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Road Map To Modernizing Soldier Lethality
by U.S. Army Maj. Gen. John A. George
May 26, 2020

Today’s Soldiers require advanced capabilities to be effective on future battlefields. Advances in technology have produced better weapon optics, imaging devices and body armor, as well as, many other types of specialized protective and offensive gear. Body armor that could protect Soldiers against rifle fire, for example, was not available during World War II, the Korean War or Operation Desert Storm.

Today’s Soldiers have body armor that includes front, rear and side ballistic plates to protect them against small-arms fire, as well as flexible groin and collar panels that provide protection against shrapnel and debris. While the body armor provides an added lifesaving layer of protection for Soldiers, it weighs 30 pounds.

On average, a Soldier carries at least 60 pounds of gear, but that weight often doubles depending on the length of the mission and the Soldier’s job. A 72-hour mission in Afghanistan, for example, requires an Airborne Soldier to carry seven types of batteries that collectively weigh 16 pounds to power optics, flashlights, night vision devices, GPS and a radio. In addition to the base uniform, a Soldier wears protective gloves, boots and glasses, as well as body armor and a helmet.

U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Joshua Smith and Spc. Collin George continue their ruck with each carrying 70 pounds worth of gear through the wilderness that surrounds Fort McCoy, Wisconsin on August. 14, 2019. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Spc. Tucker White)
U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Joshua Smith and Spc. Collin George continue their ruck with each carrying 70 pounds worth of gear through the wilderness that surrounds Fort McCoy, Wisconsin on August. 14, 2019. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Spc. Tucker White)

 Reducing the amount of weight Soldiers wear and carry, while also keeping them safe, is critical to the Army. As part of the future force modernization enterprise, the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (CCDC) supports this mission, which is key to the Soldier lethality modernization priority as well as other efforts to ensure that Soldiers can survive and operate in any environment. While the CCDC Soldier Center leads the Soldier lethality modernization effort for the command, other CCDC centers, including Aviation and Missile; Data and Analysis; Armaments; and Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C5ISR), round out the team.

CCDC relies heavily on academia, industry and international partners to develop and demonstrate new technologies that will increase protection, lethality, agility and mission flexibility. The command works closely with small businesses by communicating its strategic direction in support of the Soldier lethality modernization priority and investing in emerging commercial technologies. CCDC also works closely with the cross-functional teams on research and innovation projects that support the Army’s modernization priorities. These collaborations drive innovation and strengthen the Soldiers’ performance, increasing readiness to meet the Army’s critical thresholds ... a force capable of multidomain operations by 2028 and 2035.

CCDC is developing technologies that support Soldier lethality, including a host of capabilities that enable a Soldier to shoot, move, communicate, protect, sustain and train. In treating the Soldier as a weapon system, each technology must work with the others to enable the Soldier to perform tasks and reach a destination faster and with greater lethality and efficiency. To avoid the historical norm of adding each new piece of equipment to the Soldier’s gear and increasing weight, we are leveraging multifunctional materials and capability integration in our portfolio planning.

FUELING SOLDIERS

Food is the “fuel” of the Soldier weapon system. Just as reducing the weight of a vehicle can increase its fuel economy, we are increasing the nutritional density of the food Soldiers eat, and that high-octane fuel will increase the Soldiers’ lethality. The CCDC Soldier Center Combat Feeding Directorate is developing the Close Combat Assault Ration, a lightweight ration that’s energy- and nutrient-dense and designed to sustain small units in remote sites up to seven days without resupply. The logistical footprint of the Close Combat Assault Ration is compatible with the service’s autonomous aerial and ground delivery of food and supplies for expeditionary operations.

The Soldier Center uses emerging food processing technologies, including vacuum microwave drying and ultrasonic agglomeration, to reduce the weight and volume of military rations. Vacuum microwave drying uniformly removes water with both vacuum and microwave techniques, and can result in physically compressed food that remains moist. Ultrasonic agglomeration uses vibration to instantly compress food without fillers or binders, reducing the meal by 30 to 50 percent of its original size with the same ingredients and nutrition. The Soldier Center targets a reduction in weight for a seven-day supply of food from 18 to 12 pounds. It plans to deliver final specifications for the Close Combat Assault Ration by 2022.

As part of the combat rations development process, our researchers worked with Soldiers and Marines in the 10th Special Forces Group, Fort Carson, Colorado; 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; and the 3rd Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, New York, to gather feedback to refine technical and operational information, evaluate prototypes and determine trade-off analysis.

We rely heavily on input from Soldier touch points, training and testing events where Soldiers test technology and provide feedback. One touch point that we use on a continuous basis is the Human Research Volunteer Program, located at the CCDC Soldier Center in Natick, Massachusetts. The Soldier Center recruits 30 to 40 Soldiers for approximately 120 days to serve as a baseline model for human research and provide user feedback on tests, studies and evaluations.

A cadre of experienced Soldiers, including a company commander, first sergeant and several noncommissioned officers in the infantry military occupational specialty, are part of the program. These Soldiers provide valuable insight and serve as in-house tactical experts for science and technology research at the Soldier Center. The program recently completed several rounds of data collection with Soldiers that will be used to transition the next generation of combat boots.

POWERING UP WITH STRONGER BATTERIES

As the Army modernizes the current force and prepares for multidomain operations, the quantity and capabilities of Soldier-worn technologies are expected to increase significantly, and Soldiers will need more power and energy sources to operate them. CCDC’s Soldier Center and the C5ISR Center are increasing Soldier lethality and survivability by researching and developing batteries that are lighter and have more power and extended runtimes.

Researchers at the C5ISR Center are exploring improvements in silicon-anode technologies to support lightweight batteries, including the Conformal Wearable Battery, a thin, flexible, lightweight battery that can be worn on a Soldier’s vest to power electronics. Silicon-anode technologies can double the performance and duration of currently fielded batteries for dismounted Soldiers. Early prototypes of the updated silicon-anode battery delivered the same amount of energy with a 29 percent reduction in volume and weight.

Our researchers are integrating the silicon-anode battery with the Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS), a high-priority battlefield heads-up display that uses augmented reality to help Soldiers train. The C5ISR Center plans to use 200 silicon-anode battery prototypes during an IVAS Soldier touch point exercise in July 2020, which will be the first operational demonstration to showcase the battery.

The C5ISR Center is developing a centralized power source for small-arms weapons for the Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon program. The new weapon will have increased capabilities and as a result will require more power than the current baseline system. A power and data rail will enable Soldiers to power any weapon-mounted device, similar to a cellphone charging pad. Electricity will run along the rail and enable power to go to standardized contacts, eliminating the need for Soldiers to manage or carry multiple power sources. Currently, separate batteries are required for each device, including scopes, range finders and thermal sights; with a power and data rail, Soldiers will not have to manage battery swaps since one battery will provide the necessary power for any device.

May 2, 2020 - The Next Generation Squad Weapon Science and Technology prototype consolidates both ammunition and weapons, as well as a power and data rail for integration of next-generation fire-control systems. The overall system was designed to show what was in the realm of possible to replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon and is much lighter and more lethal. (U.S. Army photo by Daniel Cler, CCDC Armaments Center)
May 2, 2020 - The Next Generation Squad Weapon Science and Technology prototype consolidates both ammunition and weapons, as well as a power and data rail for integration of next-generation fire-control systems. The overall system was designed to show what was in the realm of possible to replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon and is much lighter and more lethal. (U.S. Army photo by Daniel Cler, CCDC Armaments Center)

DELIVERING SOLDIER LETHALITY

The CCDC Armaments Center is the center for lethality in munitions, systems to deliver the munitions and fire control. The center’s main projects are aimed at increasing Soldier lethality by reducing load and decision-making while increasing capability in a multidomain environment. Together, these projects prove what is within the realm of possible in science and technology for Soldier overmatch on the battlefield.

The Next Generation Squad Weapon project consolidates ammunition and weapons as well as a power and data rail for integration of next-generation fire control systems. The overall system, which was designed to show advanced technologies and serve as a replacement for the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, provides a lightweight cased and telescoped cartridge with greater lethality than the current, fielded squad automatic weapons and at a much lighter weight than the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. The 6.8 mm bullet, designed in-house, provides greater lethality and range than the Army’s current 5.56 mm bullets. This technology was transitioned to the Project Manager (PM) for Soldier Lethality (formerly the Project Manager for Soldier Weapons) within the Program Executive Office for Soldier in fiscal year 2019.

The Armaments Center will continue to design follow-on bullet types in direct support of Soldier operations in its Next Generation Family of Ammunition project, which has multiple technology transitions through fiscal year 2023.

The Squad Combat Optic Performance Enhancement science and technology project is the Armaments Center’s solution for a next-generation primary optic and fire control, similar in capability to a targeting system on a combat vehicle but at a fraction of the size. The system consists of a direct-view optic with an augmented reality overlay, a steerable laser range finder, a daylight and thermal digital weapons camera, and a controller designed to reduce aim error and increase probability of hit. The Armaments Center will use data collected from various Soldier touch points to influence follow-on designs with industry. This technology is slated to transfer to PM Soldier Lethality in mid-fiscal year 2020.

ROBOTICS AND AI FOR SOLDIER PROTECTION

The Soldier Center’s Protection and Survivability Directorate is developing directed energy protective ensembles, head-borne integration platforms and concealment. Together, these will enable Soldiers to operate and dominate in any climate or location by remaining undetected from enemy eyes and sensors, and provide protection from battlefield threats if engaged. Directed energy, which is microwave energy, is an emerging battlefield threat that may be used for anti-access and area denial. Head-borne integration will bring together the protection, sensors and information displays that Soldiers need for multidomain operations into a helmet-based system that will reduce weight and complexity while enabling enhanced lethality.

At the dismounted squad level, CCDC Soldier Center is looking at robotics and autonomous systems to increase situational awareness during combat operations. Small unmanned aerial systems, such as the Soldier Borne Sensor or Short Range Reconnaissance platforms, will provide dismounted squads and platoons remote reconnaissance for improved standoff protection and improved situational understanding of the environment.

KEEPING IT VIRTUAL

Early synthetic prototyping uses virtual modeling and simulation to test best ideas and concepts from Soldiers and industry for rapid capability development and force modernization. Early synthetic prototyping uses a government-owned software platform: a virtual sandbox developed by the Systems Simulation, Software and Integration Directorate’s Army Game Studio, within CCDC’s Aviation and Missile Center, that leverages modular commercial game technology; Army-owned assets, such as 3D models, sounds and sound effects; and other features to create and test concepts in a virtual operational environment and thereby produce data-driven capability requirements.

Early synthetic prototyping experiments allow Soldiers to virtually conduct mission rehearsals using future equipment, doctrine and force structure in a simulated future operational environment against a future enemy. During a squad (up to future company) exercise, Soldiers control simulated systems and use the same operational decision-making they would use on tactical equipment and combat platforms, including mobility, fires, sensors, communications, obscurants and electronic warfare.

A Soldier navigates through the augmented reality lab at the Center for Applied Brain and Cognitive Sciences, a cooperative research initiative between Tufts University School of Engineering and CCDC’s Soldier Center on October 5, 2016. The center conducts applied research on measuring, predicting and enhancing cognitive capabilities and human system interactions for individuals and teams working in high-stakes environments.(U.S. Army photo by David Kamm, CCDC Soldier Center)
A Soldier navigates through the augmented reality lab at the Center for Applied Brain and Cognitive Sciences, a cooperative research initiative between Tufts University School of Engineering and CCDC’s Soldier Center on October 5, 2016. The center conducts applied research on measuring, predicting and enhancing cognitive capabilities and human system interactions for individuals and teams working in high-stakes environments.(U.S. Army photo by David Kamm, CCDC Soldier Center)

The Ground Vehicle Soldier Center Design Studio held a four-day virtual experiment demonstration using early synthetic prototyping in September. Thirty Soldiers from 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division participated in the demonstration and provided feedback on the Robotic Combat Vehicle’s crew configuration, formations, vehicle capabilities, enabling technologies and networked capabilities. During testing, Soldiers used the Robotic Combat Vehicle as a mobile shield in urban terrain and noted that they preferred the higher level of protection from the heavier robotic combat vehicle over the maneuverability of its lighter counterpart. These types of events will continue throughout fiscal year 2020, with each virtual experiment increasing in capability and fidelity.

The Measuring and Advancing Soldier Tactical Readiness and Effectiveness program, which is led by the Soldier Center, will enable the Army to objectively and holistically measure Soldier and squad performance. The program, a collaborative effort with experts in human science research, sensor development, and data acquisition and analysis, will monitor, predict and enhance performance in close combat.

ANALYZING TECHNOLOGY FOR BETTER PERFORMANCE

As the Army’s largest in-house analytical capability, the CCDC Data and Analysis Center supports the Soldier lethality modernization priority by providing lethality analysis, modeling and simulation, cyber and electronic warfare, and vulnerability and weapon prototype testing for the Next Generation Squad Weapon. The Data and Analysis Center also performs electronic warfare and electronic-optical, electronic-infrared vulnerability analysis and assessment for IVAS and the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle-Binoculars.

Cybersecurity analysts at the Data and Analysis Center work alongside Microsoft experts to set up a development environment suitable for the robust operations of IVAS, which is planned for fielding in fiscal year 2021. CCDC also provides modeling and simulation tools to predict and assess degradation of Soldier performance because of battlefield injuries.

The Data and Analysis Center is also working on the Soldier and squad trade space analysis framework (SSTAF), an architecture for evaluating the positive and negative effects of Soldier equipment on individual Soldier performance. The framework, which treats the Soldier as a unified system, will integrate several human performance models and simulations into one system. This will allow the Army to gather the necessary data to perform trade analysis for Soldier equipment and help inform Army leadership on acquisition decisions. A trade analysis compares different options, such as cost, effectiveness, weight, power, lethality and survivability, and then uses the information to make recommendations to senior leaders so they can make informed decisions. The first SSTAF prototype was completed at the end of fiscal year 2019, with additional capabilities to be added in 2020. It will provide timely, affordable trade analysis at the squad level for Army leaders who make investment decisions.

CONCLUSION

CCDC works with academia, industry and international partners to improve Soldier lethality modernization efforts. The Soldier Center partners with the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Tufts University, the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Worcester Polytechnic Institute on various projects. We steer research to relevant military technologies through our membership with the Center for Advanced Research in Drying, which includes academic and industry partners.

We also participate in and lead communities of practice with partners in Army science and technology, industry and academia. Since 2010, CCDC Soldier Center’s Soldier Protection and Survivability Directorate has used the community of practice model successfully for individual ballistic and blast protection projects. The teams meet regularly to set research goals and monitor progress. The directorate recently added two communities of practice—one for Soldier camouflage and concealment and one for Soldier hydration and protection from environmental conditions.

We also work closely with small businesses by investing in emerging technologies and reaching out to military industrial bases to ensure that the technologies can be produced to supply military rations. Typically, more than 20 percent of the Army’s contracting budget is awarded to small businesses.

Keeping Soldiers safe without increasing the weight they wear or carry is an ongoing challenge for the Army. CCDC works closely with academia, industry and international partners to discover and develop the best technology to support this mission. Using information gathered from continuous experimentation and Soldier touch points, CCDC refines technology and focuses on research and engineering projects that will make Soldiers more lethal and increase combat readiness.

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MAJ. GEN. JOHN A. GEORGE is the commanding general of Combat Capabilities Development Command. He most recently served as the deputy director and chief of staff of the U.S. Army Futures Command Futures and Concepts Center. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, and was commissioned into the Army in 1988. He has an M.S. in social psychology from Pennsylvania State University and an M.S. in national resource strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

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