Armed (and Networked) to the Teeth

Land Warrior

An army brigade is headed to Afghanistan, armed with a “Land Warrior” suite of high-tech battlefield equipment that includes electronic maps, GPS beacons, wearable computers, and digitalradios. As Danger Room reports, this is a revival for the program, which had been shuttered because of concerns about how useful the $48,000 system would be, and whether its benefits justify adding nine more pounds to a soldier’s load.

Still, almost 900 Land Warrior units are going out with the Army’s 5th batallion, because battlefield tests from 2006 proved that it can be pretty useful in providing soldiers with all-important “situational awareness”: First, it provides troops with a helmet-mounted monocle that shows where their comrades are; there’s also a marking system that lets soldiers highlight buildings, escape routes, and enemies. That, in turn, allows the soldiers to better coordinate meet-up points and strategic objectives.

What changed, to make the Land Warrior finally useful? The basic tech took 15 years and $500 million to develop, but it initially weighed a whopping 16 pounds. Thanks to solider input, that weight was dropped to nine, and the marking system was added–both those changes greatly increased the functionality.

Problems, of course still exist, and this time of the organizational sort: The gadget performs well in urban situations, but that’s not where it’s going to be deployed. “I definitely see the application in Iraq, in anurban environment,” Capt. Edward Graham told the News-Tribune. “But when you’re at 9,000 feet, sometimes you have to decide what’s appropriate.” The soldiers chided the system once before, only to be disproven in the field. Will the same thing happen again?

[Read more at The News Tribune and at Danger Room; image by Peter Haley for The News Tribune]