Image courtesy Army Times- a Ranger using the new IVAS system, or the Integrated Visual Augmentation System.
Hey all. As you know, a long-standing theme of mine is to take the lessons of the modern battlefield and imagine how all the recent technological developments are going to play out going forward.
Well, I’ve never worn them, so I don’t really know, but I can speculate that the new multi-billion dollar IVAS system, as seen above, really sucks to wear and use. It looks like a rubber squid perched upon the user’s face, and I’ll bet there are real issues with them steaming up or restricting the soldier’s breathing. Plus, how effective are they during inclement conditions?
Yeah, they provide (in theory) data links, thermal and NVG capabilities and targeting info, maybe great navigation aids, but how would they hold up in combat?
Imagine this scenario- you already have about forty kilos of shit you have to carry, plus a weapon, and you have one of these rubber gadgets on your face. It’s hot and steamy, maybe some rain, and now you have to move twenty miles to your objective. These goggles would really suck. Maybe you’d only put them on at the Objective Rally Point (ORP), but still. Weren’t they supposed to be on your face the whole time? Doesn’t this kind of defeat the purpose?
I’d be a lot more impressed with these goggles if they were the size of a beefy pair of GI glasses, like the old BCG’s (Birth Control Glasses). But they are not. They are like the shitty dust goggles we had in the desert, but way worse. Heavier, with annoying cords that can get hung up on branches and stuff, and probably stupid battery packs.
Of course, I am out of the game, so I don’t know. Maybe the guys love these things for their capabilities. But me? On a patrol, I’d travel as light as possible, and these goggles don’t seem to fit the bill very well. Not to mention that the software is made by Microsoft, of all organizations. So, they are guaranteed to be buggy and not particularly user-friendly. Hi-tech gear that crashes when you need it most is a Microsoft hallmark.
As an observer, I’d take a hard pass on this junk until the Army can field something glasses-sized.
But what do I know? I’m just a dummy sitting behind a laptop and speculating. I speculate, though, that this is stupid. We are weighing down a heavily loaded infantryman with more heavy and awkward shit. Who designs this crap? How will it assist the soldier in combat?
As longtime readers know, I am a bit obsessed with the idea of an armored fighting suit (such as I describe in my first trilogy)- a powered, armored exoskeleton augmented by AI that gives the soldier a simple, easy-to-use HUD so he can concentrate on the mission. Something that will look like this:
Yes, this is from the old-school cartoon Robotech. This version of the armored fighting suit was a motorcycle that transformed into body armor, which is a really cool idea, but it’s probably unfeasible. However, the idea of powered armor is not.
Think about it. The soldier dons the powered armor, which has all the cool stuff in those stupid goggles integrated into a simple HUD in the helmet. The soldier can move quickly, he/she is heavily armed, and the soldier is protected in an NBC environment as well. This is the essence of move, shoot, and communicate on the modern battlefield. No need to worry about excessive fatigue because the suit assists you. The suit keeps you at a constant seventy degrees F, so a lot of the suck factor is removed. Your leaders can track you in real-time, and the suit’s AI assists them on the fly.
Right now, I can tell you that all those gadgets can drive you nuts, and you have to carry them with your fallible knees and back. Let me list all of the shit I had to carry in battle.
A PLB, a personnel locator beacon. An IR strobe. A DAGR, a cool little GPS thing that gave me a grid. A Harris or MBITR radio. A VS-17 panel. Seven magazines, plus spares in my ruck. My weapons. Grenades. 40mm grenades of various types. Body armor, a plate carrier on my last tour. Helmet. Medical stuff. Water (CamelBak). Food stuffed here and there. Cigarettes. A little nine-line card as a memory aid. A notebook. Keffiyeh and muffin hat. Maps. Knife. Weapons maintenance stuff. NVG’s. I’m sure I’m forgetting some things, the list goes on.
But you get the idea. You carry a lot of shit.
The powered suit could combine all of those things into one power-augmented package to give the infantryman a decisive edge.
But no. We are wasting the research money on rubber squid things that sit on our guy’s faces. Yes, that is as gross and awkward as that sounds, but imagine you have to wear one of these stupid IVAS gadgets on a long march through the desert, or a steamy jungle, with a bad situation at the end.
Also, let’s consider some recent developments in Ukraine. There is a lot of drone use, plus liberal amounts of artillery being thrown back and forth. The guys are dying on a World War Two scale. Don’t we owe our soldiers maximum protection against flying steel? Isn’t it a matter of time before someone weaponizes drone swarms to overwhelm traditional infantry positions?
What do I mean by drone swarms.
Here’s a great article by The Atlantic. Drone warfare will transform the battlefield as we know it. It’s happening right now.
Here’s a scenario with mini drones, such as seen below.
These drones are cheap, and the Chinese are masters at producing them.
My scenario follows, which I do not believe to be far-fetched.
Alright, a group of traditional infantry dudes is holding a position somewhere. They have these rubber squid things they’re supposed to be wearing, but they don’t because they suck to wear. So most of the expensive goggles are hanging out in their MOLLE larges. It’s raining and shitty. Every now and then, some happy asshole shoots them up with arty or a burst of machine gun fire. The suck factor is huge. Everyone is covered in mud, and the day before, a mortar round landed on someone’s head, so things are tense.
Right around midnight, the guy on sentry duty hears an odd buzzing. It’s the last thing he/she hears.
A cute little drone with thermals drops onto his head. It’s not a very smart drone. It can do only a couple of things well. It flies, it looks for heat, then it lands on the heat source. When it lands, a micro switch initiates a small charge of Semtex. The drone explodes with some degree of violence. So does the sentry’s head. Dozens of other drones seek dudes curled up in their sleeping bags or racked out behind trees.
Scratch one position.
The bad guys roll in and finish whoever is left.
This is going to happen.
Now give these same poor bastards the infantry fighting suit of my imagination. They are dispersed, and they are suited up. The suit masks their thermal signatures, and they are shielded from blast and shrapnel. They cannot be gassed, as the suit acts as an NBC-protected, temperature and cabin-controlled environment. They are in constant communication with command, and an AI controls their positions for optimum interlinking of fires. They are perfectly comfortable in the pouring rain and 40-degree temperatures. Their watch shifts are regulated by the AI, and set by their platoon sergeant. Their suits regulate and report their medical status. The suit makes it easy to stay sharp; everyone can see a god-like view of their sector on the map on their HUD. They control their own drones.
When that same drone swarm comes in, no one cares. Most of the little shits fly on because they can’t get a target lock. The ones that do detect something with their little dumb killer brains land on a few people and detonate harmlessly. Someone swears, her nap disturbed.
But that’s about it.
Completely different outcomes.
You can extend this to ships and aircraft. But that’s really a separate post. Let me say it no longer makes sense to field insanely expensive big-ticket expendable items. Yes, fighter jets and ships are expendable. But we no longer treat them that way. Stupid! Look at the modern battlefield in Ukraine- it’s a graveyard of armored vehicles, aircraft, and ships like the Moskva. All done with relatively cheap smart munitions.
Have we learned nothing from that war?
Too many people are invested in those big-ticket and soon-to-be useless items. The carrier group. The 100 million dollar manned fighter jet. The ultimate tank.
The military-industrial complex is screwing up. They are producing white elephants and rubber face-squids, when they should be drawing lessons from the battlefield and developing weapons for tomorrow’s war which can be seen in broad outlines today.
Simplicity and mobility are what is needed. Not stupid, heavy, and buggy rubber goggles that Joe will jam into his ruck, never to be seen again.
But what the hell do I know. I’m sure some blimpish general in TRADOC knows far more than me, and he’s eying a job with Raytheon when he punches out.
It’s not a matter of money. It’s how the money is spent.
Give our grunts a chance. Not stupid toys.