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 future, 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
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
“The reliability wasn’t there,” said Maj. George Holguin,
test integration officer for Land Warrior. The equipment, for example, lacked
durability. “The LW did not meet the 158 hours mean-time 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
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 taking 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 of 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 computer’s packaging,
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
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 Army’s tactical Internet.
GD also will be responsible to seek new technology to improve the system over
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
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 Army’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
In OFW, said Brandler, “we are looking at things not contemplated in
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
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
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.”