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Soldiers test 'Land Warrior' technology.

Small-unit commanders in the Army soon may receive a new computer-radio suite that connects soldiers into a wireless network and tracks their location.

The technology, called the "dismounted battle command system," is a simplified version of the embattled "Land Warrior" infantry ensemble, which the Army has been developing for more than a decade.

"The Army spent a decade digitizing the mounted force. Now we have the technology for the dismounted troops," said Col. Richard D. Hansen Jr., project manager for warrior systems.

Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division currently are testing the dismounted battle command system at Fort Drum, N.Y.

"So far the test at Drum is going very well," says Lt. Col. Brian Cummings, product manager for Land Warrior.

Once Army and Pentagon testers give their approval, the battalion likely will put the system to use in combat during its next deployment to Afghanistan.

The dismounted battle command system, or DBCS, is emblematic of the Army's struggle to field technologies to frontline troops sooner than originally planned. Land Warrior, when first conceived in the mid-1990s, was supposed to enter service by 2000, but suffered major technical setbacks and failed key tests before the Army restructured the program into its current form.

Today's Land Warrior is being developed for the Stryker brigades to begin using in 2008. The 1st squadron of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Lewis, Wash., is scheduled to receive 440 Land Warrior systems in 2006. The unit, which is being converted to a Stryker brigade, will test the technology.

While DBCS is limited to communications and situational awareness, Land Warrior also includes an integrated helmet-mounted computer display, an advanced rifle and laser range finder.

A yet more sophisticated version of Land Warrior, called "Future Force Warrior," is scheduled for 2014. The project, however, has been heavily criticized by Congress for being unfocused. As a result, it lost much of its funding. Subsequently, the Army was directed to develop a system that soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan could use right away.

Two versions of DBCS will be available, says Cummings. The "P" variant is for company commanders and platoon leaders. The "T" version is for squad and team leaders. Of the 20 systems being tested at Ft. Drum, 13 are T's. The contractor, General Dynamics C4 Systems, so far has built 58 systems to equip a battalion.

The company is under contract to supply 269 systems-164 T's and 105 P's. The program could grow substantially in coming years, General Dynamics officials said. They estimated it takes 650 systems to outfit one brigade, and the Army may decide to equip up to 30 brigades, if the technology works as promised.

The computer is a tablet-size device known as the "commander's digital assistant," or CDA, which is connected to a Micro-light radio and a headset for voice communications. General Dynamics makes the CDA, and the Raytheon Company supplies the Microlight. The CDA connects via an L-band satellite link to the Army's tactical Internet. The DBCS-T for squad and team leaders does not have a CDA.

Although the CDA weighs 7 pounds and the radio less than 2 pounds, the processor and the computer screen require five batteries for a 24-hour mission, which brings the total weight of the system to about 24 pounds.

"We are working on the weight," said Hansen.

Another concern is encryption. DBCS has Type 3 encryption, which makes the system less secure than the National Security Agency would want it to be, Hansen said at a conference of the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement.

Type 1 encryption is far more secure, but it costs $4,000 to add Type 1 encryption to a radio, and it takes about 18 months, said Hansen. That would mean delays to the program. "With Type 3 encryption, there is no schedule risk. NSA is weary of that type of encryption, but Type 3 is adequate for dismounted soldiers."

Cost growth in programs such as DBCS and Land Warrior is a significant problem, because these are technologies that will be fielded to thousands of soldiers, Hansen explained.

The Army estimates it spends about $25,000 on soldier equipment per individual. Land Warrior financial models predict the Future Force Warrior may cost $75,000 per soldier. "That becomes a big billion procurement program," said Hansen. "Are we as a nation willing to fund that?"

Part of the experiment at Fort Lewis with the 2nd ACR will be to determine how much technology each soldier really needs, he added. "Perhaps not every soldier needs $75,000 worth of the equipment."
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Author:Erwin, Sandra I.
Publication:National Defense
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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