On the missile side, the Guided Unitary Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) has also been earning praise for its lethal effects without collateral damage. Recent testing by prime contractor Lockheed Martin has significantly expanded the GMLRS performance envelope for warfighters, with one July 2008 shot extending the maximum range from 70 to 85 kilometers.
According to Lockheed Martin representatives, “The U.S. Army’s decision to test the Global Positioning System [GPS]-guided GMLRS rocket to 85 kilometers was based on the system’s demonstrated accuracy and minimal collateral damage during more than 750 successful engagements in the theater of operations.”
“Additional range for GMLRS represents greater safety for soldiers,” added Scott Arnold, vice president for Precision Fires and Combat Maneuver Systems at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. “Greater standoff distances allow warfighters to operate further away from hostile areas, travel shorter distances to launch their weapons, and ensures rapid fire support.”
The Soldier IS a System
While the potentials of robotics and unmanned technologies may point to a limitless horizon, the reality is that the individual warfighter will remain the single key element of land force operations for the foreseeable future. Reflective of this reality have been the multiple sequential “soldier-as-a-system” efforts that began in the 1980s and matured into the limited combat fieldings of systems like “Land Warrior” over the last few years.
In terms of U.S. land force operations, the future of “the soldier system” is now focused on a program called Ground Soldier Ensemble (GSE).
Army officials describe GSE as “a system-of-systems that provides dismounted soldiers increased situational awareness, decreased reaction times, and reduces the risk of fratricide.” They go on to acknowledge that GSE capabilities are being “informed by combat experiences from the Land Warrior [LW] system [that] deployed with the 4/9 Infantry for a yearlong combat tour in Iraq. The performance of LW in Iraq validated the need for a dismounted battle command system for today’s warfighter.”
Noting that the Army “terminated the LW program due to competing priorities and total ownership cost concerns,” they added that “a recognized need still exists for the Army to provide these capabilities to the Ground Soldier. The path to continue to fulfill this need is the Ground Soldier System, with the first increment called the Ground Soldier Ensemble (GSE). This first increment focuses on battle command and situational awareness.”
On April 15, 2009, the Army made three awards for the Technology Development (TD) phase of the GSE program. The awards were made to: General Dynamics C4 Systems (Scottsdale, Ariz.); Raytheon Company (McKinney, Texas); and Rockwell Collins, Inc., (Cedar Rapids, Iowa).
The 21-month TD phase will include both a 7.5-month prototyping phase and 13.5-month refinement phase (approximate length), with a potential follow-on production phase satisfying “Increment 1” five-year annual acquisition goals of 1,282; 2,564; 2,564; 2,564; 2,564; and 11,538 systems.
An Uncertain Future
It has always been difficult to make firm long-range projections for defense programs. Terms like “peace dividend,” which might seem so quaint to some, were widely embraced less than two decades ago. Likewise, the brutal realities of a “War on Terrorism” have altered the vernacular to “enduring struggle” or “The Long War.” Today, new financial realities are further complicating the defense-planning equation.
Wrapping up his April 2009 overview, Gates said, “I will close by noting that it is one thing to speak generally about the need for budget discipline and acquisition and contract reform. It is quite another to make tough choices about specific systems and defense priorities based solely on the national interest and then stick to those decisions over time. To do this, the president and I look forward to working with the Congress, industry, and many others to accomplish what is in the best interest of our nation as a whole.”