Inventing the 21st-Century Soldier

Article excerpt

By supporting the dismounted soldier with a wide range of advanced technologies, the U.S. Army aims to achieve a twentyfold increase in his ability to see first, understand first, decide and act first, finish decisively, and survive and endure.

Two hundred and twenty-seven years ago, the U.S. Army was created as the force that would fight and win our nation's wars. Meeting that mandate over time has required the Army to evolve by incorporating the latest technological advances into the very fabric of the force. Although change is always difficult, the Army has learned the lesson that it must change to remain a relevant arm of our nation's defense.

The sweep of change is captured by comparing the Armies of the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Vietnam conflict, and the Persian Gulf War. As technology has advanced, weapons, uniforms, personal supplies, communication instruments, methods of fighting, and modes of transport have all been modified or even transformed in the effort to optimize the soldier's effectiveness.

Given today's technological onrush, it is apparent that the sweep of change in the Army cannot stop. In October 1999, Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki announced a plan to transform the Army to become "a force that is responsive, deployable, agile, versatile, lethal, survivable, sustainable, and dominant at every point along the spectrum of operations, anywhere in the world." This "Objective Force" is to be the transformed Army that meets the complex demands placed on the Army of the future. The Objective Force will be composed of several major programs. Future Combat Systems (FCS), representing changes to ground combat systems, and Objective Force Warrior (OFW), representing changes for the dismounted warrior, are among the largest.

Both the FCS and OFW are to be complex systems comprising many subsystems. They will employ cutting-edge technology to achieve a leap ahead, advancing the Army to a new level of battlefield performance for the total combat system and especially for the dismounted soldier. When integrated, the FCS and OFW will form an interconnected sensor-to- shooter network providing commanders with highly processed real-time information and the ability to dominate the battlefield by massing and coordinating devastating firepower. If the individual soldier as a component within this system is to dominate his battle space, he will have to see first, understand first, decide and act first, finish decisively, and survive and endure. The process of providing these capabilities to the Army by 2010 has begun.

Crystallizing the vision

The Army is firmly committed to transforming itself by incorporating the best possible technology to achieve its demanding objectives. Leading this technology revolution is Dr. Mike Andrews, the Army's chief scientist. In 2001 he commissioned Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to conduct "another look" at the art of the possible for Objective Force Warrior. ORNL, located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is a Department of Energy multidisciplined, science and technology laboratory. ORNL was charged with researching all the technology areas applicable to the OFW. To do this the group formed four panels of experts who developed four technology-based, operational concepts for the OFW. Then, working with the best ideas and concepts from the four panels, ORNL formed a fifth concept. This fifth, composite concept defines what the U.S. Army wants industry to build.

The original four panels represented a broad spectrum of thinking on the future and the military. Two of them were made up of the best representatives from such diverse categories as systems integrators, futurists, visionaries, biologists, engineers, human factors specialists, writers, and military experts. Personnel from ORNL formed a third panel, and the Army's Natick Soldier Center in Natick, Massachusetts, formed the fourth panel from expertise in the Army research and development community. …