Over the past three years, the Army generally has done an impressive job at getting troops in Iraq and Afghanistan the equipment they need to fight a new kind of war. It recently delivered the one millionth Rapid Fielding Kit (RFK) to the soldiers of the 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division. More than 500 man-portable Packbots robots have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now the Army is spending billions to rush Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles to the field.
So why is the Army hesitating to provide dismounted warriors with a truly revolutionary, low cost capability? I am speaking about Land Warrior, a system that provides unprecedented situational awareness for dismounted soldiers. Today, when soldiers dismount from their vehicles they lose most of their situational awareness capabilities. In the narrow streets and alleyways of Baghdad or the broken topography of Afghanistan nothing is worth more than situational awareness among dismounted soldiers.
Land Warrior consists of a helmet-mounted display, a portable computer for both situational awareness and navigation, and a headset. Land Warrior provides real-time graphics and tactical symbols to be displayed in the soldiers’ eyepiece. Downloads from reconnaissance drones, Packbots, surveillance systems and, of course, other Land Warrior systems are available. Radio and voice-over-internet links allow communications with tactical operations centers and with mounted elements. Most important, Land Warrior is designed to be employed while the soldier retains hands-on control of his weapon.
An initial set of Land Warrior systems were deployed with the 4-9 Infantry Stryker Battalion (the famous Manchus). Within a few months, its performance generated rave reviews by the ground pounders. “I would not go outside the wire without it,” one sergeant opined. “This system has proven itself to be the most capable piece of military equipment out there to prevent fratricide,” said another. “Land Warrior saved my unit,” declared a squad leader. The performance of Land Warrior with the Manchus has validated it as a significant force multiplier.
Despite its obvious value, the Army has not sought any funds in the fiscal 2008 budget submission for Land Warrior. The Army’s reluctance to deploy Land Warrior is even more inexplicable in light of the fact that there is a signed Operational Needs Statement (ONS) by the commander of the 5th Brigade, 2nd Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) which is about to deploy to Iraq. The ONS clearly lays out the advantages of providing enhanced dismounted situational awareness in terms of enhanced maneuverability, greater unit efficiency and lethality, and reduced fratricide.
The Army needs to move with speed to provide the 5-2 (SBCT) with a full set of Land Warrior assets in time for assimilation and training. The costs involved in equipping the 5-2 (SBCT) are modest, some $85 million for 982 equipment sets to connect the entire brigade plus modest resources for sustainment. The 5-2 (SBCT) is about to deploy, therefore time is of the essence. A decision is needed by November 1.
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