Feeds

US 'Land Warrior' wearable-computing headed to Iraq

Despite programme cancellation, poor user reviews

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

The US Army's wearable tech programme for soldiers, Land Warrior, is dead in the water.

Despite well over a decade of work and hundreds of millions of dollars in development funding, there remain very significant problems with the kit and it has received poor reviews from soldiers in testing. The equipment was de-listed from the Army budget in February, effectively killing Land Warrior as it stands. Strangely, however, it is about to get its first real trial in Iraq.

Wearable tech for close-combat troops has been in the pipeline for a long time. Land Warrior first got rolling in America as long ago as 1991, and some $500m has now reportedly been spent. The UK's equivalent FIST (Future Integrated Soldier Technology) began in 1994 and has £2bn earmarked for it. FIST is scheduled for deployment by 2015. Various other countries are sniffing around the concept, too.

FIST, Land Warrior, and most of the others are fairly similar. There is a helmet-mounted display, a gun-mounted camera, sat-nav, and digital networking. Integrating these can provide various services that soldiers could find useful. Land Warrior, for instance, can show a tactical map on the flip-down helmet display with all a soldier's squadmates marked on it, Ghost Recon style. This could be very useful in a fast-moving urban firefight; potentially you'll know if your buddy is about to appear in a doorway or round a corner, so you won't mistakenly shoot him.

US army land warrior

Soldiers test the Land Warrior system. The soldier on the right is taking advantage of the system's ability to look around corners.

But, in fact, according to an article in May's Popular Mechanics, the map is slow to update. It generally lags up to a minute behind the real world, not a patch on the one in Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 (this could be something to do with the fact that Land Warrior is based on a 400 MHz ARM processor, as opposed to the Xbox 360's triple 3.2-gig cores. But you could never run an Xbox on portable batteries, and anyway the snags probably lie as much in the network and the nav system). Land Warrior mapping could still prevent errors by snipers, artillery, or close air support, but it just won't do for close combat.

Another feature common to Land Warrior and FIST is the gun-cam. US or British soldiers can view heads-up video from their weapon sights, allowing them to poke their M4 carbine or SA80 round a corner or over a wall and see what's going on without sticking their heads out of cover. Potentially, they could even shoot at enemies like this; they have a gunsight pipper on their display.

Again, however, there are problems. To begin with, nobody except Arnold Schwarzenegger can shoot a long gun accurately without the butt tucked into their shoulder (there are rumours that in real life even Arnie can't really hit much one-handed from the hip). Looking round corners is quite useful, but you can do that with a periscope or a mirror on a stick, without even sticking your arm out.

The Land Warrior gunsight-cam also has the ability to zoom up to 12x, which "makes every rifleman a marksman", according to Colonel Richard Hansen, the programme manager. The word "marksman" has a lot of different meanings (it can mean a fairly low-level American shooting qualification, a job within an infantry unit, a more difficult British qualification, etc).

Many would argue that it takes more than a sight to make a marksman; some would also suggest that anything more than 4x magnification for the low-powered ammo used in M4s or SA80s is overkill. British fire-team marksmen using the long-barrelled LSW variant of the SA80 operate very efficiently using 4x optics. In any case, another complaint about the Land Warrior zoom-sight is that it is very slow to focus. Popular Mechanics describes it as "more like a cheap digital camera than an advanced piece of military gear".

So, in fact, for ordinary soldiers, Land Warrior and its ilk boils down to a very heavy, expensive voice radio with relatively crappy battery life.

"It's just a bunch of stuff we don't use, taking the place of useful stuff like guns," one soldier told Popular Mechanics. "It makes you a slower, heavier target."

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
'This BITE MARK is a SMOKING GUN': Boffins probe ancient assault
Tooth embedded in thigh bone may tell who pulled the trigger
DOLPHINS SMELL MAGNETS – did we hear that right, boffins?
Xavier's School for Gifted Magnetotaceans
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Canberra drone team dances a samba in Outback Challenge
CSIRO's 'missing bushwalker' found and watered
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.