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Army redrafts roadmap for 'Land Warrior'.

The Army's plan for turning soldiers into digital warriors is once again being rewritten, in the wake of disappointing field trials that showed that technology is improving, but is not yet ready for combat.

More than a decade ago, the Army conceived the Land Warrior as the first "integrated soldier fighting system." The program aimed to equip dismounted soldiers with information-age technologies.

The Land Warrior system consists of a computer, a radio, a customized rifle and a helmet-mounted display eyepiece--all of which are linked electronically. Soldiers can transmit voice, data and imagery to other soldiers and to commanders. The program essentially combines everything that the soldier wears or carries into a "system of systems."

The current version of Land Warrior had been intended for operational use in 2004. Although it has been much improved over earlier prototypes, the system was deemed "unreliable" and unlikely to survive the rigors of combat.

That version, called Land Warrior Initial Capability, originally was to be fielded to Army Rangers in fiscal year 2004.

The Army recently decided to shelve the LW-IC, however, in favor of a more advanced version of Land Warrior, called LW-Stryker Interoperable.

"Due to reliability issues raised during developmental testing from November 2002 through February 2003, it was determined that the LW-IC system would not be ready for the start of operational test training in April 2003," said an Army spokesman.

In March, the Army approved a new strategy for Land Warrior that focuses on improving the LW system so it can be fielded with the Stryker brigades. The technology in the new Stryker light armored vehicle will be compatible with the Land Warrior.

The LW-Stryker Interoperable system is scheduled for operational testing in fiscal year 2006. If Land Warrior survives those tests, the Army could buy as many as 48,000 systems by 2015. The estimated price for each Land Warrior set is $20,000. Since the program's inception in the mid-1990s, the Army has spent nearly $2 billion on LW research and development work.

The Army insists that Land Warrior is essential to its fixture, because it provides "enhanced tactical awareness." According to Lt. Col. Dave Gallup, LW program manager, "Every soldier on the battlefront will be seamlessly interconnected with his buddies as well as operation command and control structures."

Members of a Land Warrior squad, for example, can track each other's location without using voice radio or hand signals. Each soldier is equipped with a belt pack computer with global positioning system, a personal radio, special weapon-mounted sensors and a helmet-mounted display. Through the HMD, the soldier can view computer-generated maps with moving icons that show the location of the soldier and fellow troops. He can also receive and create written orders, and view imagery from his weapon-mounted sensors such as a forward-looking infrared or a daylight video sight. Captured imagery can be sent up the chain of command for analysis or can be used to pinpoint the location of hidden enemy forces.

Army Rangers tested the LW-IC at Hunter Airfield, Ga. Those tests were intended to help program officials decide on how to proceed. When it became clear that the technology was not mature enough for military use, the program had to shift gears.

"The reliability wasn't there," said Maj. George Holguin, test integration officer for Land Warrior. The equipment, for example, lacked durability. "The LW did nor meet the 158 hours meantime between mission failures," Holguin said. "It has to meet that requirement before it can go into operational test and evaluation."

Army Pfc. Akili King showed off the LW equipment at the Association of the U.S. Army's winter symposium, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

He explained that LW has three basic "assemblies," the helmet, the body and the weapons. The helmet assembly has a wireless antenna, a helmet mounted display and a helmet interface assembly. The body assembly has a GPS receiver, a navigation box, a 500-megahertz rugged computer operating Windows 2000, another smaller computer connected to the other PC and a voice-data communications control set.

The system runs off two lithium-ion batteries. They are rechargeable and work for six to eight hours. "For combat purposes, we are looking at a disposable battery that works for up to 12 hours," King said.

The weapons assembly has a daylight video sight, which allows the shooter to fire around corners. "The only things I expose are my hands," King said. The modified M-4 rifle has a lightweight thermal weapons sight. A separate control device attached to the rifle lets the shooter manipulate the system without raking his hands off of the gun. One button, for example, activates voice communications, or calls up maps on the helmet-mounted display. Another button captures images, saves them and transmits them to a commander.

The electronics in Land Warrior weigh about 12.7 pounds. The body armor with ceramic plates adds another 17 pounds.

Most of the weight a Land Warrior would have to carry is in the form of basic combat supplies, just like any other soldier. A "fighting load" of 55 pounds includes 210 rounds ammo, water and food, for a 72-hour mission. It is not unusual for soldiers to carry more than 100 pounds of gear. The radio certainly is one piece of LW technology that needs to improve, said Holguin. The Land Warrior radio has a range of 1,300 meters. "I can talk to anyone in my platoon," said King. But the radio only operates in the line of sight.

During tests, "communications are degraded when trees are in the way," he said. The system also has limited capabilities to transmit data. Only the platoon leader has a military radio with a satellite communications link, such as the MBITR (multi-band intra-team radio).

Another problem that surfaced during tests was the poor performance of battery packs. "They were not holding up long enough," said Holguin.

Although it failed to meet performance thresholds, the LW-IC was still an improvement over an earlier version of Land Warrior unveiled in 1996.

By 1998, the program had become an embarrassment to the Army. It failed various tests, was over budget and the gear was too bulky The coinputer's nackaging, mounted on the soldier's back, was in the shape of a turtle-shell, making it difficult for soldiers to move, especially when they had to drop and roll.

The Army began to turn the program around in 2000, when it hired a consortium of commercial companies to insert cutting-edge, Silicon Valley technology into Land Warrior.

A new contractor--General Dynamics Decision Systems--was selected to develop the Land Warrior-Stryker Interoperable. The previous developers of LW-IC were Computer Sciences Corporation and Pemstar Pacific Consultants.

A separate division of General Dynamics, GD Land Systems, is the manufacturer of the Stryker vehicle. GD Decision Systems received a $60 million contract to develop LW-SI and get ready for operational testing in 2006.

"Our intention is to utilize a lot of the technology that was done already and make it field-ready and field-supportable," said Susan Pasternack, business development manager at GD-DS.

The company will attempt to fix the reliability problems that LW-IC experienced in tests, she said. To make the Land Warrior "Stryker compatible," the system will be engineered so soldiers can recharge the batteries from the vehicle, download battlefield information from Stryker computers and connect into the Arm/s tactical Internet.

GD also will be responsible to seek new technology to improve the system over time.

The current LW, which largely was built with commercial products, performs the functions the Army wants, but the technology is not robust enough for military use, Pasternack noted. "The improvements that need to be made are in reliability ... to make it field-rugged."

Rockwell Collins will provide the helmet-mounted display and the daylight video sensor.

The HMD is a non-see-through device that supports full color, high-resolution images and video. The soldier can mount the display on the helmet and view from either eye, looking directly forward or to the side, The daylight video sight is mounted on the weapon.

In the long term, the Army plans to tie subsequent upgrades of Land Warrior to the Future Combat System program, designed to replace current tanks and eventually replace the Stryker.

A parallel Army research project, called the Objective Force Warrior, focuses on futuristic technology that eventually may be incorporated into Land Warrior, such as lightweight protective garments and miniature high-endurance fuel cells.

The Army will spend about $200 million on the OFW during the next five to 10 years, but the project should not be viewed as a competitor to Land Warrior, said Phil Brandler, a program engineer at the Arm/s Soldier Systems Center.

The technologies in OFW will "feed" the Land Warrior effort, he told National Defense. "To say that technologies in LW have fallen short probably doesn't do justice to the LW program."

A program so heavily dependent on PC technology and wireless communications always will need to be upgraded, to keep up with advances in the industry, he noted.

In OFW, said Brandler, "we are looking at things not contemplated in Land Warrior."

To accelerate the development of miniaturized soldier devices, the Army provided a $50 million grant for a nanotechnology center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Researchers hope that nanotechnology can help create molecule-size micromachines, for many potential applications in the Objective Force Warrior program.

Last month, the Soldier Systems Center was to select a contractor for the next phase of the OFW Eagle Enterprise Inc. (a division of General Dynamics) and Exponent Inc. (a high-technology firm in Menlo Park, Calif.) each won $7.5 million contracts last year for the concept development phase of OFW.

George Fisher, a national security expert at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, was a member of an advisory group that helped the Army develop a "vision" for the Objective Force Warrior. He said many of the technologies considered for OFW are undeveloped, but nevertheless promising. Future soldier uniforms, for example, could be embedded with sensors that can monitor bodily injuries and even apply a tourniquet, Fisher said.

"Smart" camouflage materials would change colors to match the environment and eventually have "signature management" capabilities to help soldiers operate undetected. It is not unreasonable to expect that, one day, soldier uniforms will be made with bullet-proof materials that would eliminate the need for body armor. "It's just a matter of time," Fisher said.

He said the OFW contractors are very much aware of Land Warrior's rocky development history and are drawing lessons from the project. The "reliability" problems experienced in Land Warrior, he said, usually can be expected "if you don't have the technology designed properly against the requirements."

RELATED ARTICLE: Fuel Cells Could Help Army Cut Back on Batteries

The Army today employs 300 different types of batteries to power every imaginable device-ranging from riflescopes to radios and missile launchers.

A battalion preparing for war literally must bring tens of thousands of batteries to the battlefield, creating enormous logistical burdens.

The battery problem is of particular concern for dismounted soldiers, who already carry more than 100 pounds of gear and cannot afford to be weighed down with additional battery packs.

"Getting the soldier load down and having power sources that will power all the devices the soldier uses is a significant challenge," said George Fisher, an Army advisor at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. 'We need some breakthroughs in that area."

Experts say the Army's best hope for an alternative source of "soldier power" is in miniature fuel-cell technology.

One of many ongoing efforts in this arena is under way at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Under sponsorship of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the lab is developing miniaturized low-watt power sources that could be used in soldier devices such as sensors and hand-held wireless systems.

About the size of a cigarette lighter, these tiny power systems convert liquid fuel to electricity via a micro-scale fuel processor coupled with a micro-scale fuel cell. PNNL's fuel reformer, the size of a pencil eraser, converts fuel and water into hydrogen-rich gas. The fuel cell then generates electricity by converting hydrogen and oxygen from the air into electrical power and dean water.

Tests have shown that the system can produce an equivalent power to batteries at about one-third the weight said Evan Jones, a PNNL researcher.

Battery performance may improve in the future, but only "incrementally," said Jones. in the long term, the Army will need to rely on fuel cells if it wants lighter and more efficient power sources, he said. "To get orders of magnitude improvement, you need liquid fuel."

In principle, fuel cells will generate electricity for as long as the fuel-generally hydrogen gas-is supplied. However, providing hydrogen in small quantities for compact equipment can be a drawback.

The technology so far only has been tested in the lab and will not be ready for field tests until 2006, said Jones. It is not yet certain that these fuels cells will be rugged enough to survive in harsh environments or combat conditions.

If the project proves successful, a long-term goal is to be able to power the fuel cells with reformed JP-8, the Army's standard fuel.

"As long as we have JP-8, how do we turn it into hydrogen to get it into the fuel cell?" asked John Pellegrino, an Army scientist.

He said that the fuel-reforming technology is "not there yet ... You need a reformer plant of pretty substantial size to get rid of the sulfur [in the JP-8 fuel]:' One way to counter that problem would be to develop sulfur tolerant catalysts and fuel cell electric-catalyst membranes that can be used with a higher degree of sulfur, Pellegrino said.

The Army's expressed desire to do away with batteries in favor of fuel cells increasingly is driving private investments in this technology.

A case in point is a partnership signed six months ago between Harris Corporation--a supplier of military radios--and MTI MicroFuel Cells Inc

The companies agreed to fund the development of micro fuel cell prototypes for potential use in tactical radios.
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Author:Erwin, Sandra I.
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2003
Previous Article:Army considers privatizing its depots, ammo facilities.
Next Article:Army puts the Stryker on a fast track: light armored vehicle to prove its value in urban, peacekeeping operations.

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