Lighter weight protective body armor and undergarments, newer uniform fabrics, conformal wearable computers and integrated sensors powered by emerging battery technologies --- are all part of the Army's cutting-edge scientific initiative aimed at shaping, enhancing and sustaining the Soldier of the Future.
The U.S. Army has set up a special high-tech laboratory aimed at better identifying and integrating gear, equipment and weapons in order to reduce the current weight burden placed on Soldiers and give them more opportunities to successfully execute missions, service officials said.
A main impetus for the effort, called Warrior Integration Site, is grounded in the unambiguous hopef reducing the weight carried by today's Army infantry fighters from more than 120-pounds, down to at least 72-pounds, service officials explained.In fact, a Soldier's current so-called "marching load" can reach as much as 132-pounds, Army experts said.
"We've overloaded the Soldier, reduced space for equipment and tried to decrease added bulk and stiffness. What we are trying to do is get a more integrated and operational system. We are looking at the Soldier as a system," Maj. Daniel Rowell, Assistant Product Manager, Integration, Program Executive Office Soldier, told Scout Warrior in an interview during an exclusive tour of the WinSite facility.
Citing batteries, power demands, ammunition, gear interface, body armor, boots, weapons and water, Rowell explained that Soldiers are heavily burdened by the amount they have to carry for extended missions.
"We try to document everything that the Soldier is wearing including weight, size and configuration – and then communicate with researchers involved with the Army's Science and Technology community," he added.
The WinSite lab is not only looking to decrease the combat load carried by Soldiers into battle but also identify and integrate the best emerging technologies; the evaluation processes in the make-shift laboratory involve the use of computer graphic models, 3-D laser scanners, 3-D printing and manequins.
"This is not about an individual piece of equipment. It is about weight and cognitive burden – all of which contributes to how effective the Soldier is," Rowell said.
U.S. Soldiers assigned to 3rd Platoon, Fox Company, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment provide security during a village meeting near Combat Outpost Mizan, Zabul province, Afghanistan. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nathanael Callon
The 3-D printer allows for rapid prototyping of new systems and equipment with a mind to how they impact the overall Soldier system; the manequins are then outfitted with helmets, body armor, radios, water, M-4 rifles, helmets, uniforms, night vision, batteries and other gear as part of an assessment of what integrates best for the Soldier overall.
In addition, while the WinSite is more near term than longer-term developmental efforts such as the ongoing work to develop a Soldier "Iron Man" suit or exoskeleton, the Army does expect to integrate biometric sensors into Soldier uniforms. This will allow for rapid identification of health and body conditions, such as heart rate, breathing or blood pressure – along with other things. Rapid access to this information could better enable medics to save the lives of wounded Soldiers.
Lighter weight fabrics for uniforms, combined with composite body armor materials are key elements of how the Army hope to reach a notional, broad goal of enabling Soldier to fight with all necessary gear weighing a fraction of the current equipment at 48-pounds, Rowell explained.
WinSite is primarily about communication among laboratory experts, scientists and computer programmers and new Soldier technology developers – in order to ensure that each individual properly integrate into the larger Soldier system.