The US Army’s Future Force Warrior Program

This compellingly interesting, ground-breaking very high technology program has undergone several name changes as the direction and objectives over the more than 10 years it has been running. This probably accounts for the belief that the US effort has been subsumed by another one when the fact is that it still exists and is driven forward by spiral evolution methodology, applied by a very large diverse team of US military and industry resources.

1st Jun 2010


This compellingly interesting, ground-breaking very high technology program has undergone several name changes as the direction and objectives over the more than 10 years it has been running. This probably accounts for the belief that the US effort has been subsumed by another one when the fact is that it still exists and is driven forward by spiral evolution methodology, applied by a very large diverse team of US military and industry resources.


According to reported history the original program name was Objective Force Warrior which became the Future Force Soldier and then the Future Force Warrior (FFW). The FFW has two components, namely development of the FFW to 2010 and then the next iteration Vision 2020 Future Warrior Systems (FWS). The FFW is in its 3rd Capability upgrade of the Land Warrior Systems (formerly Land Warrior Block III) and it also contributes to the Future Combat Systems Program, of which it forms an intrinsic component.
Vision 2020 Future Warrior Systems is in being and is managed by General Dynamics, with the GD Eagle Enterprise Unit being the technology integration team leader, at an estimated cost of between US $1 billion initially and $3 billion over a 10-year period. The principal activities of the task to migrate from FFW to Vision 2020 FWS are Detailed Design, Prototype Development Demonstration and Non-competitive System Development and Demonstration, which is hoped to result in a system that be can fielded. Notably, the US DoD estimates that it will be 2032 before a mature fully field integrated system, applicable to land and air assets will be available, with this event being achieved by introducing “spiral evolution” events every two years, rather than one event at a 10-year interval as is now common practice.


A noteworthy fact is that fundamentally similar programs are being conducted by about 15 countries with the most notable ones, in addition to the USA, being Australia (Land 125,Wundurra), Canada (ISSP), France (Felin), Germany (IDz and iDz-ES), Israel (Infantry 2000), The Nederlands (D2S2) and the UK (FIST). The extent to which countries collaborate, if at all, is not known.
 

Future Force Warrior (FFW) Project


The FFW activity is an advanced technology demonstration project that is part of the US Army’s much broader Future Combat Systems Project. The FFW is aimed at developing a lightweight, durable, modular system to establish a “fully integrated infantryman combat system” that is superior to that offered by an opponent. FFW is one of a number of projects aimed at achieving an assignable network-centric warfare capability at the soldier level for land assets with, perhaps, the application of the technology migrating to piloted military aircraft.
The early objectives of improving a soldier’s protective and fighting capabilities addressed field survivability, hostile force detection, superior engagement, and short range voice communications within a force group. These capabilities were initially achieved by loading a soldier down with “one of everything”. Adding armour, day/night optics, a better weapon and ammunition, a short range radio with access to other own force members, a map and magnetic compass, rations for perhaps two days, and even micro-UAVs was the solution.
The inescapable problems of this approach were the mass of the soldier’s payload - around 35-45 kilos - and its bulk caused poor and short-term mobility, high likelihood of losing direction, low current knowledge of the location of a hostile force, low current knowledge of the location of own force with consequent high potential levels of fratricide. All these issues resulted in low psychological esteem, but perhaps worst of all was loss of battery power when it was critically needed.
So the prime objectives are to ease a future warrior’s environment by improving all of his current operational shortfalls (with one failed proposal to give him a battery- powered trailer for all his gear when he was on the march). The chosen objectives include: improved lightweight body and head armour, new high capability low mass weapons with EO day/night sights, improved day/night vision aids, better lightweight radio communications and much improved navigation capabilities. As weight remains a problem today, the concepts of adding a powered exoskeleton that increases a soldier’s physical capability and also providing him with a limited measure of body airconditioning are being pursued, with a prototype developed by Raytheon.
 

Sub-Systems

The FFW program is aimed at greatly improving the fighting efficiency of a soldier by providing him with: advanced sensor systems, advanced weapons, advanced technologies that simplify his decision making processes under stress and improving his chances of survivability under urban and field warfare conditions. An additional subsystem that is being considered is physiological condition monitoring to maintain a soldier in a healthy condition.
Achieving the above objectives is being tackled by considering the soldier and his kit as a system that comprises a number of integrated modules, a typical list of which might be:
• Uniform – a subsystem containing environmental protection, weapon fire protection and anchor points for discrete sub-system components, e.g. batteries, ammunition, food and water
• Headgear – a subsystem containing all the interfaces between the subsystems and the soldier’s cognitive capabilities, that is to say his eyes and his ears, and the core system processing.
• Weapon(s)- a single or multi-purpose subsystem that provides an offensive and defensive capability, with an embedded weapon aiming capability using EO devices
• Detection – a subsystem containing a number of EO devices that operate in the range of daylight to full dark conditions, providing surveillance, detection and threat acquisition information, as well as scene information
• Communications – a subsystem that provides radio communications between the individuals in a force group and a higher echelon command structure
• Navigation – a subsystem that provides situational awareness to the soldier, including present position, using GPS, a future track, locations of other own force elements, known or perceived hostile threat locations and topographical data. This information will be provided on an electronic display.
• Power Generation and distribution - a critically important subsystem that is required to provide power, that will almost certainly have different
Characteristics, for each subsystem served.
Many companies are involved in sub-system development, but in the current program one company, GD’s Eagle Enterprise, is responsible for system integration.
Some of the technologies employed

This section provides a brief overview of the some of the technologies that might be embedded in some subsystems and their integration to compose a system, recognising that the total purpose of adding such an appliqué is to provide a superior warfare capability to that of the enemy’s.
It should be noted that the “system of systems” approach is being taken by developing subsystems that are integrated using an open, multi-processing, digital data bus architecture, with system management under the control of the soldier. In this respect the architecture, composition and integration is not dissimilar to the combat system in a modern tactical fighter aircraft and the role of the pilot.

Uniform

Uniform development is an ongoing activity to provide environmentally adaptive:
camouflage that matches the various operational areas (e.g. desert, savannah and jungle), embedded armour protection, reduced mass and improved user comfort.
In the area of armour protection, one of the most difficult aspects to solve is to help protect the soldier by providing full-body bullet and fragmentation protection. This aspect is being pursued by developments of active, normally flexible, materials that respond almost instantaneously to impact, by “freezing” to provide a solid “screen” and “relaxes” when the threat has ended. If successful, this technology will replace the Kevlar/ceramic armour which transfers the projectile energy to the body, but with reduced injury.
 

Headgear

This is functionally the most complex aspect of the total system as it is required to combine details of the operability of all installed subsystems and their contributions to the soldier, without degrading his inherent physical and mental capabilities to resolve the tactical situation with which he is confronted. Other challenges to be solved are head protection against strike, low mass, low bulk, extremely high reliability and comfort for long periods of time.
The headgear is likely to contain aided vision optics using image intensified (daylight to full dark) and bolometer (IR) (full dark) sensors, a multifunction electronic display, that provides situational awareness information from local and remote sources, navigation data from a GPS sensor, display of weapon sensor data that provides aiming solutions and communications capabilities. The display is likely to be an attached appendage and not embedded in the headgear.

Weapon

Weapon development proceeds in the following areas: reduced mass, smaller physical size, new munition packaging (caseless propellant), higher firing rate, improved field reliability and maintenance, with an additional critically important additional feature of enhanced weapon aiming that does not require a soldier to aim with his eye using a weapon installed sight. In the latter case the approach being followed is to fit a matching EO sight on the weapon and to output the imagery provided by it to the soldier’s headgear EO display, or to aim the weapon by direct observation of video imagery on the sight. (like aiming a modern digital camera using the back display). Noteworthy, is the fact that, as with a conventional sight, range is not provided. Range can be provided by a laser range finder at the risk of giving away position.

System power

Far from being a simple problem, the provision of reliable, stabilised power to the subsystems is a complex task. The system must be able to withstand short circuits, have high capacity and stability, be re-chargeable and have a short-term fall-back capability.
A number of technologies, such as anaerobic fuel cells of different chemical compositions and lithium-ion batteries are rapidly emerging for large power systems, such as military vehicles and submarines. These technologies require adaptation to be relevant to the soldier’s system.
There is also a problem of recharging the battery assembly that is being approached by several methods including a small gas or petroleum-based fuel-driven turbine generator.

Conclusions

• The development of a Future Force Warrior capability is a major technology project that will be achieved only by progressive applications testing followed by evolution. Based on this approach it is reasonable to accept that the US Army’s timescales of 2035 are realistic.
• Other allied nations are pursuing similar objectives that, hopefully, will result in field interoperability.
• The US DoD with huge financial and technology resources, the latter provided by Government Laboratories and US Industry would appear to be the likely winner in any competition to provide the solution to the issues that present the Future Force Warrior’s needs.
• The adoption of nanotechnology is considered to be crucial to the development of solutions.

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