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[infowar.de] USA Today 7.2.02: Silicon Valley Techies Suit Up Army With Sleeker Gear
February 7, 2002
Silicon Valley Techies Suit Up Army With Sleeker Gear
By Edward Iwata, USA Today
On a pitch-black night last fall, 40 Army Rangers parachuted into the=
forests at Fort Polk, La., simulating combat against an Eastern Bloc enemy.
They were outfitted with the "Land Warrior," a computer system full of=
high-tech firearms and communications gear.
On the ground, the troops used Land Warrior's satellite-mapping device and=
found each other in 30 minutes. It can take two or three hours using=
flashlights and paper maps.
One Ranger, peering through a heat-sensing thermal sight on his M-4 rifle,=
spotted "enemy" snipers in the dark 300 meters away and opened fire,=
"killing" them. The Rangers finished their mission twice as fast as a=
"It's powerful technology," says Army Ranger Sgt. Chris Augustine. "We were=
apprehensive at first, but now we're begging for it."
That's a stunning turnaround from three years ago, when soldiers hated the=
clunky Land Warrior system and ripped it off their backs. The $2 billion=
project was on its deathbed after defense contractor Raytheon built a=
prototype called the "turtle shell" that was blasted by the General=
Accounting Office. Since then, the Land Warrior has been resurrected by a=
team of Silicon Valley engineers who retooled it in six months.
The firms =97 Pacific Consultants, Exponent, Pemstar and Computer Sciences =
=97 ignored rigid Army specifications and brainstormed ideas. They lightened=
the Land Warrior computer harness, wrote new software and worked closely=
Today, the new Land Warrior is earning rave reviews from troops testing it.=
"A dramatic improvement," says Army Lt. Col. Scott Crizer. Military=
officials say 48,000 Land Warrior outfits may roll out by 2004 to be used=
by Army troops in training and combat. Even the Navy has tested the Land=
The tech firms hail the revised Land Warrior as a victory of their=
fast-track, entrepreneurial business model over the costlier defense=
industry model followed by the military for decades. They also tout their=
use of commercial products, such as Microsoft software and Intel computer=
chips, instead of pricier technology made by the government or large=
defense contractors. While corporate behemoths, such as Lockheed Martin and=
General Dynamics, rule the defense world, the small tech firms say their=
Land Warrior success has caught the attention of military brass and defense=
"We made it the classic Silicon Valley way: quicker, cheaper and better,"=
says Hugh Duffy, a former Pacific Consultants executive. "It's an uphill=
battle, but we think we can transform the old model."
Six years ago, the Army hoped the Land Warrior would revolutionize combat by=
creating the world's first digital soldier. Part of the Pentagon's sweeping=
$21 billion drive to create a digital battlefield, the Land Warrior would=
give the Army the same dominance on the ground that the Air Force enjoys in=
In theory, the early Land Warrior would be an awesome fighting machine.=
Infantrymen would use a computer and radio harness, voice communication and=
wireless e-mail, a satellite-mapping system and other high-tech gear.
"The idea was to make our soldiers invincible," says Justus Decher,=
executive director of business development at Pemstar.
After intense bidding, the contract to develop Land Warrior was awarded to=
Raytheon, maker of the Tomahawk cruise missile and the world's No. 3=
defense contractor, with $17 billion in revenue.
But the first prototype by Raytheon was a 40-pound monstrosity, according to=
GAO reports, Army officials and defense industry experts. During testing,=
soldiers who rolled on the ground got stuck on their backs like tortoises.=
The helmet was so heavy, troops who were crawling couldn't lift their heads=
to fire rifles. A thick helmet cable got snagged in bushes so often that=
soldiers ripped it out.
The early Land Warrior software rarely worked, and batteries for computers=
and radios lasted far less than the desired 12 hours. The system failed=
water tests, leaking badly. During jump exercises, the bulky computer packs=
wouldn't fit under soldiers' parachutes.
"It was a classic example of guys sitting around a table, wishing they had=
this and that," says retired Army Lt. Col. Tim Eads, an analyst at the=
Center for Strategic & International Studies. "You ended up with a 50-pound=
piece of metal that soldiers hated dragging around."
Raytheon declined to talk about problems raised in the GAO report but said=
the company laid the foundation for the Land Warrior concept. "We believe=
our efforts were invaluable to (the success of) the Land Warrior," says=
Raytheon executive David Martin.
Meanwhile, the cost of developing the Land Warrior units had soared to $2.1=
billion from $1.4 billion, according to the GAO. Congress was threatening=
to cut off funding, and Army officials were under pressure to kill the=
An intense Army colonel named Bruce Jette revived the Land Warrior system,=
according to military and defense industry insiders. Jette, a no-nonsense=
engineer with a doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of=
Technology, has a personal stake in the project's success: His son is=
studying at West Point.
To troubleshoot, in early 1999 Jette brought in high-tech consultants=
Exponent, a Silicon Valley firm that studies engineering and structural=
failures and accidents.
The firm felt that Raytheon had followed Army specs for the project too=
closely. The old prototype had to be trashed and a new computer and radio=
Raytheon strongly objected, say military and defense industry sources. The=
company had spent four years and millions of dollars developing the Land=
Warrior. It needed more work, but not a complete overhaul, they felt.
"We fulfilled our contractual obligations and designed what the government=
requested," says Raytheon's Martin.
In tense meetings and phone calls, Army officials asked Raytheon several=
times to work with the Silicon Valley engineers to change the Land Warrior.=
Raytheon refused, according to military and defense industry experts.
"Raytheon had a lot of ego and technical talent invested in the project,"=
says Dan Causey, the Army's chief of technical management for the Land=
Warrior program. "They felt they were at the top of their game, and we=
hadn't convinced them. It was a real impasse."
The Silicon Valley engineers felt Raytheon could build missile systems but=
couldn't make cheap, reliable computer setups the way they could. Over=
beers at nearby bars, the engineers clashed over everything from software=
standards to computer chip speeds.
The budding partnership crumbled when Exponent refused to sign a=
subcontractor agreement with lead contractor Raytheon. Frustrated Army=
officials told Exponent to charge ahead anyway and design a new Land=
Going off the shelf
The Silicon Valley engineers slapped together a crude model in three months.=
They went to retailers Best Buy and Fry's Electronics and bought several=
cheap, off-the-shelf products, including Microsoft Windows CE software and=
a wireless card to allow Land Warrior computers to send data.
The most critical technical step: They wrote the software in common=
programming language used by most software engineers, rather than using old=
government programming language, as Raytheon had.
The Army sped up the months-long military procurement process by staging a=
Silicon Valley-style "bake-off" in late 1999 in Menlo Park, Calif. The=
bidders =97 Pacific Consultants, Raytheon and Motorola =97 demonstrated=
their proposed Land Warrior computer and software designs before a roomful=
of Army engineers.
"It was like the gunfight at the OK Corral," Duffy says.
Pacific Consultants said it could finish its prototype in six months for $2=
million =97 more quickly and cheaply than the other bidders. The price tag=
for Pacific Consultant's prototype was $30,000 a unit, while Raytheon's=
version would have cost more than $60,000, say defense contractors and Army=
The Army decided in one day, choosing Pacific Consultants to design the Land=
Warrior's hardware, software and radio systems. The next year, Pacific=
Consultants led a consortium that won a $35 million contract to make the=
prototypes. In coming years, the military might dole out up to $18 billion=
to contractors to manufacture and repair Land Warrior units.
Soldiers say the newest Land Warrior is the best version yet. At 12 pounds,=
the vest and body armor fit snugly around a soldier's torso. Its Microsoft=
Windows 2000 software still has bugs but is nearing the project goal of 10=
days of use without breaking down.
Soldiers who've grown up with computers love the Land Warriors, says Army=
Ranger Sgt. Don Boyle, who notes that a Delta Force Land Warrior video game=
is used during training at West Point.
Mindful that billions of dollars have been spent on ill-fated defense=
projects over the decades, the military hopes to buy more commercial=
technology. Even the Navy Seals have bought commercial speedboats and=
reinforced them to withstand gunfire.
"The Army may have led the world in solid-state electronics in the 1960s,=
but today, our technology expenditures aren't even one high-tech company's=
R&D budget," says Jette. "We have to use technologies in the commercial=
sector to our advantage."
Analysts say it's unclear, though, whether the Army's success with the Land=
Warrior will persuade the military and defense industry to change its ways.=
Too much is at stake, such as the $200 billion, 10-year contract won=
recently by Lockheed Martin to build the Joint Strike Fighter, a=
state-of-the-art jetfighter. Conservative military brass fear change.=
Politicians still want to funnel defense dollars into their districts.
"The forces arrayed against change are pretty formidable," says analyst=
Christopher Hellman at the Center for Defense Information.
Many of the large defense contractors have decades-old political ties to the=
Pentagon, Congress and the White House. Unless small tech firms own=
superior technology, they stand little chance of competing against the big=
Yet, the Silicon Valley model might be winning converts. Military experts=
say two new Army projects to modernize military vehicles and soldiers'=
communications systems will use commercial technology.
"That's a good sign," says Exponent executive John Geddes. "It means we've=
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