Future force is on the move

July 1, 2006
Tomorrow’s warfighters are here today, years earlier than initially anticipated.

By Courtney E. Howard

NATICK, Mass. - Tomorrow’s warfighters are here today, years earlier than initially anticipated. The U.S. Army’s Future Force Warrior (FFW) program, under the umbrella of the organization’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) project, received a significant boost from an advanced technology demonstration last month.

The team at the Natick Soldier Center in Natick, Mass.-in conjunction with industry vendors working on the future warrior technologies-demonstrated innovations that are integral to the success of the FFW program at the Army’s Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance On the Move (C4ISR OTM) technological test bed.

“C4ISR OTM is a huge army experiment at which there will be hundreds of soldiers,” says Dutch DeGay, equipment specialist with the FFW technology program office at the Natick Soldier Center. “It enables soldiers in the Army to touch, taste, and feel the new equipment, technologies, and capabilities, and tell us what works and what doesn’t work.”

Those working on the FFW program at Natick Soldier Center delivered electronic innovations designed to infuse the soldier with a definitive edge over enemy forces, for demonstration and field testing at C4ISR OTM.

Among these many new electronic devices was EI2, a next-generation device that fuses high-band infrared night vision and low-band infrared thermal technologies. The single drop-down piece of eyewear provides a thermal picture and an infrared picture.

The Future Force Warrior in 2010 and beyond will be equipped with a wide variety of innovative electronic devices that provide the warfighter a significant advantage over the opposition.
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“Infrared is purely light-gathering, so at 3 o’clock in the morning with 5 percent illumination, that optic gathers what little light there is to form a picture,” DeGay says. “If the enemy were to use smoke, for example, I would only be able to see the smoke very well at 3 a.m. The thermal imager enables me to see hot targets on the other side of a visual impairment such as smoke. If I walk into a wooded environment in the middle of the day, and I can’t pick out targets with the naked eye, I can use my thermal device to identify targets that are hot physically. It gives the soldier a capability that, until recently, we only had on vehicles. It is a much better way for the soldier to identify and engage targets.”

The FFW’s communications system involves several electronic components, including a bone-conduction sensor that sits against the head and connects to the interior ring of the helmet. The new sensor makes the cranial cavity a transceiver for sound. With bone conduction, which the Natick Soldier Center leveraged from the Air Force, the sensor stimulates a tympanum membrane in the skull, enabling soldiers to hear communications literally in their heads without any outside noise.

“Traditional speakers or microphones take away organic sensors by plugging a soldier’s ear or putting something in front of his or her face,” DeGay mentions. “We jokingly refer to the helmet as the command-and-control platform. It gives me the ability to identify targets in day and night, and it allows me to communicate inside my voice network to delegate authority or to identify and push targets.”

In the FFW program, the team leader, squad leader, platoon leader, platoon sergeant, or higher-ranking leader carries a ruggedized tablet PC. The PC provides access to the network, the military library, and digital maps, as well as enables the leader to identify targets and, through the network, push targets to subordinates. Individual FFW soldiers would view those targets using handheld, ruggedized PDAs connected to the network.

“It’s essentially making the soldier a laptop walking around the battle space with an IP address, with which to push and/or pull data, still images, video, or audio,” DeGay notes. “We leverage the Warrior Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T), and the soldier becomes a node through the handheld ruggedized PDA or the leader’s ruggedized tablet to identify and push or pull targets.”

The FFW program is turning away from traditional VHF and UHF radio systems in favor of digital radio devices. The soldier radio waveform (SRW) is comparable to VoIP in that the network packetizes the data, sends it out, and reassembles it on the other side, resulting in a cleaner data stream. In fact, a soldier can connect to an unmanned aerial vehicle that is 3000 meters away and stream video to see what that UAV sees.

The Future Force Warrior’s helmet, regarded as the soldier’s command and control center, houses communications sensors, optical electronics, and other pieces of important equipment.
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“Rather than having someone contact me on the radio and say, ‘We think there may be 15 enemy personnel 3000 meters to your front,’ I can just tap into a UAV that’s loitering in the area,” DeGay says. “I can get a real-time stream and know that it’s not 15, but 30 enemy soldiers and they are doing ‘X’ and this is their disposition and where they’re located. I can push that image and video down to my subordinates in real time, so we have a better idea of exactly what it is that we’re walking into.”

FFWs also carry a GPS antenna, reducing fratricide and aiding subordinates and leaders in knowing where soldiers are located, plus or minus roughly three meters. The GPS antenna works in conjunction with the SRW and handheld PDAs and laptops to locate soldiers inside buildings.

“Normally with a network, you walk into a building and lose connectivity,” DeGay says. “Your leadership loses control of you inside of an urban area, and it involves hand and arm signals, yelling, and moving people around in order to accomplish the mission. Now the onboard computer is smart enough to realize that they’ve lost contact, and to look around to find it. It’s a self-healing network. With the dead-reckoning module, which is carried on a soldier and GPS, we have the ability to gain a good idea of where soldiers are, when we would have originally lost track of them.

“My biggest concern as a ranger leader, for example, is a multistory building that I have to send a platoon or a company in to clear. Once my guys walk inside the building, I’ve lost control of them. I’m desperately listening to a radio to try to figure out what’s going on. Now I have the ability to see representative icons of the soldiers as they maneuver through that building. I have better contact and command and control of what those soldiers are doing.”

To further communications, the FFW wears body-borne antennas the size of body armor plates in a next-generation piece of body armor called the chassis. The antennas are omnidirectional, flattened, and worn in the body-armor vest.

Innovative electronic systems communicate the current health and health history of FFWs. The Warrior Physiological Status Monitoring System (WPSM) is an electronic suite of sensors worn by the soldier that monitors diastolic and systolic information, core body temperature, skin temperature, and heart rate.

In addition, bone-conduction sensors, such as that on the FFW’s helmet, are distributed throughout the uniform ensemble to detect whether he or she has suffered a ballistic trauma and where. Because the soldier is wearing a tactical hub and a medical hub, FFW medical variants can monitor the health of soldiers from a covered and concealed position, virtually safe from harm. If a soldier has a falling core body temperature and falling heart rate, for example, it could be due to a number of causes: cold environment, hypothermia, or a bleeding wound. The WPSM and bone conduction sensors communicate not only that the soldier has been shot, but also that that he has been shot in the torso between the neck and waist. That soldier is then represented by an icon in the medic variant system, and that medic knows in advance what to expect and where to administer aid.

At the same time, the soldier wears a digital dog tag called a personal information carrier (PIC). As a medic provides care in the battle space, he or she removes the soldier’s PIC from his neck, puts it in the medical variant’s PDA, and updates that soldier’s entire medical history with the treatment just administered.

For the FFW program, the Army has partnered with General Dynamics C4 Systems in Taunton, Mass., the program’s lead technology integrator.

Also contributing technologies to the FFW are: Kaiser Electro-optics in Carlsbad, Calif., which was recently purchased by Rockwell Collins; General Dynamics Decision Systems in Scottsdale, Ariz.; Northrop Grumman Mission Systems in Albuquerque, N.M.; Corporate Innovations of Simpsonville, S.C.; John H. Northrop and Associates in Burke, Va.; SAIC in McLean, Va.; Booze Alan Hamilton in McLean, Va.; Computer Sciences Corp. in Falls Church, Va.; I3 Solutions in Sterling, Va.; General Dynamics Robotics Systems in Westminster, Md.; Cry Associates in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Megawave Corp. in Boylston, Mass.; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass; Articent in Boston; A123 Systems in Boston; General Dynamics Armament System in Burlington, Vt.; Mine Safety Appliances in Pittsburgh; and ITT Industries in Fort Wayne, Ind.

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