As he advances on the battlefield, the U.S. Army soldier of the future is a network-connected fighting machine. Accessing a drop-down eyepiece on his helmet, called an Integrated Helmet Assembly Subsystem, he glances at a virtual computer monitor that links him to a GPS system showing his location as well as a live video feed from unmanned aerial vehicles.
He quickly checks computer-generated graphical data, digital maps, intelligence information, troop locations, and imagery fed from his weapon-mounted TWS (Thermal Weapon Sight). By scanning an area with the TWS, the soldier sees enemy positions. His climate controlled, lightweight body armor gives him ease of motion as he positions himself for battle.
Part of a small but lethal company of equally equipped infantry, the future soldier is supported by scores of lightweight, unmanned vehicles, sensors, and remote-controlled Howitzers. The sensors may be on the lookout to identify certain enemy leaders or to detect biohazards. They will go around corners to plot the advancement of enemy vehicles. A robot is sent forward to fire on the vehicles.
Each soldier, sensor, and robot is linked to a network that is continually regrouping to respond to information demands. Peter Marcotullio, director of development at SRI International, the Menlo Park, Calif.-based research center working with the Defense Department on the ad hoc network development, says sensors and other components that will make this connectivity possible may be available to the U.S. military in the next five years.
In this vision of future warfare, networks will be assembled on the fly as the battle is joined, Marcotullio says. "Each person is a network with routing capability to everyone else," he says. "Think of cascading networks, all IP-based, that are dynamic and self-configured as the troops advance."
The U.S. Army has dubbed this particular project its Future Combat System. In fact, each arm of the military is forging ahead with development of technology platforms that promise to surpass the gee-whiz achievements of the military in the Iraq War. The Army's Future Combat push embraces Land Warrior, still in trial, and a more futuristic prototype, the Objective Force Warrior, scheduled for debut in 2006 or soon thereafter, says Rick Kremer director of the technology practice at Exponent in Menlo Park, Calif.
"Objective Force Warrior is the Army's effort to identify and develop the next generation technology for this kind of soldier system," Kremer says. "We expect to be able to cut the size and the extent of power drawn down so you don't swamp the soldier."
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