Soldier of the Future
This "Future Warrior" depicts what U.S. soldiers might look like well in the future, if emerging technologies such as "chameleonic chamouflage" and "interactive textiles" come to fruition. A mock weapon was developed for the warrior. (US Army)
Soldier of the Future
With New Technology, He Might Fight Like Robocop, Drive Like James Bond
June 26 Guns that hit targets around corners, computerized helmets, a grenade-launching pickup truck that foils pursuers with oil slicks and smoke screens. The U.S. Army is investing in a host of new technologies that might someday revolutionize American war fighting.
From what U.S. soldiers eat, to how they communicate and what types of weapons they fire, the Army is hoping science and engineering can make GIs better informed, more lethal and harder to injure and kill.
Some of the technologies can be quite exotic. Take, for instance, the British-designed Objective Individual Combat Weapon, in the early stages of development. It's a lightweight do-it-all weapon, intended to replace M-16 rifles, M4 carbines and M203 grenade launchers.
It is said to "shoot around corners," because it is designed to fire shells that can be primed to explode at a determined distance, such as over an enemy ditch, or just past a wall.
Then there's the "Transdermal Nutrient Delivery System" which is being designed to transmit essential vitamins and nutrients through the skin by an osmotic process, similar to a nicotine patch, providing soldiers nutrition in extreme circumstances. It's "pushing the limits of existing food technology," according to the Army.
The armor-plated SmarTruck concept, developed at the Army's National Automotive Center in conjunction with the private sector, might enable the occupants to disorient the enemy with its headlights, fend off attackers with electrified door handles, launch grenades and emit smoke screens to obscure a pursuer's line of vision.
"It's a test bed to prove that all of these advanced technologies can be integrated onto a commercial platform," says Rae Higgins, a public affairs officer with the Army Tank-Automotive & Armaments Command. "If it were ever to see the light of day, this would be something that would have a role in complex and urban terrain, for anti-terrorist missions perhaps."
It might also be attractive to other U.S. agencies, foreign governments, and for commercial use to protect corporate executives traveling in countries known for kidnapping schemes, she says. "A SmarTruck type vehicle might offer them a level of protection that they don't have right now."
Fighter of Tomorrow
It could be many years before any of those technologies might be fielded, if they ever are. But one of the Army's more pressing initiatives is the "Land Warrior" system, a new look for soldiers, intended to integrate soldiers in the field into a networked, computerized war fighting system.
The 79-pound uniform would include a new helmet assembly, more protective clothing, an improved rifle, and a computer and radio, intended to significantly improve communications, night vision, weaponry, and armor protection, among other things.
Land Warrior's most revolutionary aspect, perhaps, is its communications system. Each soldier will be linked into a computer network, accessed through a pop-up display attached to each helmet. The display would provide a topographical map that indicates a soldier's position and those of fellow fighters and suspected enemies, with the aid of global positioning satellites. Troops would communicate quietly through headsets.
"We're going to be buying these systems for the infantry soldiers, the medics, and the people who support the artillery units the spotters and the forward observers," says Jeff Witherel, an official with the Camber Corp., a major contractor on the system.
In field training last summer with an 82nd Airborne platoon, he says, the Land Warrior systems dynamics of warfighting changed for the better. "This whole platoon became a proactive element, everybody got up and moved at the same time, everybody knew what was going on, they all reacted just like an office does on e-mail."
Currently in research and development, the Army is planning to begin issuing some 37,000 sets to Rangers and infantry soldiers as early as 2006, at a cost of $17,000 per soldier $32,000 including storage, training, maintenance and spare parts, according to Witherel. The Marines and Navy SEALs also are looking at the system.
The Land Warrior package also includes a "daylight video sight" a camera attached the standard rifle that takes pictures displayed over the local area wireless network, for others to see a lightweight thermal sight on the rifle for night and low-visibility vision, and improved body armor, 35 percent lighter than current "flak jackets."
One of the most radical concepts under consideration is the Future Combat System. The Army currently aims to transform itself into a lighter, more versatile, faster-reacting force. Reflecting that goal, it is examining the concept of replacing today's 70-ton Abrams tanks with a system of robots, advanced sensors, cannons, and other platforms linked by computers.
"We're pursuing the fullest range of technologies to provide material solutions that can blur the traditional distinctions between the Army's heavy and light forces," said Michael Andrews, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for research and development, at a congressional hearing today reviewing the military's new technology initiatives.
The program, involving some 40 industrial contractors, received the largest portion of the Army's science and technology funding this year $500 million with the hope of fielding the system by 2010, Andrews said.
The Army also is developing a new protective mask, intended to be easier to breathe in than conventional gas masks and improve protection against toxic industrial material and nuclear, biological and chemical threats.
There's also the GAYL Blaster, which might be used for crowd control, by emitting a disturbing noise that defies some hearing protection.
And "advanced field-ration recipes and menu items" are being developed to "cater to the diverse cultural and ethnic food preferences of the 21st Century soldier," according to an Army publication.
Much of what is being developed is motivated by previous war-fighting experience in real combat. The Army's "Force Provider" program, for instance, was conceived in 1991 as a response to inadequate living conditions for U.S. soldiers during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. It provides "containerized, rapidly deployable 'cities,'" for quick delivery to theaters of action.
The movable cities include "advanced" laundry, shower, latrine, kitchen and billeting systems for 550 soldiers, according to the Army, are able to operate in temperatures between 15 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and also include religious, morale, welfare, and recreational facilities. The Army has contracted for 36 to be built by 2003.
In response to lessons learned from an October 1993 Army firefight with Somali militia in Mogadishu that left 18 Americans dead, the Army jointly with the Marines has been developing new equipment, techniques and tactics for urban area war-fighting, called the Military Operations in Urban Terrain MOUT Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration.
The U.S. military traditionally has avoided fighting in cities for a host of reasons. But it expects urban operations to become common in the future. The technologies examined in the program, which is winding down, were off-the-shelf, meaning they were already developed by other entities for other purposes.
Among the most promising technologies were an M-16 rifle-launched munition, developed in Israel, which is designed for gaining quick entry into a building by blasting through a door or a window, and joint protection: knee and elbow pads, an idea drawn from the rollerblading industry.
"There was a lot of stuff out there applicable for the urban environment force, so there was a lot of low-hanging fruit," says Carol Fitzgerald, manager of the program. "You don't necessarily need a whole lot of sophisticated technology to allow for mini-revolutions in military affairs at the tactical level to me that's a pretty significant thing."
The Army plans to begin outfitting 37,000 troops in Land Warrior gear beginning in 2006. Note the pop-up display in front of the soldier's left eye. The system already has undergone field trials by the 82nd Airborne Division and the Marines. (US Army)
The Army has produced a concept vehicle called the SmarTruck, illustrating how a commercial platform, here a Ford F-350, might be equipped with advanced military defensive gear, such as electrified door handles, a smoke screen, and a grenade launcher. (US Army)
Military Operations in Urban Terrain
Anticipating increased combat in urban areas, the Army has been evaluating technologies already developed by the government and the commercial sector that might be useful. Note the knee and elbow pads. (US Army)
Objective Individual Combat Weapon
This British-designed weapon, if someday approved, could be a an alternative to M-16 rifles, M4 carbines and M203 grenade launchers. It's said to "shoot around corners," because it can fire shells that will explode at a specified distance. (US Army)
This item has been considered for use in crowd control situations. It produces a non-lethal acoustic energy for which hearing protection is said to be ineffective. (US Army)
World's Smallest Infrared Camera
The Alpha camera, here mounted on an M4 carbine, could provide soldiers with low-powered, lightweight viewing at night and through smoke, feeding images to a helmet-mounted computer
The Force Provider
So far, 36 of these "containerized, rapidly deployable 'cities,'" have been ordered by the Army. Each includes "advanced" laundry, shower, latrine, kitchen, recreational, religious and other facilities for 550 soldiers. (US Army)
Soldier of 2025
This "Future Warrior" depicts what U.S. soldiers might look like well in the future, if emerging technologies such as "chameleonic camouflage" and "interactive textiles" come to fruition. A mock weapon was developed for the
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Last updated 08/05/2010