The Pentagon’s skunk works is creating technology to build the ‘super soldier’ of the future.
It envisions using augmented reality to help ground troops identify targets, sources of gunfire and help with communication.
To make this a reality, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) says it has now awarded research contracts to several companies to develop the technology.
This is all part of Darpa’s new Squad X Core Technologies (SXCT) program, which will give US troops the ability to see a ‘multi-faceted picture of their operational environments.’
This would include the location, nature and activity of both threats and allied forces around them.
Technology is already made this type of real-time environment awareness available for aircraft, submarines and tanks.
Infantry squads, however, have fallen behind because many of these systems are too bulky to carry on the frontline.
Soldiers already have to carry over 45kg (100lbs) of gear, which can tire them out quickly.
To address this, SXCT program aims to develop technologies that could be integrated into user-friendly systems.
‘Our goal is to develop technologies that support a three-dimensional common operating picture leveraging input from integrated mobile sensors, as well as the ability to organically locate and identify friendly forces and threat locations in near real time,’ said Major Christopher Orlowski, DARPA program manager.
‘The Phase 1 performers for SXCT have proposed a variety of technologies that, in the future, could provide unprecedented awareness, adaptability and flexibility to dismounted Soldiers and Marines and enable squad members to more intuitively understand and control their complex mission environments.’
This doesn’t just mean streamlining the equipment, but also making it more intuitive for soldiers to use.
DARPA has awarded initial contracts for SXCT to companies including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Helios Remote Sensing Systems and SoarTech.
It has remained tight-lipped about exactly what technologies these organisation are developing.
But it has outlined a number of technical areas that it wants to tackle.
The program is looking at four key military tech advances –precision engagement, non-kinetic engagement, squad sensing, and squad autonomy.
Precision engagement involves precisely engage threats out to 0.6 mile (1,000 meters), without imposing too much additional weight.
The second aim of the program is to provide technology to disrupt enemy operations. This is known as ‘non-kinetic engagement.’
The squad sensing advances will allow soldiers to detect potential threats out to 0.6 mile away.
Alongside this it wants to increase squad members’ real-time knowledge of their own and teammates’ locations to less than 20 feet (6 meters) in areas that don’t have GPS.
Orlowski added: ‘We are working towards advanced capabilities that would make dismounted infantry squads more adaptable, safe and effective.’