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Nett Warrior Suffers from Land Warrior Syndrome

Col. Will Riggins has one of the toughest jobs in the Army.

He's the Program Manager for Soldier Warrior at the Belvoir-based PEO Soldier. In this capacity, one of his jobs is to shepherd into some sort of a successful conclusion what used to be called Land Warrior -- basically a helmet-mounted heads up display that gives unit leaders lots of info about the battlefield and disposition of Soldiers and subordinate units and the objective.

Back in 2008, I traveled to Iraq to embed with the first unit equipped with Land Warrior in combat. And while they used its full capability a handful of times on their year-long deployment, most of the Soldiers -- including PLs and squad leaders -- decried the system as a "17-pound GPS unit."

That legacy has followed the (cancelled by Congress) Land Warrior system as it has morphed into what is now called Nett Warrior. And Col. Riggins has the dubious job of trying to put a happy face on what's still frustrating Soldiers about the system -- weight.

The Happy:

It's just a fantastic capability -- a game-changing capability knowing where you are, where your teammates are, where the bad guys are and then having access to the information that you absolutely need on the battlefield at the right place and at the right time...even in a tier one, most expeditionary environment where there is no infrastructure, where there are no cell towers.
The Sad:
On the not so great side, we continue to get feedback on the size and weight and the power consumption capability and where we need to make improvements there.
So nearly two decades after the Land Warrior program grew into more than a glimmer of the eye, the system has the exact same criticism from Soldiers: it's too heavy and too big and runs out of batteries too fast.

But Riggins has his sights set on smartphones. Recognizing that TRADOC is already hardcore about incorporating manuals and instructional information on smartphones like the iPhone and Droid -- even to the point of giving every Soldier at boot camp an Army-issued smartphone -- Riggins thinks it might be a good idea to leapfrog the 1990s Land Warrior idea and just join the iPhone revolution.

New Soldiers are coming into the Army with their iPhone or Droid device and saying 'this is what I want.' ... What we're looking for is how to draw a roadmap to where you could bring in [an Army-issued smartphone] and then be able to use it in a tactical environment. Realizing that you've got those tiers of austerity where the thing's gotta work. Do you plug the thing into a line of sight radio or some other beyond line of sight capability for the times when you're in that kind of environment.
Riggins said the next set of tests will run that smartphone capability alongside yet another iteration of the Nett Warrior system "which you guys know is not that different from what we saw with Land Warrior."

Tell me about it...

Be sure to read my 2008 story on Land Warrior -- there are some great quotes in there...But keep in mind: capability is one thing, making it workable in a combat environment is a whole different ball of wax...

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