FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- The Army's chief of staff inspected an array of advanced technology being mobilized on behalf of Soldiers during a visit to Program Executive Office Soldier here, Nov. 1.
Experts from Program Executive Office, or PEO, Soldier briefed Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno on a new generation fused thermal and night vision goggles, more accurate laser targeting systems, improved body armor and innovative devices to provide Soldiers electrical power in the field.
PEO Soldier is responsible for the small arms, equipment, and clothing worn or used by the individual Soldier.
"It's about ensuring our Soldiers are equipped to do their job," Odierno said, after reviewing the equipment. "For me, that's the most important thing."
Odierno received briefings from PEO Soldier's four project managers: PM Soldier Sensors and Lasers, PM Soldier Warrior, PM Soldier Weapons, and PM Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment.
The general was particularly interested in PEO Soldier's efforts to achieve one of the Army's main development goals, which is lightening the load on Soldiers. With the development and increased use of body armor, night vision equipment and other equipment, today's Soldiers carry more weight than their predecessors.
Program Executive Officer Soldier Brig. Gen. Paul A. Ostrowski told Odierno that reducing the weight on Soldiers is a personal issue for him, and is something to which he devotes a great deal of time and effort.
Ostrowski told Odierno that PEO Soldier, the Maneuver Center of Excellence and U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, are working together to find "evolutionary and revolutionary" approaches to lightening the Soldier load. Odierno was briefed on two programs which emerged from that effort. One of those briefings dealt with providing power to Soldiers in the field, and the other with the rucksacks they carry on their backs.
The increased use of radios, sensors and other electronic equipment has resulted in greater weight as Soldiers carry additional batteries. Maj. Joseph J. McCarthy, of the Soldier Power Section of Soldier Warrior, told Odierno that future Soldiers will use fewer batteries for their devices, and thereby reduce the weight they carry.
"This is one of the most important areas we have because it helps solves the problem of weight," Odierno said.
Two of the products McCarthy briefed were the conformal battery, which shapes to the Soldier and provides power to numerous devices; and the solar blanket, which converts solar energy to power. The latter is important because PEO Soldier is working to make Soldiers energy self-sufficient.
During a briefing on rucksacks, Odierno learned that PEO Soldier is collaborating with the Marine Corps on redistributing weight from shoulders to the hips. This is similar to hiking backpacks that use a waist belt to lighten the load on shoulder straps.
Soldier Warrior also informed Odierno of its efforts to leverage existing advanced technology to provide Soldiers new capabilities more quickly and at lower cost.
Capt. Paul E. Cluverius described the Nett Warrior system, which allows a unit of Soldiers to remain linked and exchange data while conducting operations. The system uses a commercially-available Android smart phone to provide situational awareness capabilities to dismounted Soldiers. The captain said developing apps would increase the capability of the Nett Warrior system.
"The key is being able to leverage that technology," Odierno commented.
The Rapid Equipping Force is also harnessing three-dimensional printing for its development efforts. Sgt. 1st Class Adam M. Asclipiadis described its new Expeditionary Laboratory which houses a laboratory and machine shop with computerized numerically controlled machining equipment and 3-D printing capabilities in a mobile shipping container. The Expeditionary Lab enables Soldiers to "print" and create physical solutions to problems they face.
"Three-dimensional printing has incredible potential," Odierno said. He added that Expeditionary Labs have placed "scientists on the battlefield."
During his visit, Odierno also closely examined the fruit of Army efforts to provide improved equipment for female Soldiers, who make up about 14 percent of Army personnel.
The general examined the Generation III Improved Outer Tactical Vest which provides ballistic protection and comes in variants for male and female Soldiers. He also inspected the Enhanced Combat Helmet, as well as other helmets.
The general also learned about the Soldier Enhancement Program, or SEP, which locates and tests commercially available non-developmental clothing or equipment that can be used to meet Soldier needs. The program can greatly reduce the cost and time for fielding needed capabilities. One of the SEP items the general saw was the Modular Airborne Weapons Case that Airborne troops use to protect weapons during air drops.
At the close of the information-packed briefing, Odierno thanked the PEO Soldier team for its work in supporting Soldiers.