Army Axing High-Tech Soldier of Tomorrow- MedTech Losses Predicted

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DefenceTech reports today that the US Army has decided to axe it’s $500 Million (so far) Land Warrior Soldier of the Future program.  If this goes through the fallout loss of future medical technology under development will be enormous. many do not realize the enormous amount of medical technology that trickles down from the military (such as the swallowable gut-cams in a pill) and the first functional robot surgical system.

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Here’s the report and the facts:

According to Inside Defense, service financiers have decided to kill off Land Warrior in its 2008 budget. It’s one of a number of high-tech programs slated for big cuts by the Army.

The service got $17 billion less than what it wanted for its 2008 budget from the Pentagon and the White House. “Earlier in October… Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker said if the service got less than what it needed in FY-08 it would be forced to slow the modernization of the force,” Inside Defense’s Dan Dupont notes. “In submitting its budget plan to Pentagon leaders last week, the Army contended that budget constraints have forced the service to take what it believes are imprudent risks in the readiness of today’s forces, as well as in its future plans.”

What is the Land Warrior Program? A nice review of the components of Land Warrior can be found here.

Land Warrior integrates small arms with high-tech equipment enabling ground forces to deploy, fight and win on the battlefields of the 21st century. Land Warrior came about in 1991 when an Army study group recommended the service look at the soldier as a complete weapon system. The first priority in Land Warrior is lethality. The second is survivability and the third, command and control. The program will cost $2 billion when 45,000 sets of the equipment are fielded between 2001-2014. The Marine Corps, Air Force and many foreign countries are interested in the system.

Based on recent advances in communications, sensors, and materials, the Land Warrior System integrates commercial, off-the-shelf technologies into a complete soldier system. For the first time, the soldier’s equipment is being designed as if he is an individual, complete weapons platform. Each subsystem and component is designed to and for the soldier. The result: the first integrated soldier fighting system for the dismounted infantryman.

The Components of Land Warrior & The Medical Uses of Each: Land Warrior has several subsystems: the weapon, integrated helmet assembly, protective clothing and individual equipment, computer/radio, and software. Each has enormous medical potentials.

Weapons Subsystem is built around an M-16 but includes electronic opticals (video camera, and the laser rangefinder/digital compass, GPS, nightvision).  Medical use:  Alternative visualization (the use of non-white light) is a huge area in medical endoscopic surgery development.  Read here about the concept of future surgical vision and here and here about using this same exact infrared vision in surgery.  The technology to integrate tiny sensors for infrared (ie night vision) into the rifle is the same to integrate it into a surgical telescope.  Direct immediate medical application.

Integrated Helmet uses advanced lightweight protection with future materials but also couples the soldier to the digital  battlefield.  There is an advanced next-generation helmet mounted display (HMD) providing views of  computer-generated graphical data, digital maps, intelligence information, troop locations, and the ability to view and control weapons around a corner.  By looking with a thermal sight, the soldier will be able to see an area’s characteristics and can see through obscurants. The thermal images will appear on the HMD as can night vision images integrated with the soldier’s sight.  Medical Applications:  The concept of future vision in surgery and augmented visual system is discussed the paragraph above.  An equally important off-shoot of the helmet is a next generation HMD display.  HMD’s put tiny screens in your line of sight and add augmented information (beyond what the eye can see) or accessory info.  These are being used today in surgery for endoscopy.  The system I have used is a direct off-shoot of military HMD’s – except it’s military technology from the 80′s and 90′s.  The state of the art surgical system is made by Viking Systems and uses the Kaiser Electro-Optical Military HMD.  Today’s sytems suffer from lower resolution, no active head tracking, and weight.  The Land Warrior addresses all of these and could go directly into the OR. The ability to overlay additional information such as CT scans,tumor image guidance, vital signs, etc  directly uses the same military technology – and several surgical companies I know of are already trying to make this work.  Direct immediate medical application.

Protective Clothing – a revolutionary backpack design based on state-of-the-art automotive racing technology which bends with the soldier’s natural body movements. Integrates with new smart body armor.  Medical Uses: Again huge potential.  Intellegent garments can be used to monitor health conditions (heart patient wears a shirt with built in telemetry) of many body systems.  Light weight armor can be used as bmaterials for strong small surgical robots and for next generation prosthetics.  All of these are in development today.   Direct immediate medical application.

Computer/Radio Control is over a portable radio with miniature flat screen.  Allows soldiers to exchange information and videos in real time.  Menus are controlled with a remote input device attached to the soldier and activated with a finger touch. Medical Applications:  information exchange for alternate visualization and new surgical gesture controls.

Is it a bluff? Haninah commented at defense tech on the Washington Monument Drill

there’s at least a chance that this is what some folks call a Washington Monument Drill.  Say the National Parks Service is told they need to cut their budget. They huddle, and come out and announce with a straight face that in light of the cuts, they’ll have to shut down the Washington Monument. The Hill panics, and restores full funding.  That’s what the Pentagon did all of a year ago, when they announced that any budget cuts would have to come out of National Guard budget, and sure ’nuff, Congress backed right down. Now, it could be that Land Warrior is the Army’s Washington Monument. Any time there’s an announcement that budget cuts are going to be absorbed by the part of the budget that makes the least sense to cut

On the Flip Side- Does Anyone Know How Much This Thing Costs?:  Unfortunately, land Warrior is part of the Army’s Future Combat System (FCS) Initiative.  This is the roadmap for an unprecedented hi-tech modernization of the Army.  What’s new?  How about an air force of completely unmanned remote controlled fighters– it’s in the budget! Unfortunately, the entire project is so far over budget it becomes a target for cuts.  Originally at $60 billion, then $127B, recent estimates have balooned to $300 billion total cost (yes that’s billion with a b) and some are calling it the biggest military boondoggle ever. Here is a link to the Army’s PR rich review of what the billions will get us complete with photos and videos of what it will look like in action.

Video Update:  Here is a link to one of the medtechs coming from FCS- “traumapod”

Update 2:  Many comments saying military funding is just wrong or wasteful for medical development.  Read here about why the military does what the medical industry won’t

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