Congress cites technical problems in cutting funds for wearable systems

Power consumption and battery
weight pose challenges.


Congress has killed the Army’s plan to buy wearable computer weapons systems for
soldiers this year.


The system, called Land Warrior, combines small arms, body armor and high-tech gear in
an integrated system for the digital battlefield the service expects to support in the
21st century. Land Warrior includes a helmet-mounted computer and radio system.


The Army had earmarked $51.4 million in its fiscal 1999 budget request for 255 Land
Warrior systems. The service expects to pay a per-unit price of $200,000. But lawmakers
balked at the expense. Noting technical problems with the systems, they refused to fund
the Land Warrior purchases in the recently approved fiscal 1999 Defense Department
appropriations bill.


“The conferees are aware of a significant number of cost and technical problems
associated with this program,” lawmakers said in the conference report on the fiscal
1999 Defense authorization bill. “The conferees, therefore, agree to authorize no
funds for this program for fiscal year 1999.”


The Army eventually plans to spend $2 billion to field 45,000 of the Land Warrior
systems by 2014. But the service acknowledged it must overcome some technical hurdles.


“We want to give our infantrymen the same capabilities—lethality,
survivability and situational awareness—that we have with our heavy combat
systems,” said Lt. Gen. Paul Kern, director of the Army Acquisition Corps. He spoke
at last week’s annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army in Washington.


“When you look at a tank it’s pretty easy to add computers, day and night
vision capabilities and processing power,” Kern said. “But when you try to
package the same thing and give it to an infantryman, we’re really challenging the
technology.”


Power consumption and battery weight are the biggest challenges, he said.


Batteries last about 150 minutes with all systems running on a Land Warrior system,
Army officials said. The Army’s Communications-Electronics Command at Fort Monmouth,
N.J., is working on smaller, lighter batteries that will last up to 30 hours, Kern said.


The computer and radio subsystem includes a 66-MHz to 166-MHz multichip Pentium
processor. The system runs Lynx, a Posix-compliant operating system from Lynx Real-Time
Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif. The computer has radio and Global Positioning System
locator interfaces so that units can identify one another’s locations at any time.


Land Warrior’s integrated computer and helmet-mounted video display equipment
transmits maps and orders so soldiers not only hear commands but also see them on
monitors. A single hand unit controls both the helmet-mounted display and computer.


The software in-cludes tactical and mission support modules, maps and tactical
overlays. The system also can capture and display video images. The monocular video
displays maps and navigation data, command and control instructions and weapons siting
information.


The weapons include an M-16/M-4 modular carbine, a laser range finder and digital
compass, a daylight video camera, a laser aiming light and a thermal sight.


The Army hired Raytheon Co. as the Land Warrior contractor. Raytheon provides systems
engineering and integration and is developing the software and weapons subsystems. The
Army and Raytheon are testing the Land Warrior system with a platoon from the 82nd
Airborne Division at the Army’s Infantry School in Fort Benning, Ga.


The weight problems cropped up during the tests, Kern said.


The Land Warrior system weighs about 80 pounds, including body armor and load carrying
equipment. The suit weighs far more than equipment now carried by soldiers, Army officials
said.  


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