Science and Technology News

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Army Continues Advancing Soldier Capabilities

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

Oct. 28, 2009 - Since 2002, Program Executive Office Soldier, better known simply as PEO Soldier, has been the Army's dedicated organization in developing, enhancing and fielding soldier capabilities. PEO Soldier procures and designs the latest technology to improve anything and everything soldiers carry and wear. The organization focuses on making soldiers more adaptable and effective through lightening their loads, while still making them more effective.

"There's a lot of things happening [in PEO Soldier] to make our soldiers the most lethal, survivable and able to operate in any environment," Army Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller, who leads that effort, said told military reporters in a roundtable discussion yesterday at the Pentagon.

PEO Soldier's four primary project managers attended the discussion as well, and showcased some of their products, including ody armor plate carriers, machine guns, thermal- and night-vision devices, new camouflage uniforms and a new oxygen delivery system.

Army Col. Doug Tamilio, project manager for soldier weapons, highlighted two new machine guns. The MK48 is now being fielded, and weighs 18.5 pounds. It uses .762-caliber ammunition at an effective range of 800 meters, giving infantry soldiers operating in Afghanistan lighter and more powerful capabilities in high altitudes, he said.

The MK48 "significantly reduces the weight of our currently fielded [M240B machine gun], which comes in at about 27 pounds," Tamilio said. "We gave them this so they could move quicker and lighter at those high elevations." Each Army infantry brigade combat team eventually will get 159 MK48s.

Tamilio also introduced the M240L machine gun, which weighs 22.5 pounds. It has an option to attach a shorter barrel, dropping an additional 2 pounds. The M240L is reliable and durable, and it can fire 100,000 rounds of .762-caliber ammunition before the barrel or bolt needs to be replaced.

"That's incredible endurance for a weapon system," Tamilio said, adding that the M240L has an effective range of 1,800 meters. He's also working to award a contract for a collapsible buttstock to give riflemen more comfort. The M240L is expected to be fielded by July.

Army Col. Will Riggins, warrior project manager,, introduced the portable helicopter oxygen delivery system, which follows the same trend in lightening soldiers' loads.

The system is small enough to attach to aircrew members' equipment vests and replaces the current system, which is about one-third the size of a conference table, Riggins said. It's composed of the oxygen bottle and a regulatory device, and it automatically senses when aircraft reach certain altitudes that require additional oxygen. It also senses the individual's breathing rhythm, he said.

It allows aircraft such as the CH-47 Chinook and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to carry more weight, whether that's additional soldiers, ammunition or fuel, Riggins said. "It enables more efficient operations and more efficient use of your oxygen," he said.

Army Col. Bill Cole, project manager for soldier protection and individual equipment, talked about his program's latest developments in body armor vests and uniforms, which was based on concerns from soldiers in Afghanistan, he said.

The improved outer tactical vest, known by soldiers as the IOTV system, originally was fielded in 2007. But slimmer soldiers, particularly small women, Cole said, complained that the vests were too uncomfortable and compromised their protection.

The original IOTV could be adjusted only by fabric-fastener straps to the front, which moved soldiers' side plates toward their torso. But on the new vest, soldiers can adjust the straps forward, backwards, up and down to maximize comfort and protection.

"We took [the vest] back to the unit that raised the issue, and they loved it," he said, adding that the Army recently began production.

Cole also described the multi-camouflage uniform and universal camouflage pattern uniform, two new uniforms Army leadership is considering to make soldiers more adaptable to the terrain in Afghanistan. A decision on the new uniforms has yet to be made.

Army Col. Stephanie Foster, project manager for sensors and lasers, said her department is working to combine thermal weapons sights and helmet attachments with low-light, night-vision capabilities. Both capabilities are fielded, she said, but the next step is to merge the two.

"We're doing all that we can to ensure our soldiers have the visibility for all them to be able to think and engage appropriately," she said.

PEO Soldier officials plan to host a similar media roundtable quarterly to ensure the public and military communities are informed of the latest gear soldiers use as the Army continues its transformation into a more modular force, Fuller said.

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