, particularly in terms of situational awareness and exchanging data with the battlefield command center.

Computerized nerve center
At the heart of LW is a computer, dubbed the computer radio subsystem. It integrates inputs from other subsystems and lets the soldier control various command, control, and communication systems that are part of LW. The computer, carried in a vest and at the small of the back, runs WIN 2000 on a PC 104 card made by Ampro. The card runs a 166-MHz Pentium with 236 Mbytes of RAM and 800 Mbytes of flash disk for storage. It stores maps, graphics, and overlays, along with orders and tactical aids to remind soldiers what actions may be necessary in certain situations. Time-sensitive information critical to the mission at hand will be loaded onto the flash disk prior to each mission. While in the field, soldiers can receive updates as part of a wireless LAN that relays messages from soldier to soldier at 1 Mbit/sec at ranges to 1.3 km. Developers hope to boost that to 2 Mbits/sec at 5 km.

The computer system and everything stored in it self-destructs if tampered with. In addition, a soldier can erase sensitive information on his system at the push of a button if the situation calls for it. And if a soldier is captured or dead, fellow soldiers can erase the information over the wireless LAN.

The computer also contains an inertial navigation module. It backs up the GPS in areas where satellite signals can't reach, such as under thick jungle canopy, or in city streets between tall buildings.

The computer radio houses a voice-activated soldier radio, which keeps infantrymen in touch with the rest of the platoon. They will be able to send or receive encrypted messages in JVMF (joint-variable message format) using just voice commands, leaving their hands free to fire weapons or handle other tasks. JVMF is method of exchanging digital data between military units and is used to issue field orders, call for fire support, pinpoint enemy targets, and request medical evacuations, among other things. It is being adopted by the Army, Marines, and Navy.

The platoon leader, or a designated radiotelephone operator, carries an additional radio in his LW, the squad radio. It has a greater range than the soldier radio and ties into SINCGARS (single-channel ground-to-air radio). The squad radio connects to a net linking military units within a small geographic area. This radio uses frequency-hopping, i.e. rapidly changing the transmission frequency, to foil eavesdrop-pers and nonauthorized listeners. The platoon leader also carries a handheld, flat-panel display and keyboard for sending and receiving messages and graphics.

This is my rifle?
Land Warrior's firepower comes from a M4 5.6-mm rifle. Besides bullets, it also fires 20-mm grenades up to 1,000 meters and has a magazine capacity of six air-burst grenades. An infrared aiming light positioned by a cursor controller mounted on the rifle's magazine well marks targets within 600 meters of the soldier. A similarly positioned laser rangefinder gives distance to targets out to 2,500 meters with 5-meter accuracy. To complement range information, a digital compass will give soldiers the bearing to targets day or night. A back-up cursor controller is mounted on the soldier's chest. The laser is also part of a combat identification system, letting soldiers interrogate transponders carried by other soldiers and armored units to determine if they are friendly or not.

The laser not only shows soldiers the distance to the target and identifies friend-lies, it also sends range data to the ballistic computer. The computer uses it to set grenade fuzing, making sure the grenades explode at the right time for maximum effectiveness. The ballistic computer compensates for wind as well, using speed and direction information gathered by environmental sensors on LW.

A thermal sight gives soldiers a view of targets beyond rifle range day or night, and despite bad weather, fog and other obscurants. When a target is within 400 meters, it is highlighted by a red aiming dot designed to keep soldiers aware of their situation. Anything in the soldiers sights can be captured in still frames and stored in the computer or sent digitally over the radio. The video from the rifle sight can also be viewed over the helmet eyepiece.

The well-dressed warrior
The new helmet that will be an integral part of LW is lighter than those currently used by Army infantry and will be the first helmet that can actually stop small-arms bullets. The helmet is compatible with the current chemical/biological face mask. LW also includes standard modular Army interceptor body armor, so soldiers can adjust it to suit the mission. And they can choose from three different sized packs — sustainment, approach, and assault pack — depending on the mission and its length.

The helmet carries the previously mentioned eyepiece display and a laser protector. The protector alerts a soldier when he is illuminated by a laser range finder or laserguided munition, giving him time to take evasive action. Shaded goggles protect the soldier's eyes from lasers and, to a limited extent, shrapnel and other flying debris. The helmet-mounted display is used by several systems, letting a GI see what is being picked up through his rifle sight, images detected on the IR camera, reports he has received or is preparing to send, images from external sensors or other units, as well as maps, overlays, and other operational graphics. The Map Display feature, for example, shows him a topological look at his surroundings and the location of his platoon members.

A GPS antenna, 2-in. in diameter and 0.5 in. thick, mounts on the shoulder, while two sets of batteries are carried on either side of the computer at the soldier's waist. For training, rechargeable battery packs will be used. But for operational missions, LW will use lithium-ion batteries made by the French company Saft. Carried four to a side, they provide 11 A-hr capacity, enough for an 12-hr mission. They are packed in a rugged, water-resistant metal housing with protection circuitry, status indicators, and commercial offthe-shelf connectors.

Pacific Consultants LLC, a product engineering and analysis firm based in Mountain View, Calif., used as much off-the-shelf technology as practical in designing the equipment. For example, its engineers determined LW could use the Army and Marine Corps' standard MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment), a fabric vest, to carry equipment rather than a custom load-carrying harness. LW will also use a commercial headphone and earpiece, and a readily available color display instead of a more expensive black and white monitor.

This approach is cutting the estimated cost of the system from $85,000 per unit to $20,000. The firm is also trying to lighten the load. It helped meet the initial goal of 75 lb for the entire LW system, which is less than what the average infantryman now carries into combat. The final system will weigh even less. The computer and batteries, for example, now weigh 16 lb. Pacific Consultants expect to cut that in half.

A flexible circuit built into the vest connects all the equipment, including the battery, rifle, computer, and various antennae. It replaces several cables and jacks that had a tendency to snag or become unplugged. The new flexible circuits, built by Century Circuits and Electronics Inc., St. Paul, weigh only 12% of what the original cable harness did (80 gm instead of 680 gm). The circuitry scheme includes a low-force quick-disconnect between the helmet and vest. It should give way before the soldier injures his neck if he snags the wiring. The circuitry, as well as most of the equipment, except for the rifle, has been immersion tested in 2 meters of water.

Although program managers won't say how many minutes it takes to don a complete LW outfit, they do say they were pleased with the results of recently held exercises. During these tests, soldiers parachuted to a target at night, then put on LW. They were able to do so and meet or beat mission requirements.

Program managers are also silent on whether LW is hardened against EMP and MIJI. EMP, electromagnetic pulse, is a phenomenon that accompanies detonation of nuclear weapons and disrupts electronics. And MIJI, or meaconing, intrusion, jamming, and interference, involves erroneous navigation or voice communication or just trying to block valid communications.

35,000 soldiers will be outfitted with the Land Warrior once it is completely phased in, a process which will take several years.

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