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Smart-map battle network for footsoldiers gets $12m demo

Covert special-ops smartphone version also offered

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Hook this up to the XM-25 Judge Dredd smart-rifle, and you can shoot people you can't even see

Raytheon's DC4S/SwitchBack system is only one contender to be the US Army's chosen GSE of the future, however. General Dynamics' "Land Warrior", built around a mobile ARM processor, has already seen combat service with US Infantry units in Iraq: it includes extras such as a helmet-mounted monocle handsfree display, and originally featured a telescopic camera mounted on the soldier's M-4 carbine - allowing shooting around corners without exposing one's head.

Land Warrior gained mixed reviews from US troops: the always rather laughable gun-cam was discarded almost at once and in general the kit was worn only by team leaders and up. However General Dynamics have seriously reconfigured the equipment since it first went to war, and it has its fans.

This sort of connectivity among ground troops could allow some fairly neat tricks as time goes by. A soldier of the near future might mark a target precisely on the network map using a laser rangefinder/compass rig, or the system itself might get a fix on a sniper using networked acoustic shot-spotters or whatever.

Another soldier, equipped with the rather Judge Dredd-esque XM-25 computer smart-rifle but unable to see the enemy himself, might select that target icon in his system. The XM-25 would work out just where it needed to be aimed in order to lob an explosive 25mm smartshell to a point just above that enemy, to his side etc: and set the shell's time fuse accordingly. The soldier would put his crosshairs on the mark generated in his gunsight and pull the trigger, and the shell would fly over walls, through windows or through foliage as required to the chosen point before airbursting and spraying the target with shrapnel.

Scratch one enemy, without the man firing the shot ever catching sight of him. There are other science-fictional ideas circulating in other digi-soldier projects: medical vital-signs telemetry, for instance, of the sort used by the fictional US Colonial Marines in the film Aliens. This would remove the need for a stricken soldier to hit his "man down" button - his kit would send the alert for him. And it gets madder: exoskeletons, petrol packmules, spyeye hover-bots, ground-crawling heavy weapons droids.

That's all pretty fancy. But anyone who's experienced the difficulties of infantry operations - even just during exercises, still less the far tougher conditions of actual combat - will know just how desirable a real-time moving map showing where all your men are would be to unit commanders. That at least seems like a feature likely to be very popular.

It'll be interesting to see how much of this stuff becomes reality in years to come. ®

*Dismounted Close Combat Command & Control System

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