Back view of a Future Force Warrior suit

Photo courtesy U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center

Battlefield Awareness

The value of enemy reconnaissance depends on how quickly that information can be relayed to the soldier on the battlefield. The soldiers of the future will have more information immediately available to them than ever before.

The U.S. Army currently employs a system called Blue Force Tracker (BFT). The system enables a commander to get a real-time picture of the battlefield from his or her personal computer. The commander can then track individual unit movement and provide this information to friendly units. The U.S. Marines have used BFT, although they initially opted for a more portable and rugged system called the Enhanced Position Location Reporting System, or "ePLRS." Both ePLRS and BFT share the same goal: real-time tracking of friendly forces. The downside to both systems, however, is that they are bulky, somewhat dated and require computers with operators who could otherwise be carrying a weapon.

The Future Force Warrior setup is a significant improvement on these current systems. A computer embedded in the suit and located at the base of the soldier's back will be connected to a local and wide-area network, allowing for data transfer.

DeGay explains it this way:

Essentially, it's what we call the "borg" effect, to borrow a theme from Star Trek. Everything in the battle space is a sensor, whether that's a vehicle, rotor wing, fixed wing, aviation vehicle, ground vehicle, individual soldier or unmanned robotic platform. That becomes a sensor that I can track for data. I can send data to it or take data, video or audio from it.

Future Force Warrior helmet

Photo courtesy U.S. Army Natick Soldier Center

Soldiers will utilize a voice-activated, drop-down screen in the helmet to access information without having to put down their weapons. Embedded in a pair of transparent glasses, the display will appear to the soldier as a 17-inch screen. This screen can display maps and real-time video provided by a forward-positioned scout team, satellite or aircraft. According to DeGay, "We are working to have the graphic user interface inside the computer systems to either replicate computer graphic user interfaces or even Playstation 2/Xbox graphic user interfaces," because most of today's soldiers are already familiar with how those systems work.

Not only will Future Force Warriors know more about their fellow soldiers, but they also will know more about their own physiological condition. The physiological subsystem of the uniform lies against the soldier's skin and includes sensors that monitor soldier's core body temperature, skin temperature, heart rate, body position (standing or sitting) and hydration levels. These statistics are monitored by the soldier and by medics and commanding officers who might be miles away. Knowing the condition of a platoon of soldiers allows commanders to make better strategic decisions. The Future Force Warrior helmet also includes a GPS receiver, providing commanders with exact positioning data on their troops.

Another vital component of battle is communication between soldiers. The Future Force Warrior will use sensors that measure vibrations of the cranial cavity, eliminating the need for an external microphone. This bone-conduction technology allows soldiers to communicate with one another, and it also controls the menus visible through the drop-down eyepiece. The helmet has 360-degree situational awareness and voice amplification.

"What this will allow you to do is to know where that sniper round or mortar round came from, but at the same time it will cancel out noise at a certain decibel so as to not cause damage to the soldier's ears," said Robert Atkinson, liaison sergeant, operational forces interface group, Natick Soldier Center.

The situation-awareness technology also allows soldiers to:

  • detect other soldiers in front of them up to a couple of kilometers away
  • focus in on a particular sound and amplify it

Powering the entire suit is a 2- to 20-watt microturbine generator fueled by a liquid hydrocarbon. A plug-in cartridge containing 10 ounces of fuel can power the soldier's uniform for up to six days. Battery patches embedded in the helmet provide three hours of back-up power.