A high-tech collection of soldier gear, 15 years and half a billion dollars in the making, will finally make it into battle. The 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry has adopted the Land Warrior suite of wearable electronics, and will take it with them to Iraq when they deploy next year. It's the first time a large group of infantrymen will be tied to the combat network that's connecting so much of the military.These days, the vasy majority of dismounted soldiers don't even have radios -- let alone the electronic mapping and messaging tools that have become commonplace in most Humvees. That'll change, once the "Manchus" of the 4/9 Infantry don the Land Warrior ensemble.Radios and GPS locators come standard. A helmet-mounted monocle lets the soldier know he and his buddies are on a satellite-powered map. That same monocle is connected to the weapon sight, so the infantryman can, in effect, shoot around corners. The sight also serves as a long-range zoom, with twelve times amplification. "It makes every rifleman a marksman," Colonel Richard Hansen, Land Warrior's project manager, crows. Night vision, and laser targeting which once required clunky binoculars, or attachments to the gun -- are now built in, too.Getting this kind of gear out to troops has taken just about forever. First proposed in 1991, Land Warior went through one clunky, next-to-useless iteration after the next. One cost $85,000, and weighed over 40 pounds. Another was way too fragile for combat. Even this version 3.0 (now down to 12 pounds and $30,000 each) has had a bunch of weight, security, and usability issues.The concerns were so great that the original vision -- giving every soldier a full set of high-tech gear -- has been scrapped. For now, only Manchu team leaders will get the entire Land Warrior ensemble, Col. Hansen tells Defense Tech. Regular riflemen will be equipped with GPS beacons, to let their sergeants and lieutennants know where they are.It's a small step. But a significant one.UPDATE 12:10 pm: I was out with the Manchus at Ft. Lewis, WA, when they were testing out the Land Warrior gear. I'll have a complete run-down of what I found in an upcoming issue of Popular Mechanics.
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