While we may still be years away from seeing high-tech personal gear for the typical soldier, the military has plenty of other cutting-edge technologies. Robots and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) help soldiers get a look at situations too dangerous or remote for humans to explore safely.
The Land Warrior Program
The Land Warrior project was ambitious from the start. It consisted of an encrypted communications system made up of radios and sensors. Soldiers wearing the Land Warrior gear would have access to the latest battleground conditions using a wearable computer system. Soldiers could look at a small computer monitor through one eye and see the location of other friendly forces. Radio transmissions could keep troop movements secret in hostile situations.
But after more than 10 years of development and $500 million invested in the project, the Army cut funding to Land Warrior in 2007. The cut was just one of several budget cutbacks across the United States military. Why cut a program that could keep soldiers safe in dangerous and unpredictable environments?
Part of the problem was that soldiers were slow to use the technology during tests. Some soldiers claimed that the added weight of the gear made them larger and slower targets [source: Popular Mechanics]. Without early support from the soldiers who would use this equipment in combat, the Army found it difficult to justify the program's funding.
While the new technology meant soldiers would have to carry more equipment -- something that usually doesn't provoke cheers from soldiers -- many of its functions could contribute to safety. A flip-down eyepiece could serve as a computer monitor. The monitor could display electronic maps with friendly positions marked clearly. It could also link to the rifle's digital sight, allowing soldiers to hold a gun around a corner and get a glimpse of what's beyond without presenting their heads as targets. The sight and monitor could also serve as a powerful scope, providing up to 12 times magnification.
Another factor that may have contributed to the Army's decision to eliminate the program was the cost. It cost the Army approximately $30,000 to outfit just one soldier with the Land Warrior gear [source: Popular Mechanics]. The ultimate goal for the project was to create a system that could, in theory, roll out to every soldier in the Army.
The Army and other branches of the U.S. military are still trying to ensure soldiers have access to the gear and information they need on the battleground. While the Land Warrior project ultimately failed, other projects based on a similar philosophy -- informed soldiers are safe soldiers -- still receive funding. There seems to be no doubt that the right high-tech gear could improve soldier and civilian safety. The only question is how to design and implement the gear to make it as user-friendly and practical as possible.
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