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Land Warrior Proves Itself in Combat Ops
Military.com  |  By Christian Lowe  |  August 03, 2007
The Soldiers slip around the edge of the wall, stacking up against a rusty metal door blocking access to the compound. With a heavy punch of a boot, the entry is ripped from its hinges and the Soldiers pour into the hard-packed dirt yard in a flow of lethal green.

After a look around, the insurgent they were sent to nab isn't there.

Time to look in another house.

In the past, resetting the squad, briefing them on the next target, moving in an orderly and safe fashion to the new house and conducting another search would have taken precious minutes a wary enemy could use to slip away for good. But with new technology doled out to a specialized Army unit deployed to Iraq since April, the Soldiers cut that nearly in half.

A program that many see as struggling on life support, Land Warrior has for the first time proven its worth in combat. Though Soldiers still criticize the system's clunky components and groan at the added weight of batteries and other electronics, the Land Warrior suite fielded in Iraq is nevertheless helping Soldiers on the ground execute their mission more effectively.

"First I thought that's a lot of equipment, that's a lot of weight," said Sgt. 1st Class Ruben Romero, a Land Warrior program official who deployed to Iraq previously without the system and is now helping Soldiers use it in combat.

"But as I got introduced to Land Warrior and started using it, I thought: 'Man, I could have used this my first time.' "

Funding for Land Warrior was zeroed out by the Army in its fiscal 2008 budget submission this year, but money for the Iraq deployment comes from funds allocated in 2007.

Program officials are quick to point out the fielding of the current components of Land Warrior in Iraq is not an "experiment," they are continuously adding capability to the system based on advice from Soldiers in the field and technological advancements.

Army officials delivered over 200 Land Warrior systems to Soldiers of the Fort Lewis, Wash.-based 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division's 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team back in 2006 to train with the system in preparation for their deployment to the hotly-contested provinces north of Baghdad. The components are divided into two basic categories, one for mounted Stryker Soldiers and one for dismounted infantrymen.

The dismounted system consists of a small, helmet-mounted display that can be flipped down in front of the Soldier's eye or removed from view like a night vision optic. Attached to the display is a lightweight computer housed in a pouch worn on the Soldier's back that can store map data, GPS location information and position details on the rest of the team and their targets.

All of that information can be displayed on the helmet-mounted screen, and Soldiers can toggle through different features using a mouse-like device attached to the front of their body armor vest.

"When these guys go outside the wire ... you'd be hard pressed to find a paper map anywhere," said Lt. Col. Brian Cummings, Land Warrior product manager who's overseeing its employment in Iraq. "Their leaders can tactically know where they are in relation to the mission and where the Soldiers are at any given time."

There's also an encrypted radio that can transmit voice and a limited amount of data, such as email and text messages, to other members of the unit or to commanders back at the forward operating base.

Unlike previous versions of the Land Warrior system that envisioned a hard-shelled "turtle back" containing all the electronics and mission computers, the system fielded to Iraq units can be tailored for each mission. If a Soldier will be riding in a Stryker, for example, he can plug into the vehicle's onboard systems and leave his computer back in the hooch.

The dismounted system also includes a video optical weapons sight that can display target information on the helmet-mounted screen, allowing Soldiers to lift their weapons above a compound's wall and see what's behind without exposing themselves.

"Yes it's another piece of equipment added to your weapon system that makes it heavier," Romero explained. "But being able to use it to peek around corners rather than poking my head around the corner ... I feel more comfortable now."

Program officials have recently added the capability to display video taken by battlefield robots searching for improvised explosive devices on the helmet-mounted display and are working on the potential to transmit video obtained from the weapon sight back to base for instant evaluation.

Though the future of Land Warrior is still in fiscal limbo, the system has so far turned doubtful Joes into unwavering proponents.

"This is something that we should build more of and make improvements on and get it to every Stryker unit in the Army," Cummings said.

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