Soldier systems focus on infantry technology to achieve the mission and get the fighters home alive

By John Keller

Posted by John Keller

Soldier systems -- wearable computers , networked sensors, pocket-sized navigation and guidance systems, and other soldier electronics -- have been on my mind lately. I often wonder what the American infantryman about the storm the beaches at Normandy would think of the wearable electronics on today's soldiers on patrol in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the Normandy beaches, the average infantry technology consisted of a rifle, ammunition, water, food, rudimentary first-aid gear, helmet, extra socks, and really not a lot else besides the soldier's uniform and boots. some carried radios, but not many. Don't get me wrong, he had a back-breaking load to carry, but fundamentally not a lot different from the soldier in the ranks during the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, and before.

Today's soldier technology is a whole lot different. There is amazing capability, ranging from night-vision goggles and rifle sights, networked radios not much larger than a deck of cards, global positioning system (GPS) receivers and computers the sizes of cell phones, and more. The choices today's soldier faces also are much more complex than the fighting man of decades past.

All that new capability means extra weight to carry, not only in terms of the electronic and electro-optic devices available, but also for the batteries to power these devices. Depending on the mission, the soldier today and his commanders must decide if they want to carry sensors or a second canteen of water, radios or more food, handheld computers or extra ammunition.

The point is, today's soldier must strike the right balance between capability, firepower, and survival equipment that will enable him to perform his mission and then get back home alive.

One of the primary goals of those specifying and designing soldier systems technology is to keep these critical choices to a minimum, or more to the point, help soldiers make choices of ammunition, water, food, AND sensors, communications, and computers, rather than the other way around.

Soldier systems today, however, are not just about piling on capability to the warfighter in the field. Soldier technology also is about helping infantrymen fight smarter, and to give them new ways not only to help them fight, but also to survive and thrive long after returning home to their homes and families.

Soldiers in the field take a beating, from the elements, from stress and fatigue, and of course from bullets and explosives during battle. Explosions -- especially those from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted along roadsides, have the potential to create far more serious injuries than meets the eye.

A soldier might get caught in an IED explosion, and simply get up and dust himself off after waiting for the stars and spider webs to clear from his head. Yet head injuries from concussive forces like roadside bombs can cause lingering injuries that might take days or weeks to make themselves known.

Now picture this. What if a soldier had a motion sensor embedded in his helmet able to measure the concussive force of an explosion on the soldier wearing it? What if a little red LED in this helmet sensor started flashing if the force of the explosion were more than a human being should be able to withstand safely over the long term?

No need to speculate anymore; that technology's here, and is being deployed in the field. It's just one of the aspects of soldier systems that are making the modern soldier ever-more effective, deadly, and survivable.

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The Mil & Aero Bloggers

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

Ernesto Burden is the publisher of PennWell’s Aerospace & Defense Media Group, including Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence and Avionics Europe.  He’s a father of four, a runner, and an avid digital media enthusiast with a deep background in the intersection of media publishing, digital technology, and social media. He can be reached at ernestob@pennwell.com and on Twitter @aero_ernesto.

Courtney E. Howard, as executive editor, enjoys writing about all things electronics and avionics in PennWell’s burgeoning Aerospace and Defense Group, which encompasses Military & Aerospace Electronics, Avionics Intelligence, the Avionics Europe conference, and much more. She’s also a self-proclaimed social-media maven, mil-aero nerd, and avid avionics geek. Connect with Courtney at Courtney@Pennwell.com, @coho on Twitter, and on LinkedIn.

Mil & Aero Magazine

February 2014
Volume 25, Issue 2
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