Army Refutes Microsoft Employees' Charge that New Awareness Tool is for Killing

This image shows a screenshot of Tactical Augmented Reality. (U.S. Army)
This image shows a screenshot of Tactical Augmented Reality. (U.S. Army)

The under secretary of the Army on Tuesday refuted criticisms that its newest, high-tech situational awareness tool -- made by Microsoft -- "is designed to kill people."

The recent criticism emerged in a letter from Microsoft employees to the company's leadership entitled "HoloLens for Good, Not War," according to a Feb. 23 Forbes article, referring to the Army's $480 million contract award to Microsoft in November to develop the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS.

The letter states, "The application of HoloLens within the IVAS system is designed to kill people. It will be deployed on the battlefield, and works by turning warfare into a simulated 'video game,'" Forbes reported.

Army Under Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Tuesday that the service's main mission is to deter conflict.

"We are not the department of war or the department of offense. We are the Department of Defense, and we will fight if necessary," he told reporters at an Association of the United States Army event.

IVAS replaces the service's Heads-Up Display 3.0 effort to develop a high-tech digital system designed to let soldiers view their weapon sight reticle and other key tactical information through goggles or an eyepiece.

McCarthy held up a pair of eyeglasses to describe the IVAS system.

"I always like to do this," he said, describing the glasses as the soldier's sights. "It looks like a pair of glasses, and you can put an interface in there with thermal, day, night [capabilities] and then, if you have a system where you can pipe synthetic training in, you could wear this same piece of equipment into combat, and you could train with it at home, and you could also collect data."

Soldiers can use the IVAS to conduct realistic virtual training to practice key battlefield skills in urban and other combat environments without having to leave home station, he added.

Leaders can then view the data IVAS records during the training to see where soldiers need to improve on certain skills, such as room clearing, said McCarthy, a former member of the Army's 75th Ranger Regiment.

"So if you are coming in to do the room clear, what is the individual's heart rate, the marksmanship of the shots they took? You can get performance data on the individual," he said. "You are going to be able to see what they looked at when they came into the room. That is where you will see an exponential level of improvement in their performance because, every repetition, you will be able to capture that level of data."

The IVAS system is scheduled to leave rapid prototyping by August 2020, military officials say.

As for the protest letter from Microsoft employees, McCarthy said the Army needs to have more conversation with industry in Silicon Valley, as well as with the American public, about the service's need for this technology.

"We need these capabilities," he said. "We would hope that our best and brightest in the country will want to make systems for us so that we can put the best solutions possible in the hands of our soldiers. I think that it is important for everybody to … ask questions, but we hope that American industry will want to make products for us, so we have the best that the world has to offer."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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