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Field trip for Army's Land Warrior tech

Even before getting to the battlefield, high-tech upgrades for ground troops must maneuver through tough political terrain.

Land Warrior
Army Sgt. Philip Morici models Land Warrior gear at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., June 6. Gerry J. Gilmore

The soldier of the future is looking for a little help from Congress in the here and now.

One of the Army's high-tech works in progress is a program called Land Warrior that's designed to loop individual foot soldiers into an electronic battlefield network. Helmets would be fitted out with headphones, microphone and a miniature computer display in an eyepiece. Assault rifles would have a digital video camera along with a laser rangefinder and thermal sight. GPS tech would help soldiers know whether the noise around the corner comes from friend or foe.

The Army this week put its prototype Land Warrior gear on display on Capitol Hill, along with other new or updated paraphernalia, from self-cooking field rations ("kitchen in a carton") to the Joint Precision Airdrop System, or JPADS.

As it exists now, Land Warrior is "a great system, but it's obviously not the end-result of what we want," Sgt. Philip Morici said, according to an American Forces Press Service account.

One thing the Army surely wants is to ensure a steady flow of funds to its research programs. It's probably no coincidence that the gear display took place just as the full Senate is getting ready to vote on the Pentagon's fiscal 2008 budget--which contains a hefty provision for the Army's long-range, massive modernization push, known as Future Combat Systems. In the labyrinthine way of all good bureaucracies, Land Warrior isn't part of FCS at the moment, but will be folded in eventually. (For more on FCS, see: "Photos: The Army's vision for soldier tech")

Meanwhile, Land Warrior--which has faced its own budget challenges, along with no shortage of technical ones--is making tentative steps out of the labs. A Stryker Brigade that recently deployed to Iraq is giving the system its first test in battlefield conditions. (Popular Mechanics this spring provided an excellent, detailed look at Land Warrior and the soldiers using it.).

"We're slowly getting the info back and we're making the changes we need to," Morici said.