Infantry-21: ITL Bidding on Marines Future Battle Dress
In our August 24, 2006 article, ITL Optronics CEO Eli Venezia set out his vision re: the future of infantry equipment – which tended toward a far more decentralized and incremental model than the all-in-one “future force” initiatives under way in several Western militaries. He may yet get an opportunity to put that vision into practice – but if so, it may ironically be via a centralized “big-budget package” program.
Petah Tikva-based ITL Optronics Ltd. and its Mikal Ltd. “subsidiary” recently won an initial $1 million grant from the US Marine Corps to develop “future battledress,” as part of a competition against General Dynamics Corp. for a $50 million tender. General Dynamics is currently the lead integrator for the US Army’s “Land Warrior” future force program
So, what is “future battledress”?
Required equipment in the “future battledress” reportedly include a wearable computer with a GPS navigation system, C3 (Command, Control & Communications) software for that computer, directional video, a target acquisition kit and laser rangefinder that can ‘paint’ targets for attack, and a helmet-based screen that includes video for receiving transmissions and displaying command-and-control information.
At any rate, the first stage of the competition involved comparison tests between the equipment set offered by ITL and by General Dynamics for the 17,000-unit tender. That obviously went well enough for Marines HQ to invite ITL to prepare 40 equipment sets for a pilot program, hence the $1 million grant.
See the full article at Globes.com. Globes Online also notes that ITL is also competing against Vectronix AG of Switzerland in a $15 million tender to supply its laser finders to the Marines.
fn1. Globes Online lists Mikal Ltd. as an ITL subsidiary, but they do not appear in ITL’s corporate structure, and numerous other sources identify Mikal Ltd. as an Israeli holding company with a wide range of investments. It is possible that the report was simply in error.
DID Op/Ed Opinion
Color us somewhat skeptical of these kinds of programs.
Some of the equipment involved sounds like it could be very useful, and successful integration with things like the new anti-sniper systems could lead to significant combat advantages. Other equipment strikes us as a good way to have troops carry and fuss with computers and other equipment that adds a lot of load (even more with batteries) and a lot of dollars, creating very real opportunity costs vs. other potential improvements while getting in the way of noticing, reacting, and fighting.
Hence the positive aspects of a decentralized and incremental equipment model that incorporates each component as it is proven in combat, rather than going for big-budget, centralized “all or nothing” packages dreamed up away from the front lines.
A friend once offered the thought that any time you have infantry in the field fiddling with computers, the odds of casualties rise. With a global war on that puts infantry in combat situations every day, and military budgets constrained into the future due to maintenance, demographic and fiscal realities, the imperatives for designers and program managers are clear. 1) Get the most bang for the buck; and 2) Have systems ruthlessly filtered for potential distractions.
It remains to be seen whether the various high-budget Western “future force” packages being put together do either of these things to the degree required.