PEO Soldier displays new equipment

By Nate D. HerringOctober 27, 2009

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 27, 2009) -- Two new lightweight machine guns, the Land Warrior System and an improved oxygen device for aviators were among equipment displayed Tuesday at the Pentagon.

Officials from Program Executive Office Soldier met with members of the media at the Pentagon to discuss the latest equipment fielded to Soldiers. Four program managers from PEO Soldier talked about advances in weapons, personal gear, and lasers and sights that Soldiers use on the battlefield.

"We act as quickly as we can and get equipment to Soldiers and commanders in the field that have the operational need," said Col. Doug Tamilio, program manager for Soldier weapons.

One major improvement, according to Tamilio, is the development of lighter weapon systems such as the MK-48, which weighs 18.6 pounds and the M-240L, which weighs 22.3 pounds. These weapons are lighter than the M-240B machine gun which weighs 27.3 pounds and they have similar capabilities to their heavier counterpart.

About 500 of the MK-48 weapons are currently being fielded in Afghanistan, PEO Soldier officials said.

The M-240L receiver is made out of titanium, which is one of the reasons it's lighter, Tamillo said. A Soldier that is fully equipped with the M-240B carries the equivalent of about four gallons of milk, he said. But giving him the M-240L instead is like taking one of the gallons away, and Tamillo added the weapon is the number-one rated system by Soldiers who recently deployed.

In addition to weapon systems, PEO Soldier is working to improve other equipment used by Soldiers on the battlefield. Col. Will Riggins is program manager for Soldier Warrior and says he tries to find ways to allow Soldiers to gather real-time information that increases situational awareness on the battlefield.

"We try to integrate Soldiers into the warfighting environment and one of the ways we do that is to begin looking at the Soldier as a system," he said. "We don't just give the Soldier a piece of equipment and just add and add and add to them. We try to give them integrated capabilities and we try to make sure that capability is wider, is more effective, more efficient and works together so we can do multiple things with the same piece of equipment."

Soldier Warrior works with three different kinds of Soldiers, the air soldier, the mounted soldier and the ground soldier, Riggins said.

One piece of equipment that Riggins said is particularly useful to aviation Soldiers is the Portable Helicopter Oxygen Delivery System. The PHODS is a lightweight, wearable product that provides oxygen to Soldiers without restricting their movements in and around their aircraft. The system allows aircrew members to operate at high altitudes in excess of 10,000 feet, which is common in Afghanistan.

The PHODS weight about five pounds and replaces the 100-pound Helicopter Oxygen System. The system uses a regulation that meters oxygen flow based on respiration rate and altitude and can provide oxygen to a Soldier for two to three hours.

"You turn it on before you take off, it knows what altitude you're at and it automatically senses when you get to an altitude where you need oxygen and then it senses for your breathing rhythm," Riggins said. "Based on that breathing rhythm, instead of a continuous flow of oxygen, it releases a puff of air timed with the intake of your respiration. So that enables for more efficient operations and a more efficient use of oxygen."

A new "Ground Soldier System" will be developed by PEO Soldier out of lessons learned from the current Land Warrior System, which is being fielded now, Riggins said.

There is a brigade-sized element of Land Warrior Systems currently fielded and there are plans for a battalion-sized element of Special Forces Soldiers with this capability, he said.

The Ground Soldier System will be one of the first systems to go through the new OSD process of competition in prototype. Unlike the past, instead of awarding one contract to develop the system, three contracts were awarded. Limited-user tests are planned for the systems in fall 2010.

"One of the things we want to be able to do is not necessarily compare the systems against each other but measure each individual system on its own merits," Riggins said.

After the limited-user tests are complete, one or two developers will be chosen and the system will go into low rate initial production and then do another operational test. The system is planned for fielding in 2012 to infantry brigade combat teams, he said.

Col. Bill Cole, program manager for Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, works with developers to improve personal protective equipment that Soldiers wear on the battlefield including the Improved Outer Tactical Vest.

The IOTV has undergone significant improvements because it was not as comfortable to smaller stature soldiers as it should be, said Cole.

Refinements were made to the design and the shoulders were made more comfortable, particularly for Soldiers wearing rucksacks because the quick release dug into shoulders of Soldiers. That has now been corrected, he said.

The biggest improvement was on the side plates which are now more easily adjusted to fit slimmer Soldiers more comfortably, he said.

Two new patterns of camouflage are being fielded to Soldiers in Afghanistan, the Multi-Cam pattern and the Universal Camouflage Pattern-Delta. Each pattern has been fielded to a battalion and feedback will be collected in January and given to Army leadership, Cole said.

Col. Stephanie Foster, program manager for Soldier Sensors and Lasers, stressed the key concept of see, acquire and target and the ability for sensors and lasers to be integrated into other systems.

"We want to see always, acquire first and target once," she said. "That means I have the responsibility for providing products that will give our warfighters increased survivability, mobility and lethality as we look at the integration into the rest of our portfolio."

Sensors and lasers can be integrated into personal equipment, land warrior equipment and weapon systems providing the Soldier as a system the tools needed on the battlefield, she said.

Separate capabilities such as thermal weapons systems and enhanced night vision are being developed as integrated systems, she said.

"The fusion of our thermal imagery and also the image intensification that we get with our night vision devices so that our warfighters have even heightened situational awareness," Foster said. "My work is just a reflection of what the PEO does as a whole: integrated support and delivery of products to the warfighter so that they have increased situational awareness, mobility and lethality."