By John Rhea
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Army`s Land Warrior program to develop an integrated combat system for infantry soldiers has passed its critical design review.
Defense officials gave high marks to all electronics and other hardware subsystems, but expressed reservations about the system`s software and protective clothing, says Julius Bogdanowicz, manager of battlefield systems at Hughes Defense Systems in El Segundo, Calif.
Some of these items had been flagged earlier at the preliminary design review in February, and Hughes officials have been fine tuning them in preparation for delivery of the first 12 fully integrated systems in April to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., for 15 months of operational testing as part of the unit`s normal training cycle.
Major changes included upgrading the processor from an Intel 486 to a Pentium now that a low-power version of that microprocessor has become available. The prototypes tested last year at Fort Benning, Ga., ran 100 pounds, and Bogdanowicz estimates that Hughes engineers can get that down to 81 pounds by the time of the Fort Bragg tests. The electronics weighs 15 pounds, and there is not much weight that designers can save there; now it is a matter of shaving ounces off the clothing, helmet, and other non-electronic items.
Speaking during an interview at the Association of the U.S. Army conference last October in Washington, Bogdanowicz noted that members of the Land Warrior integrated product team are still trying to get the weight down to 75 pounds - about what a squad leader carries into battle now.
In addition to the introduction of the Pentium in a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) multichip module, other new hardware includes a small Racal squad radio compatible with the existing Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System and a reduced power laser rangefinder. There is a 12-hour battery life requirement, so Hughes engineers have also had to trim power demands. The whole system requires 8 watts, of which the computer accounts for 4 watts.
As a result, Hughes designers chose PCI cards with an ISA bus for the interface rather than PCMCIA cards, which Bogdanowicz says had been evaluated but rejected on grounds of excessive weight and insufficient ruggedness.
Hughes designers also had to select electroluminescent monochrome displays from Planar Systems in Beaverton, Ore., for the helmet-mounted displays because liquid crystal displays could not meet the -15 to 70 degrees Celsius temperature specification without the addition of heating elements.
Like the hardware, the software is COTS - about 250,000 lines of code in all - of which Bogdanowicz estimates 50 percent can be reused from previous programs. This is mostly in Ada with some C for such functions as the database. Upgrading from a 486 to a Pentium is a fairly straightforward process, but there is sufficient uncertainty to warrant the concerns.
The Fort Bragg tests will be crucial for the program because they precede a decision on low-rate initial production scheduled for early 1999.
Army officials had originally planned to buy 18,000 units between 1999 and 2005 at an average price range from $36,000 to $43,000, but would like to push that up to 34,000 units and keep production going through 2010. This should further drive down unit costs if the Army can justify a need for the systems within the context of its battlefield digitization program.