The Army needs to continue investing in and developing new technologies which help make Soldiers themselves a decisive weapon in combat, service leaders told hundreds of industry and military attendees here, Feb. 23, at the Association of the United States Army Winter Symposium.

“I really think we want to give Soldiers a decisive edge in combat. I want to focus on the dismounted Soldier. Once we get out of our GCV [Ground Combat Vehicle], once we get out of our Abrams, once we drop out of our Black Hawk — the question is what makes us different from the guy on the other side, hiding behind a rock?” said Malcolm “Ross” O’Neill, assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.

Citing several of the technological military advances the U.S. Air Force and Navy have enjoyed in recent decades, O’Neill said the dismounted U.S. Army Soldier should have a commensurate technological “boost” or over-match capability when pitted against adversaries. Investment in science and technology — harnessing the best available emerging technologies proven to help Soldiers’ in combat — is central to this effort.

“We have to be continually responding to the shortfalls and the gaps in our ability to provide for the Soldier in Afghanistan and Iraq,” O’Neill said. “Maintaining the decisive edge is very important. We’ve been able to do it in many areas.”

“We have the best combat attack helicopters in the world” he explained. “We’ve got excellent rotary-wing aircraft and we have excellent armored vehicles — and we are working on the Soldier.”

Some of the recent efforts to improve Soldier technologies include — fielding prototypes of the new air-burst XM 25 grenade launcher, which can detonate above or near an enemy position. Deploying the XM 2010 sniper rifle with an increased range, fielding uniforms with fire-resistant materials, experimenting with lighter-weight body armor, developing the new Enhanced Combat Helmet and launching a competition to build a new M4 Carbine while simultaneously improving the existing M4, are all in the workds, Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller, Program Executive Officer Soldier, told the audience.

Along similar lines, Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, who directs the Army Capabilities Integration Center, Fort Monroe, Va., said the Army should focus on networking the dismounted Soldier and enhancing small unit effectiveness. Vane outlined five areas of current emphasis:

  • Training
  • Mission Command
  • Countering IEDs
  • Power and Energy
  • Human Dimension

“Each one of these areas has an initial capabilities document to help drive what should be the focus of our science and technology. These are the kinds of things that we want to improve over time,” Vane told the audience.

Soldier protection is fundamental to any effort to enhance battlefield effectiveness, Vane and O’Neill both said.