OPINION

American hi-tech soldier of tomorrow

Columnist Capt PN, (Retd) Humayun Akhtar examines the future fighting person.

The war in Afghanistan was a different war to all others fought so far in our living memory. It was a war of hi-tech weaponry experimented by the US military command.
Days are not far off, when the American soldier of the future may resemble something out of Star Wars. They will be dressed in high-tech uniforms, fitted with everything from navigation and water purifying systems to climate control.
The combat gear under development at the Department of Defence relies on new technology to suit up future soldiers for battle in rough terrain and hostile environments, said Bill Machrone, the vice president of technology for PC magazine.
It will also improve their chances of making it home alive, regardless of the conditions. “Most of the stuff that the Army has today is to fight in open fields and forest; but we expect more warfare in bad terrain, like in the mountains or even on urban streets, and this is suited for that,” Machrone told Good Morning America. “It’s a great advancement in survivability.”
A uniform known as the “Objective Force Warrior” may be fully developed within a decade. It is an “all-seasons” waterproof suit that adjusts to the soldier’s internal body temperature, eliminating the need to change clothing. “He can actually go from Arctic cold to desert heat and back again,” Machrone said.
The uniform will be reasonably lightweight — even with its built-in water purifying system. “You can actually pour dirty ground water, even sweat or urine into this system,” he said. “It will purify it and rehydrate the soldier,” he said. The Objective Force Warrior uniform could be available by 2012 at the latest.
The computerized portion of the suit includes a tiny screen on the front of the helmet with real-time information on its flip-down display.

Heat Seeking Battle Garb
Another futuristic uniform, known as the “Land Warrior”, resembles a space suit and features a built-in infrared sensor wired to the soldier’s weapon that detects body heat in the dark. Although the military has used body heat sensors before, the sensors have not been part of an integrated system.
In the past, soldiers had to rely on printed maps with information that is at least several hours old at the time they set out on a mission. But with the Land Warrior suit, each soldier can get up-to-the-minute information via a helmet-mounted Global Positioning System (GPS), a small wireless voice and data communication system, and a wearable computer linked to an intra-squad wireless LAN (local area network).
A flip-down display on the helmet allows the soldier to scan the surroundings in the darkness, using thermal and night-vision sensors connected to his weapon. This display also gives each soldier a view of a situation map that can pinpoint where both friends and foe are located, in real time. With that knowledge, the soldier can better figure out how to tackle the enemy.
“If he’s on a battlefield, he can call in fire, just like sending in an e-mail. He’ll specify the kind of attack. It’s sent, it happens, and just that easily, he’s in touch with his commanders.”
The thermal imaging sensor on the top of the rifle allows a soldier to fire without exposing himself to enemy fire because the sensor, which detects heat, eliminates the need to actually look through the rifle’s scope. It works in the dark or the daylight.
“He could be behind the wall, firing around the corner in the dark, in bad conditions. His thermal scope will target, and he can fire accurately.”
The suit relies on lithium batteries and carbon fibre to power the computerized equipment, and uniform designers have shaved the weight of the uniform down from 90 to about 50 pounds.
The communication portion of the gear is made in such a way that the technology behind it would be shrouded, should it fall into enemy hands.
Uniforms like this might be used in battle soon — probably first by Special Ops forces. The whole system is scheduled to go into mass production later this year.

Warriors of 2025
The next generation of warriors may be able to literally blend in with their surroundings. Scientists are studying animals to develop technology that could be used for chameleon-like battle wear that changes colour depending on its surroundings.
“The technology is advanced to where the surface of suit is a chameleon,” Machrone said. “If a soldier is leaning against a marble wall, the suit changes coloration to that, or if a soldier is lying on a black tarmac, it changes to that.”
The uniforms of 2025 are also expected to draw on advanced biometrics technology and be able to monitor the wearer’s heart rate and perspiration, then pass that information on to commanders and medics. With real-time information on their troops’ physical condition, commanders should be able to improve the soldiers’ chance of survival.
And if a soldier is wounded, the “smart suit” would serve as a hi-tech medic, applying pressure to the wound in the proper area.
By about 2025 at the latest, soldiers will likely maintain their global positioning screens. They will also be firing “smart weapons”, with bullets that can actually direct themselves toward a target that is emanating body heat.

Eating on the Run
Perhaps the most striking scenario for future soldiers is a development that could eliminate their need to eat or rest: the food patch. It works much like the nicotine patch used by smokers trying to quit.
“Sustenance patches applied to the body will release the necessary nutrients. Not a seven-course meal, but enough to keep you going.”
Soldiers would be fed, kept awake, and would be capable of surviving in even the most arduous conditions. But the patches would only be used on a temporary basis. Hot meals will be available when back at base!

About the author
“Captain PN, (Retd) Humayun Akhtar S.Bt, a former navy officer, who was trained in UK and the US retired in the rank of Captain. Started freelance writing and journalism. While in the navy, held the appointments of the Director of Budget, Store, Procurement. Served 3 years with the Naval Attache at Pak Embassy, Paris. Awarded Sitara-e-Basalat. Now living in the United States.”

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