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With a goal toward the design of a system enabling the 21st century U.S. soldier to become a more effective instrument of war, recent advances in the US Army’s “Land Warrior” program have focused on providing soldiers with up-to-date technology for wireless communication, navigation and information interchange. The Land Warrior system will make rapid deployable light forces more effective on the future battlefield, providing enhancements of lethality, survivability, mobility and sustainability.

Targeting vastly increased situational awareness for dismounted infantry soldiers, an integrated system of rapid mobile digital and voice connectivity has been developed by product engineering and analysis firm Pacific Consultants, Mountain View, CA.

Two years ago the U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) noted that the project was “over budget, behind schedule and needed more oversight.” The Land Warrior program, started in the early 90’s, regularly received widespread negative national front-page newspaper coverage for lack of progress in achieving the program objectives.

Putting Land Warrior on the fast track

A paradigmatic turn-around began in October of 1999 when U.S. Army management, under the direction of Colonel Bruce Jette, took the initiative to treat the project as a “fast track Silicon Valley project”, utilizing new product innovations and Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) components to develop working prototypes of a wearable computer, voice-over IP radio and the software package needed to control the system. Implementing such an innovative COTS approach was a direct alternative to traditional methods of military procurement and program development.

A goal of the program was to keep costs under control by leveraging the rapid advances taking place in the commercial research and development arena; most notably in the area of wireless communication. This wasn’t easy. “One of the stiffest challenges we faced involved taking available commercial standard applications and re-deploying them into military standard applications,” said Pacific Consultants CEO Dr. Hugh Duffy

Pacific Consultants provided overall systems integration of Land Warrior components including the computer/radio, global positioning system and a weapon with thermal imaging capability for detection of hidden targets, laser range finder and a video sight that also allows soldiers to accurately aim and shoot around corners or obstacles without exposing themselves to enemy warfare. This latter feature is especially desirable in urban warfare, where soldiers are continually encountering walls, stairs, doorways and fences.

The wearable computer

The Land Warrior (LW) wearable computer system is centered around two commercially available data handling platforms – the Land Warrior computer running Windows 2000 on PC 104 hardware and the LW communications-navigation (CommNav) unit, using Windows CE running on an Intel Strongarm processor. This CommNav unit contains a GPS receiver and dead reckoning positioning module (DRM) and a wireless LAN PC card. It also includes DSP hardware for handling audio communications.

The data network

Faced with an accelerated timeline, the software engineering process consisted of two parallel, spiral development programs. A series of rapid prototyping and user interface mock-up cycles were valuable in gathering user requirements and validating design choices via user juries. In tandem with this, a more comprehensive production software development process has been used, integrating participatory design and extensive user involvement in all phases of the project.

Land Warrior-equipped soldiers have the capability to originate and disseminate a variety of asynchronous data messages, including operational orders, intelligence information, logistics reports and tactical fire support requests. A rapid call for medical assistance can also be issued. The Land Warrior mapping component provides the capability to show current position information for each member of the platoon. The system automatically generates and transmits regular GPS-based position update messages, so that Land Warrior users can be constantly updated with each other’s current location. “Knowing the positions of fellow platoon members minute by minute, especially in relation to the enemy’s location, provides a tremendous strategic advantage,” said Pacific Consultants’ President Dr. Bret Herscher.

Map overlays can be edited to add targets, route plans, rally points, mined areas and a wide range of other geo-located points of interest- these can then be transmitted to all platoon members or a selected group of recipients. A video-mode data server provides the user with overlaid text and graphics when the system is used for displaying real-time video from the weapon-mounted sights. The system includes a still-image handling facility for saving, annotating, and transmitting video scenes that are captured using the weapon sights. The Land Warrior application also incorporates a simple hypertext browser, which soldiers use to access various operations manuals, training texts, and other HTML-based reference material.

For the complete unedited version of this article check out the April 2001 cover story in RF Design.