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Land Warrior Program....keep it or scrap it??...

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  • Land Warrior Program....keep it or scrap it??...

    Land Warrior: Now or later?

    Strap-on command-and-control kit passes combat test; Army hedges on full fielding
    By Matthew Cox - Staff writer
    Posted : Tuesday Oct 14, 2008 16:25:57 EDT

    CONTINGENCY OPERATONS BASE SPEICHER, Iraq — The police checkpoint just north of Taji had become a favorite target of insurgents.
    Every Thursday night for weeks, enemy fighters attacked the vulnerable Iraqi traffic stop around 9, firing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
    So Staff Sgt. Brian Tidwell and eight other soldiers from B Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment fighters set up on a nearby rooftop. Right on schedule, dozens of enemy opened fire from several hundred meters away, and the squad started trading fire.
    “Everyone was shooting their M4s. It was keeping their heads down,” said Tidwell, whose force did not have fire superiority.
    Tidwell could have called in AH-64 Apache gunships.
    Instead, he pulled down a tiny helmet-mounted display screen and gazed into a satellite image of the battlefield terrain. Tidwell tapped into the computerized ensemble that quickly showed him the exact distance to the grove of palm trees where the enemy was holed up: 819 meters away on an azimuth of 186 degrees.
    The mortar section leader then grabbed his 60mm mortar in the hand-held mode, sighted in on the target, and “started dropping HE rounds.”
    “I got three rounds out of the tube and on their position before they had time to react to it,” Tidwell said of the high explosives.
    This was no small feat — Tidwell was shooting in direct lay mode, a quick suppression style of mortar fire using range estimation that’s less effective on targets beyond 500 meters.
    “It would have taken me six to seven rounds to get on target,” he said. “I shot 17 rounds in two and a half minutes. It blew up their vehicle.” Tidwell said three insurgents were reported killed.
    It was a small victory, but it shows how the Manchus from 4-9 learned how to fight with lethal efficiency using Land Warrior — the Army’s strap-on command-and-control kit — during a year of combat operations in Iraq. It was the first time the system had been used in combat.
    Despite this praise, Land Warrior is struggling to survive in the complex world of competing Army programs.
    Army acquisition officials agreed to spend just over $100 million to field Land Warrior as part of an operational needs statement for a new Stryker brigade being stood up at Fort Lewis, Wash., but have no plans to formally move the program forward. Instead, the service has chosen to wait for a more advanced version known as Ground Soldier Ensemble. Army officials said in June that they are trying to speed the effort so that it will be ready for fielding in 2011.
    In that time, Land Warrior officials maintain, the service could have already equipped every combat brigade serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, improving the existing system along the way.
    Inauspicious introduction

    Land Warrior didn’t always have the 4-9’s support.
    When the Manchus first started training with it, senior soldiers said they had little faith in systems they received in December 2006.
    “From a basic soldier point of view, we didn’t see any value to it,” said Sgt. 1st Class Mark Ohme, first sergeant of B Company.
    Ohme and other sergeants already knew how to navigate with maps, compasses and Global Positioning System units. They had radios that worked, in addition to years of tactical experience that didn’t weigh an ounce.
    The 10-pound Land Warrior ensemble “didn’t really bring anything we didn’t have,” he said. “The idea of the extra weight seemed to outweigh the gains.”
    Tidwell was also skeptical.
    “It was awful,” he said. “Nobody wanted it; it was too much of a burden to use it.”
    The software was too slow and soldiers spent much of their time in the beginning trying to keep the system up and running. This worried many of the old-timers who were concerned Land Warrior would become a liability in combat.
    “That was the main concern — the fact that it was a regular computer system and it could go down,” Tidwell said.
    But 4-9’s commander, Lt. Col. Bill Prior, a graduate of Stanford University with a master’s degree in science and applied physics, was determined to give the technology a chance.
    The way he figured it, Land Warrior had the potential to change the way dismounted infantry units fight.
    Irreplaceable aid

    It took more than eight months of training and software upgrades before the naysayers began to accept Land Warrior as a useful tool. But it wasn’t until 4-9 took the system into combat that the unit realized the Land Warrior was irreplaceable.
    “As soon as we got on the ground [in Iraq], it was boom, boom, boom — we realized it was just as important as our weapon,” Tidwell said.
    Leaders can look into the miniature computer screen on Land Warrior’s helmet-mounted display and view mission-specific satellite imagery, maps and graphics stored on the system’s microcomputer processor. When searching for specific enemy leaders, soldiers can quickly access preloaded mug shots in their display to help ensure they don’t detain the wrong individual.
    The navigation system lets a leader track his position and his subordinate leaders’ positions, which appear as icons on a digital map.
    One feature that seems to outshine most others is known as the virtual chemlight. At the request of 4-9 members, Land Warrior program officials fashioned this tool for clearly marking objectives, targets and routes on a map with red, green, yellow or blue icons.
    Once activated, the chemlights appear on the helmet-mounted display of anyone wearing Land Warrior. They can be used to mark routes, danger areas, enemy positions and casualty collection points.
    “There’s no radio communications between the platoon leader and the platoon sergeant,” Tidwell said. “There is no need for it because they can watch houses being cleared. There’s no waiting — drop a chemlight to show the house is clear.”
    Eliminating confusion

    B Company leaders came to depend on this feature on time-sensitive target missions that involved sending small units by helicopter to capture individuals identified as enemy leaders.
    Landing by helicopter at night in unfamiliar terrain, 4-9 soldiers said they were able to move without hesitation because the target house’s location had been marked on everyone’s Land Warrior system.
    “Every time we hit the ground, there was no waiting to get your bearings. We just took off running toward the objective,” Tidwell said. “We were hitting houses literally before these guys could wake up and get their guns.”
    Few things can slow a mission’s momentum like last-minute confusion over which house in a darkened compound is the target building, said Capt. Johann Hindert, first platoon leader in B Company.
    He said that without Land Warrior, “You might knock [down] three different doors before you get to the right one.”
    Unit leaders, from battalion commander down to team leader, bore the extra 10 pounds that came along with Land Warrior’s miniaturized voice- and text-capable radio, helmet-mounted display, GPS and small computer processor every time they rolled outside the wire.
    For it to work, soldiers have to spend extra time maintaining the components and performing combat checks before a mission. And like any other computer system, there’s lots of troubleshooting and rebooting when problems arise.
    “It’s a computer; sometimes it locks up,” Prior said. “If you are in the middle of things, that’s just not a good thing.”
    It sounds ominous, but Prior said he couldn’t “attribute any casualties or harm to soldiers to Land Warrior failing.”
    Small-unit leaders, who depended on the system every day in Iraq, say it could revolutionize the way infantry fights if it was fielded across the Army’s operational force.
    The Army has come under increasing criticism that it places too much emphasis on futuristic weapons systems instead of ensuring soldiers have what they need for today’s fight.
    Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently criticized the Army’s $200 billion Future Combat Systems program, calling it an example of “next war-itis — the propensity of much of the defense establishment to be in favor of what might be needed in a future conflict,” in a May 13 speech before the Heritage Foundation.
    Sergeants and officers in 4-9 — as well as Army Land Warrior program officials — have told the Army’s senior leadership that Land Warrior is ready for the battlefield; that it gives units a clearer view of their tactical environment and empowers them to move with more certainty than ever before.
    “They are going to be faster, more lethal and more agile,” said B Company commander Capt. Jack Moore. “The Army would be foolish to lose this system.”
    Between July and August, B Company captured 36 high-value targets identified on Multi-National Division North, Tidwell said.
    “We were always able to catch them with their pants down because, as soon as we got on the ground, it was 45 seconds to the objective,” he said. “It’s almost too easy. It’s almost like cheating.”
    This is the type of lesson that can’t be simulated or recreated in training, Land Warrior program officials maintain.
    “They have taken the system into areas we never thought we would go,” said Lt. Col. Ken Sweat, TraDoc Capabilities manager for Land Warrior out of Fort Benning, Ga., talking about 4-9’s deployment with the system. “The value out of this is incredible.”
    Sweat was part of a support team made up of a dozen Army officials and General Dynamics technicians who lived with the 4-9 throughout its deployment in Iraq.
    One of the biggest advantages of Land Warrior is it minimizes the confusion of getting to the right spot at the right time.
    “Land Warrior helps you make better decisions quicker than you were able to before,” Prior told Army Times during a January interview in Iraq.
    Moore said he likes that the system lets every leader see the same picture.
    There are no more descriptions over the radio like “it’s the one with the brown door; it’s so many meters from me,” Moore said. With Land Warrior, “it’s so much easier. There’s a chemlight at the house — go.”
    The 4-9’s success in Iraq with Land Warrior prompted the Army’s senior leadership to rethink its decision to kill the program.
    Earlier this year, acquisition officials approved a request to field Land Warrior to the entire Stryker Brigade.
    Based on its performance with 4-9, commanders from 5th Brigade, 2nd ID, from Fort Lewis, Wash., requested Land Warrior be fielded in time for its deployment window next summer.
    The $102 million the Army added to the fiscal 2008 supplemental funding bill to pay for this comes more than a year after budget officials cut $300 million from Land Warrior, essentially canceling the program.
    “We are going to use the $102 million ... to field a brigade’s worth of the Land Warrior capability,” said Lt. Gen. Ross Thompson, military deputy to the acting assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology. “The lessons learned from that will become the Ground Soldier [Ensemble] program.”
    Ground Soldier Ensemble does not yet exist, but Army acquisition officials say it “integrates numerous soldier systems and components to maximize the best and most mature of emerging technologies.” Like Land Warrior, it will feature a “ruggedized computer, navigation device, display device and an individual input control device,” according to a description on Program Executive Office Soldier’s Web site.
    Besides the 5/2 fielding, the plan is to issue about 40 of 4-9’s Land Warrior systems to the Army Evaluation Task Force, a heavy brigade combat team tasked with testing Future Combat Systems technologies at Fort Bliss, Texas.
    The experience gained from 4-9’s time in Iraq combined with lessons from 5/2 and the test brigade will all be rolled into Ground Soldier Ensemble, Thompson said.
    But Land Warrior program officials from Fort Benning and Fort Belvoir, Va., are concerned that this strategy will mean combat units will have to wait another five years before Ground Soldier Ensemble is ready, when a similar capability already exists in Land Warrior.
    “I think we are passing up an opportunity,” Col. Richard Hansen Jr., who runs Project Manager Land Warrior, told Army Times during an interview at Fort Belvoir in May. “You’ve got a five-year gap between Land Warrior now and Ground Soldier [Ensemble]. ... What concerns me the most is we’ve finally got something that works in combat — why do we want to redesign it again?”
    The $102 million for the 5/2 fielding will buy 1,000 sets of an updated version of Land Warrior that is about 3 pounds lighter than the current version. That figure includes paying the technical support team that deploys with the unit.
    The Army could field Land Warrior to the 14 combat brigades in Iraq and the three combat brigades in Afghanistan if Congress gave the program the same type of priority it committed to the $9.6 billion Mine Resistant Ambush Protective vehicle effort, Hansen said.
    Leaders from 4-9 say they would rather see money put into a current system rather than a future concept.
    Sgt. Maj. Philip Pich, who served as 4-9’s command sergeant major for nine months in Iraq, said “it would be a disaster” to shelve Land Warrior, describing how “it has stopped several fratricides” in the 4-9 simply because leaders know exactly where their men are at all times.
    On one occasion, during an operation in Baqubah, Iraq, Pich recalled how two teams in a squad came under fire when they were separated. The two elements were close, but the terrain prevented them from seeing each other. The squad leader and team leaders used their Land Warrior systems to “orient their fires and not shoot each other,” Pich said. “The system has been proven; it has saved lives.”
    As a program, Land Warrior has survived its share of hardship. Since its launch in 1996, the high-profile project has suffered several failures. Earlier versions were too heavy, unreliable and difficult to power over extended periods.
    It took a succession of three major contractors and $500 million before the system overcame its reliability problems in 2006.
    It looked like success was finally at hand for Land Warrior when Army budget officials put the program on the budget chopping block last year.
    “We were very close to an acquisition decision,” Brig. Gen. Mark Brown, commander of PEO Soldier, said recently at a European defense show in Paris. “The 4th of the 9th was somewhat horrified by that decision.”
    Undaunted, the 4-9 decided to take Land Warrior to combat in spite of the decision. All of the systems and support they would need had already been funded.
    For Prior, it was right decision.
    “If I didn’t want this s--- right now, I’d take it off,” Prior said. “The soldiers’ lives rely on what they are wearing.”

    ...And shephards we shall be. For thee my lord, for thee. Power hath descended forth from thy hand. That our feet may swiftly carry out thy command. So we shall flow a river forth to thee. And teeming with souls shall it ever be. E Nomini Patri, E Fili, E Spiritu Sancti.

  • #2
    It sounds good..but dang...lot of class time as well...and keeping that junk from getting jacked up wouldn't be easy...have to make it JOE proof...they have a tendency to break expensive gear.
    R.I.P. my Bros from the 1st MAR DIV, 3rd MAR DIV, 25th I.D., 10th MTN DIV, V Corps, 170th IBCT who gave their lives in the Cold War, Marines we lost in Korea during Team Spirit '89 & Okinawa '89- bodies never recovered, Panama, 1st Gulf War, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq...


    • #3
      Then does this mean no more additions of Ghost Recon?
      ***Edited for explicit content***


      • #4
        They should keep this...but only for this Brigade Combat Team.

        it is super expensive but works.
        R.I.P. my Bros from the 1st MAR DIV, 3rd MAR DIV, 25th I.D., 10th MTN DIV, V Corps, 170th IBCT who gave their lives in the Cold War, Marines we lost in Korea during Team Spirit '89 & Okinawa '89- bodies never recovered, Panama, 1st Gulf War, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq...


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