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Leaders from the Maneuver Center of Excellence and Program Executive Office Soldier met on Fort Benning Thursday to share an in-depth look at the centerpiece of the Armys force modernization strategy the squad and the individual Soldier.
The modernization effort is a multi-tiered approach, including weapon systems, protective equipment, training and enablers such as lasers and optics.
The Army at all levels has continued to modernize and equip all of our Soldiers, said Command Sgt. Maj. James Carabello, the Maneuver Center of Excellence command sergeant major. When our squads are fighting, theyre not out fighting by themselves. They have a multitude and a layer of enablers that will ensure their success in battle.
From then to now
A key component of modernization is how Soldiers are outfitted, both on the battlefield and in training, Carabello said.
The command sergeant major compared a Soldier from 1991 with a warrior of today as he is outfitted for deployment to Afghanistan.
Notable differences include the headgear, which includes a slightly different helmet shape and an enhanced night vision device; ballistic eye protection; the uniform, which has an updated camouflage pattern and is treated with a flame retardant; body armor, which now features the plate carrier system, designed to protect the Soldiers front, back and sides from fragmentary and direct fire; and the weapon system.
A Soldier 20 years ago would have carried the M16A2 rifle, the best weapon the Army could provide our Soldiers at that time, Carabello said.
The rifle has a long barrel, no optics, no rail system to mount lasers or other enablers, a fixed stock and only a 200-meter sight distance. Today, Soldiers carry an M4A1 series carbine, with a 600-meter sight distance; a tactical light featuring infrared and white light capabilities; a collapsible stock for six different firing positions; laser device available in overt or covert mode; a forward pistol grip; and the Picatinny Rail System that allows enablers to be mounted to the weapon.
The M4 has had over 90 improvements over its lifetime, Carabello said, and we will continue to assess and modernize that piece of equipment.
A new look at training
On a daily basis, we are required to put our Soldiers into harms way, said Command Sgt. Maj. Shawn Cook, command sergeant major for the 197th Infantry Brigade. Greater situational awareness of their surroundings provides them with more mission success and a safer environment for them to operate in themselves.
Thats where Advanced Situational Awareness Training comes in. Configured as a five-day or a 22-day course, ASAT includes practical classroom instruction and field exercises geared toward helping Soldiers improve their situational awareness in the complex surroundings of the battlefield.
This training enables Soldiers to better recognize and understand human behaviors they see in their surroundings, Cook said, and it enables them to make critically reasoned decisions and take proactive action. In essence, it provides our Soldiers with a blue collar PhD in human behavior. The training teaches everything from the science and art of how our brain works to the effective use of optics at extended distances to improve situational awareness and assess threats.
Cook said Army leaders are currently working on bringing the course to officers and NCOs. More than 800 Soldiers have graduated from the five-day course; 3,600 have completed a four-hour ASAT familiarization class.
Feedback from the graduates has been outstanding, he said. Soldiers who have deployed before, their feedback to us has been (that) had they had this on their previous deployments, it could have made some big differences in outcomes based. Bottom line: this training increases our Soldiers and squads effectiveness and saves lives.
Modernization doesnt depend solely on the opinions of a few elite. Input is constantly sought from those in the field, from lower enlisted ranks on up to unit leaders at all levels.
With our focus on the (dismounted) squad as the foundation of the decisive force we will also continue with the theme of modernization through nonstop assessment, said Command Sgt. Maj. Tim Guden, Infantry School command sergeant major.
Guden said this assessment includes feedback on training from students attending courses, after action review comments from leadership and insight from units actually using the equipment.
At Program Executive Office Soldier, where much of the new equipment is developed and tested, collaboration is key. Command Sgt. Maj. Emmett Maunakea, PEO Soldier command sergeant major, said each piece undergoes thorough testing, including placement in Soldiers hands, so they can share suggestions.
The key to all of this is taking feedback from Soldiers about current equipment thats deployed and how to make improvements to that equipment, so we are consistently improving the capabilities we have, he said. At the same time, we continue to research and develop newer and even better capabilities.
Col. Robert Mortlock, program manager for Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment, PEO Soldier, listed a range of updated equipment currently undergoing testing that owes its existence to this two-way dialogue between Soldiers and leadership:
Female body armor features improved fit around shoulders, chest, waist and hips and a shortened tactical vest
Helmet sensors located in the crown of combat helmets to measure the pressure and acceleration of blasts when they occur, alert the chain of command of the need for medical attention, and over the long-term provide data for professionals to study the effects of high-energy events on the brain
Permethrin-treated uniforms provides insect repellency, so Soldiers no longer have to apply it themselves
Family of camouflage patterns designed to be effective in multiple combat environments
Pelvic protection systems protects from ballistic effects of fragmentments from explosives
These are all examples of how we use Soldier feedback, and that collaborative research and development approach to get the most technologically advanced equipment, rigorously tested, to our Soldiers, so they can focus on their primary task and mission, Mortlock said.
Modernization will always be an ongoing effort.
Col. Tim Wallace, project manager for Soldier Warrior, cited Nett Warrior, a system that connects dismounted warriors to a larger Army network and lets leaders see where their Soldiers are and communicate with them. Lt. Col. Christopher Schneider, project manager for Soldier Maneuver Sensors, highlighted the enhanced night vision goggle, which uses a thermal sensor to provide Soldiers increased situational awareness, and a weapon sensor that decreases engagement time by about 50 percent.
On the weaponry front, Col. Scott Armstrong, project manager for Soldier Weapons, said the entire fleet of M4s are being modernized, with ambidextrous fire control, auto trigger assembly, and the ability to handle higher sustained rates of fire as just a few of the things being considered.
Fielding has already begun, he said, with more than 6,000 M4A1s fielded this summer. More than 3,000 are slated for fielding this fall. Kits to begin streamlining the conversion should be available next summer.
Another recent development is the XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement System.
This brings an entirely new capability to the Soldier, Armstrong said, to be able to get the enemy soldiers that are behind walls, behind trees or in buildings. The XM 25 is a direct fire system that fires a programmable airburst 25 mm smart round. The weapons performed very well over more than 14 months of combat operations and demonstrated that they do in fact break the parity of the direct fire weapon engagement.
Carabello called the XM25 a devastating weapon system (that could) change the face of battle.
During my most recent deployment to southern Afghanistan, one of my Infantry battalions was outfitted with several of the XM 25s, he said. During numerous engagements with enemy forces, the XM 25 was very successful. Those enemy forces were defeated soundly and destroyed. The XM25, when employed, was a game-changer.
Modernization will continue, Carabello said, throughout the Army, ultimately with one goal in mind so our Soldiers are the best equipped force on face of this earth.