Army kills $2B Land Warrior program

System will deploy to Iraq despite losing funding in budget battle

With the release of its proposed $130 billion fiscal 2008 budget Feb. 5, the Army said it is terminating the Land Warrior program, in which it has invested $2 billion in the past 10 years. Nevertheless, a lone brigade of soldiers is preparing to take the system on its first field deployment to Iraq.

Land Warrior was the military’s vision for bringing network-centric warfare to individual soldiers by incorporating advanced communications and imaging technologies into uniforms.

The system includes an advanced combat helmet with an optical display attachment, a modified M-4 rifle, digital imaging equipment, a lithium-ion battery, a voice and data radio, a Global Positioning System receiver, a computer subsystem, a multifunction laser, and an access control card for identity management.

Within the optical viewer, troops can see friendly forces and enemy positions. They can also map overlays with their mission objectives. They can manipulate a cursor to send e-mail or text messages, call for air support or a medic, electronically mark a target, or take pictures to send to the command center.

But the Army apparently has given up on the program, scuttling its plan to equip several brigades with the technology in the next few years. “We just don’t see that as a long-term solution,” said Lt. Gen. David Melcher, military deputy for budget in the Assistant Secretary of the Army’s Financial Management and Comptroller office.

Land Warrior training
Meanwhile, the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Fort Lewis, Wash., will go to Iraq equipped with the system in the coming weeks, as part of President Bush’s surge effort. The soldiers will depart ahead of their scheduled deployment, a Fort Lewis representative said. The unit has been testing and training with Land Warrior since April 2006.

The soldiers at Fort Lewis requested to take Land Warrior into Iraq despite the program’s demise and their abbreviated training because there isn’t sufficient time for retraining, said Dave Atherton, the Army Budget Office’s division chief for communications and support investment.

The 4th Brigade was also scheduled to test Land Warrior at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., but that activity has been canceled.

The unit will be fully supported throughout its Iraq deployment, Atherton said. The Army has funding for support and repairs through 2007 and is confident of finding procurement or operating money in 2008.

The system’s weight and battery life were two problems that contributed to Land Warrior’s demise, Melcher said.

However, in its latest configuration, the system weighs only 9 pounds and has a 12-hour battery life, said Mark Showah, director of General Dynamics C4 Systems’ Integrated Systems Group, the lead contractor.

The Army is looking for alternative systems. One candidate is the Single Infantry Transport System, which has capabilities similar to Land Warrior, Melcher said. The research from Land Warrior will be folded into the Future Force Warrior program, a component of the Future Combat Systems, he added.

As the Defense Department searches for ways to trim spending, major programs that are having problems with cost or technology are extremely vulnerable, said Pierre Chao, director of the Defense Industrial Initiatives program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Programs must demonstrate their value in current operations if they want to survive, Chao said. Therefore, equipping troops with Land Warrior will still produce benefits because the parts of the system that work well could be integrated into other programs, he added.

“What it clearly demonstrates is that in today’s environment, even with as much money as the Pentagon is asking for, that their appetite is still larger than what they’re going to get,” Chao said.

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