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Land Warrior Needs Work, Soldiers Say
Military.com  |  By Christian Lowe  |  February 13, 2008
CAMP ABLE X-RAY, Iraq --- It was billed as a revolutionary new tool that promised to give Soldiers an added edge in the fight, with a heads-up displayed map, a see-around-corners rifle sight and speed-of-light communications.

And on its first deployment to combat, the decades-old Land Warrior system did win over many of its detractors. But as the Soldiers carrying Land Warrior’s burdensome boxes and wires on their backs labored into their seventh month of deployment, some are beginning to question whether this version of a system the Army worked so hard to get to the field is worth the price.

"It's like a 17-pound GPS unit," said a Soldier assigned to Alpha Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, the first Army unit to ever deploy to a war zone using Land Warrior. "We don't use half the things it's supposed to be able to do."

Fielded as an interim solution to the long-term goal of providing the individual combat Soldier with an improved, digital option for greater situational awareness, the current Land Warrior suite has proven its worth in some of 4/9's operations, Soldiers say.

On targeted raids and complex "kinetic" operations, the Land Warrior's capabilities blossom -- with detailed photo-realistic maps displayed on a small screen attached to each helmet, real-time locations of target houses, and friendly personnel at a Soldier's fingertips and short text communications with battle managers in the rear.

And that's just the kind of thing the Land Warrior was designed for: maneuver warfare against a dispersed enemy.

"The one thing that it has done is allow speed to be the primary advantage," said Maj. Ryan Wolfgram, operations officer for 4/9. "Now we can spend less time on the objective. It reduces the confusion of getting to the right spot at the right time."

Problem is, that's not the kind of battle Soldiers at this base in downtown Baqubah are fighting anymore. Instead it's a daily grind of house calls, checking in on the city's residents to see if they've had a full day's worth of electricity, running water and consistent trash removal from the streets.

And if it's not what Land Warrior was designed for these Soldiers have a hard time masking their frustration at its glitches and the additional but not useful weight it adds to their load.

"It would be fine if they could just get it to work right," said Capt. Lupe Maestas, 4th Platoon Leader with Alpha Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, during a soggy daytime patrol through Baqubah.

"Like right now, it says 'no satellites' just because of this little bit of weather," he added, peering into his heads-up display eyepiece.

Unit commanders and Land Warrior program officials insist they're working day and night to improve the system and lighten the Soldiers' load. Designers have already fielded a new version of Land Warrior to some troops in 4/9 that slims down the battery packs and consolidates components enough to fit in a recessed pouch inside the body armor vest.

"You can't even tell the guys that are wearing it except for the heads-up display," said Lt. Col. Ken Sweat, an official from the Army's Training and Doctrine Command, who's helping to evaluate Land Warrior's first deployment.

Army officials hope to field the so-called "next-gen" Land Warrior to a new Stryker unit set to deploy to Iraq when 4/9 leaves. But money to pay for the new system is tight.

The components sent overseas with 4/9 used funding allocated for the fielding back in 2007. Land Warrior funding was axed in 2008, though and officials hope to get some wartime supplemental dollars outside the yearly budget to outfit the 5th Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, which is set to deploy, with the "next gen" Land Warrior system.

The new system's improvements will include a "Blackberry" style control unit, rather than the mouse-like toggle switch of today's Land Warrior and designers plan to take the bulky helmet-mounted display components off the actual helmet and put them on the body, helping ease necks already straining with night vision optics.

"If you ask a Soldier what we could do to improve the system they say 'make it lighter and make it smaller.' " Sweat said.

But from the troops in the field, there's clearly a lot more room for improvement.

"It grows on some people, but it sucks because you're carrying 17 pounds of extra stuff you can't use," said 3rd Platoon Leader, 1st Lt. Dan Lowe, who added his units never used functions like the internal messaging capability.

"If Apple was running the Land Warrior show then we'd have a lot of crazy stuff," Lowe joked.

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