Army unveils high-tech combat tools that could save soldiers' lives

Thursday, February 1st 2007, 9:04 pm
By: News On 6

OROGRANDE, N.M. (AP) _ The Army unveiled parts of its high-tech Future Combat Systems on Thursday in a mock raid on a fictitious village, demonstrating equipment that aims to make soldiers' work safer.

The late morning exercise was the first public glimpse of a series of camera mounted-robots, small unmanned planes, radios that can send text messages and other equipment that Army and defense officials say will make combat safer for U.S. personnel.

Sgt. 1st Class Rick Haddad, an Afghanistan war veteran who participated in the exercise, said the new equipment ``is going to make soldiers smarter.''

Haddad and about two dozen other soldiers were given the job of raiding and clearing several buildings in the fake village Thursday. As they charged toward different buildings, they sent in a camera-mounted robot, called a SUGV or small unmanned ground vehicle, to get view of what they were facing.

In one building, the camera spied an enemy soldier. In another location, it caught an improvised explosive device with a trip wire.

The images were relayed in real time to field commanders who described to forward soldiers what was being sent. Images from the small unmanned aerial vehicle were also sent to the battlefield in real time.

In a real-life combat situation without this equipment, a U.S. soldier could have been injured or killed trying to gather the same information, Army commanders said.

``You've got a visual without having to compromise yourself,'' Haddad said of the camera shots.

Following the exercise, soldiers said the new tools, which include computer software that tracks the movements of U.S. soldiers and the enemy, were invaluable and also help prevent deadly friendly fire incidents.

Maj. Gen. Charles Cartwright told reporters that the Boeing-created system is an ever-evolving series of technologies that will be upgraded and changed based on what soldiers say they need and want.

Boeing officials have been developing the system for nearly four years and hope to start giving the Army some pieces of the project by next year. The entire system is expected to be in place by about 2014.

Early versions of the SUGV and the small UAV are already being used in Afghanistan and Iraq.