Land Warrior: Now or later?

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Strap-on command-and-control kit passes combat test

CONTINGENCY OPERATONS BASE SPEICHER, Iraq – The police checkpoint just north of Taji had become a favorite target of insurgents. 

Every Thursday night for weeks, enemy fighters attacked the vulnerable Iraqi traffic stop around 9, firing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

So Staff Sgt. Brian Tidwell and eight other soldiers from B Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment fighters set up on a nearby rooftop. Right on schedule, dozens of enemy opened fire from several hundred meters away, and the squad started trading fire.

“Everyone was shooting their M4s. It was keeping their heads down,” said Tidwell, whose force did not have fire superiority.

Tidwell could have called in AH-64 Apache gunships.

Instead, he pulled down a tiny helmet-mounted display screen and gazed into a satellite image of the battlefield terrain. Tidwell tapped into the computerized ensemble that quickly showed him the exact distance to the grove of palm trees where the enemy was holed up: 819 meters away on an azimuth of 186 degrees.

The mortar section leader then grabbed his 60mm mortar in the hand-held mode, sighted in on the target, and “started dropping HE rounds.”

“I got three rounds out of the tube and on their position before they had time to react to it,” Tidwell said of the high explosives.

This was no small feat – Tidwell was shooting in direct lay mode, a quick suppression style of mortar fire using range estimation that’s less effective on targets beyond 500 meters.

“It would have taken me six to seven rounds to get on target,” he said. “I shot 17 rounds in two and a half minutes. It blew up their vehicle.” Tidwell said three insurgents were reported killed.

It was a small victory, but it shows how the Manchus from 4/9 learned how to fight with lethal efficiency using Land Warrior – the Army’s strap-on command-and-control kit – during a year of combat operations in Iraq. It was the first time the system had been used in combat.

Despite this praise, Land Warrior is struggling to survive in the complex world of competing Army programs.

Army acquisition officials agreed to spend just over $100 million to field Land Warrior as part of an operational needs statement for a new Stryker brigade being stood up at Fort Lewis, Wash., but have no plans to formally move the program forward. Instead, the service has chosen to wait for a more advanced version known as Ground Soldier Ensemble. Army officials said in June that they are trying to speed the effort so that it will be ready for fielding in 2011.

In that time, Land Warrior officials maintain, the service could have already equipped every combat brigade serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, improving the existing system along the way.

Read the complete article at Defense News

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