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The Rise of the Soldier System

“The charm of history and its enigmatic lesson consist in the fact that, from age to age, nothing changes and yet everything is completely different.” – Aldous Huxley

At a briefing to industry back in 1990, planners at the U.S. Army Natick Research, Development and Engineering Center outlined what was, at that time, the emerging concept of the “soldier as a system.” Identifying the soldier as “the most important system in the Army,” Natick planners outlined concepts that would integrate a soldier’s climatic protection, food and water, weapons and ammunition, laser protection, load-carrying equipment, communications, ballistic protection, nuclear/biological/chemical protection, counter-surveillance, night vision devices, and decision support. The resulting integration was to provide soldiers with improved combat effectiveness, improved survivability and sustainability, lightening of the tactical load, and overall battlefield synergism – what is commonly referred to today as a soldier system.

 

SIPE

SIPE

The developers of the Soldier Integrated Protective Ensemble (SIPE) knew the technology of the day would make the system bulky, heavy, and somewhat unwieldy, but the concepts it proved informed the Land Warrior and Nett Warrior programs. U.S. Army photo

A cornerstone of this U.S. Army effort was a program designated as the Soldier Integrated Protective Ensemble (SIPE). In late 1989 and early 1990, SIPE was the subject of an Advanced Technology Transition Demonstration (ATTD) effort [funded FY 90-FY 92] that was designed to explore various aspects of that soldier-integrated synergism.

And the projected schedules showed SIPE to be on a fast track to fielding. Following proof of principle efforts in FY 89, early FY 90 witnessed coordination between Natick developers and the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, in conjunction with early material systems development efforts. Program projections called for procuring prototype SIPE ensembles by mid-FY 91, sequential demonstrations in late FY 92 and early FY 95, and the availability of an Advanced Integrated Combat Uniform System for Ground Troops in early FY 96. It wasn’t until the middle of FY 97 that the SIPE schedule projected the availability of a “Stealth Fighting Uniform.”

Fast-forward nearly a quarter of a century. In reality, U.S. warfighters have received myriad improvements in areas ranging from lighter equipment to greater ballistic and environmental protection. And the “soldier as a system” concept is clearly embraced by the U.S. Army and demonstrated through myriad program successes spearheaded by the Army’s Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier.

Moreover, a chart on expanding the SIPE technologies for next-generation future systems showed the introduction of “chameleon camouflage” in the 2000-2005 time frame. The 2005-2010 time frame included the introduction of features identified as: power-assisted combatant; life support system protective barrier against threats; exoskeleton; weapon system integration; and power-generation system.

But no jet packs.

Fast-forward nearly a quarter of a century. In reality, U.S. warfighters have received myriad improvements in areas ranging from lighter equipment to greater ballistic and environmental protection. And the “soldier as a system” concept is clearly embraced by the U.S. Army and demonstrated through myriad program successes spearheaded by the Army’s Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier.

 

Land Warrior

Operation Iron Harvest II Tim Failor

Sgt. Tim Failor of Crete, Neb., assigned to 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, moves through a courtyard in Sukkaryiah, during Operation Iron Harvest II, Sulah ad Dihn province, Iraq, Feb 6, 2008. The 4-9 Infantry’s combat deployment with the Land Warrior system provided valuable experience that contributed to follow-on systems. U.S. Army Photo by Capt. Richard Ybarra, 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

But many aspects of the early SIPE vision encountered roadblocks and detours. Threads of the effort were still visible in the Army’s Land Warrior program testing of 2004-2005. Although lacking the “chameleon camouflage” envisioned 15 years earlier, the program did combine what PEO Soldier representatives outlined as “computers, lasers, navigation modules, radios, and other technologically advanced equipment to improve soldiers’ ability to communicate on the battlefield, their situational awareness, and, ultimately, their ability to fight effectively and survive.”

In late 2004, the U.S. Army Infantry Center conducted a side-by-side comparison between Land Warrior-equipped soldiers and soldiers equipped with then-current issue equipment.

According to Col. Richard Hansen, then serving as Project Manager Soldier Warrior within the PEO organization, the squad-level operational assessment at Fort Benning, Ga., “demonstrated that Land Warrior capabilities do improve the combat effectiveness of soldiers and small units engaged in dismounted operations. As a result, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army directed us to conduct a battalion-level Land Warrior assessment.”

The battalion-level assessment was conducted at Fort Lewis, Wash. (now Joint Base Lewis McChord) by 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment (4-9 Infantry), 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, from May through September 2006. The battalion was issued with 440 Land Warrior ensembles for the event. In addition to the Land Warrior ensembles, the unit also received 147 ensembles dubbed Mounted Warrior, which incorporated communications and displays designed to enhance user situational awareness on or off the vehicle.

Meanwhile, during the same period that the United States has continually refined and evolved its soldier system vision, other international land forces have also developed and introduced designs supporting the “soldier as a system concept.” Representative examples of these efforts and technical approaches can be found in the armies of Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Norway, Switzerland, and Russia.

The Fort Lewis assessment also paved the way for the first combat theater employment of a digitally networked soldier. From May 2007 to June 2008, members of the 4-9 Infantry were deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom with 229 Land Warrior ensembles and 133 Mounted Warrior ensembles. A Stryker Brigade Combat Team subsequently deployed the capabilities to Afghanistan.

The initial Land Warrior combat deployment was frequently called “Manchu,” after the unit using the ensemble – the 4/9 Infantry. That initial combat application was followed by deployments of further modified systems informally dubbed “Strike” and “Centurion” after the elements employing the systems.

The Army built upon the Land Warrior combat experience with a program called Ground Soldier System (GSS), an advanced dismounted soldier integrated situational awareness system that entered technology development (TD) in February 2009. Multiple TD contracts were awarded on April 15, 2009, with plans to take the resulting deliverables through follow-on development tests and limited user tests to support subsequent development and procurement milestones of a “multi-increment” capability.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...