The do-it-all goggle under development by the Army will see its first ruggedized test with a company-level exercise this month, with fielding to begin next year with one unit, followed by the distribution of 40,000 devices across the service.
The Integrated Visual Augmentation System is an effort to put the connected world of a fighter pilot in the sight picture of the close combat soldier or Marine.
Brig. Gen. Anthony Potts, who commands Program Executive Office Soldier, and Brig. Gen. David Hodne, commandant of the Army’s Infantry School and director of the Soldier Lethality Cross-Functional Team, lead the effort. The officers spoke with Army Times about the system ahead of this year’s Association of the U.S. Army conference.
October’s field testing at Fort Pickett, Virginia, will feature a company-sized force tasked with clearing a trench at night — one of the more challenging and potentially deadly tasks that infantry must perform.
Hodne called this field test a “significant” point in the device’s development.
But the device has grabbed headlines for another feature: It’s expected to monitor the state of the soldier, including hydration, fatigue, stress and temperature.
The relevancy of that capability came a litter early, thanks to COVID-19.
In April, developers adjusted software in the device to allow it to take a user’s temperature. The IVAS' built-in sensor can, from a distance, read a temperature. It’s not ready for doing so in austere conditions, but it was shown to work, running through 300 soldiers in about 30 minutes at an indoor location at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Potts said the system will help soldiers build and rehearse their missions, including reconnaissance, attack by fire and assault.
An added feature not previously discussed in detail is the addition of the Solder Borne Sensor, a micro-drone controlled with IVAS. Soldiers will be able to see from the drone’s point of view as it performs midair reconnaissance.
“They’re flying it off of their tactical assault kit,” Potts said.
Shortly following the field test in Virginia, the unit using IVAS will go to Alaska for a cold weather evaluation, followed by a trip to potentially Puerto Rico or Panama for jungle conditions, Potts said.
If approved, as many as 1,600 systems could be built for the four-phase test, which will include operational testing, he added.
Another test will incorporate the Family of Weapons Sights-Individual in place of the pending crew-served versions so that gunners can pop smoke into the trench and then test the device’s ability to see through the obscurant so soldiers can identify and destroy targets.
Demonstrations in 2017 of the FWS-I at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to media involved Army Times observing the see-through-smoke capability.
The FWS-I also includes rapid target acquisition, in which the goggle can lock onto a target through the weapon’s sight, much like a fighter pilot, and use the weapon to fire over obstacles or around corners without exposing the shooter.
FWS-I and rapid target acquisition are already incorporated into early versions of the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle-Binocular, of which the Soldier Lethality Cross-Functional Team fielded of last year with PEO Soldier as a directed requirement. However, the team is not yet issuing them on a large scale.
The 82nd Airborne Division will soon get the device; one unit in Hawaii and another deployed to Korea already have it.
Potts said average shooters are now hitting targets at the 800- to 900-meter range with FWS-I and rapid target acquisition. That’s nearly triple the distance during unaided firing and more than 300 meters past standard optics marksmanship ranges.
“Soldiers love that system,” Hodne said. When they’re used to the older PVS-14 and then get increased ranges, high-definition clarity and thermal sensing, “it’s night and day, you can’t compare the two.”
During the annual Maneuver Warfighter Conference at Fort Benning in September, Lt. Col. Brad Winn, the lead action officer for IVAS under the Soldier Lethality CFT, highlighted the device’s day and night rapid target acquisition and thermal capabilities.
The device is expected to have an 80-degree by 40-degree field of view, and software capabilities are planned to include facial recognition and text translation. “IVAS can tell who people are and translate various languages into English,” Winn said.
Another key feature is navigation. During an early prototype demonstration, and Army Times reporter viewed the device, which maintained compass headings in the view and allowed for digital, 3D map display views within the headset. Soldiers can mark locations of enemies and allies on that virtual map and share the data within their squad, platoon or company.
Using recording options, training can play back instant after-action reviews, providing the location of each unit member during a shoot house drill, patrol or reconnaissance training evolution.
The system includes the goggle; an on-body computer; and three wearable, conformable batteries per soldier. with an advanced battery charged in each platoon. The larger network uses a radio for each soldier and a tactical cloud package that uses the cloud for each company to provide connectivity.
Since early 2019, developers have refined the design and software with Microsoft, using the company’s virtual reality HoloLens goggle as the initial device. So far, they’ve conducted more than 25 tests with more than 1,000 participants. That started in squads and moved to platoon-sized work late last year, Winn said.
The ruggedized, military form factor version is what’s to be tested at Fort Pickett this month with a company-sized, 72-hour mission.
Marines are slated to provide testing and feedback on the firing range, particularly in relation to target acquisition. The Army participants will run the maneuver portion of the testing, Hodne said.
So far, members of Army Special Forces, Rangers, and soldiers with 25th Infantry Division, 10th Mountain Division and 82nd Airborne Division as well as Marines have tested the device.
Once fielded, it will be used by close combat formations, infantry, combat engineers and scouts in the active, Guard and Reserve components, Winn said.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.