By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (March 04, 2008) -- The Army is now modernizing what Soldiers wear, carry and fight with at a rate faster than at any time in history.
"Modernization is occurring at mach speed in the Soldier's world," said Brig. Gen. Robert M. Brown, Program Executive Officer, Soldier, and commanding general, U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center, during a session at the Association of the United States Army's Institute of Land Warfare Winter Symposium and Exposition in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
400 Programs Underway
The general said body armor has undergone nine changes in the past four years, while the helmet has undergone four changes in the past three years. And today, PEO Soldier is fielding a brigade with the 4th Infantry Division with a computer chip in the helmet to monitor the effects of blast and overpressure on mild traumatic brain injury.
"We are modernizing the Soldier faster than we have at any time in the U.S. Army," he said. "It is our belief that the U.S. Army Soldier today is the most survivable, lethal, capable Soldier in the history of warfare. We need to keep it that way and we need to improve it."
PEO Soldier views the Soldier as part of an integrated system, and ensures that the Soldier and everything he or she wears or carries works together as part of that integrated system.
While the technology PEO delivers to the Soldier is groundbreaking, so is the amount of money being spent to put that technology in Soldiers' hands. Brown told generals and defense industry insiders at the symposium that he believed the cost of equipping Soldiers with the best technology is worth it.
"We are spending much more on the U.S. Soldier than we ever have before -- is that a good value?" Brown asked. "If you believe that fewer Soldiers, doing more, and coming home alive is a good value -- then this is a bargain. It'd be a bargain at two or three times the price."
Some of the 400 programs championed by PEO Soldier include the Land Warrior system, the body armor program and the M-4 Carbine rifle.
"All the scientific test results show the M-4 Carbine is a world-class weapon," said Brown. "And in many applications, it performs better than its peers."
The M-4 Carbine can replace such weapons as the M-3 submachine gun, the M-9 pistol, and the M-16A2 rifle. The weapon brings improved firepower compared to the weapons it replaces, and is a pound lighter than the M-16.
General Brown said surveys on the M4 show Soldiers have high confidence in the weapon and that it will remain the Army's primary weapon until the technologies PMO Soldier is currently working on have matured.
The general said the rifle has undergone some 68 substantive changes since it was first fielded: "the M-4 Carbine is not your dad's M-4 Carbine."
For protecting Soldiers, PEO Soldier has brought on what Brown says is the best armor available today.
"We know that because we live-fire test every single solution," he said. "We don't give a solution to the Soldier unless it's passed the live-fire test. We know it because it's battle proven. We have vignette upon vignette of the body armor performing well beyond specification. And we have continually improved that body armor."
The most recent improvements to Soldier's body armor includes the fielding of the improved outer tactical vest. The side-opening vest increases soft ballistic coverage and adjusts for better comfort. The vest also includes an emergency quick-release that allows Soldiers to remove the vest in emergency situations.
Depending on the size of the vest, the weight of the body armor system has been decreased by as much as 3.8 pounds.
Land Warrior System
Finally, Brown discussed the Land Warrior system, an integrated digital fighting system that improves situational awareness and survivability for dismounted Soldiers. The system provides digital imagery and GPS location information that provides Soldiers exact locations of enemies or improvised explosive devices.
The Land Warrior system was sent in to battle in spring 2007 with the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 4th (Stryker) Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
"The 4-9th `Manchus' requested to take this system with them to Iraq in their deployment," Brown said. "As it turns out they have been very pleased with the performance of that system, and I think one of the things that pleases them most is the rapid improvement in the system."
In September 2006, about half a year before the "Manchus" prepared to deploy, the Ground Warrior system underwent user testing. Then, the system weighed 17 pounds.
"That's far too much for a dismounted infantryman," Brown said. "But with feedback from the Manchus, we were able to knock that weight down in a very short period of time from 17 to 10 pounds. They took it into battle; the reliability was very high, and they found out they like all the situational awareness capabilities it brought to the table."
Even as the Manchus used the system in Iraq, PEO Soldier worked to further reduce the weight of the system. The weight has been dropped to seven pounds, and Brown said they expect to reduce it even further.
Brown also said other Army units are interested in the system, and the Army is working with the Marine Corps with the expectation they too will be interested in the future.