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Army Dreams of Grunt of the Future

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 15, 2001 – Dressed all in black, Army Sgt. Joseph Patterson looks like he stepped from the pages of a science fiction book depicting future warfare.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Sgt. Joseph Patterson models the Future Warrior Vision outfit for members of Congress and their staffs at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. The suit he demonstrated May 3, 2001, features body armor and integrated systems for cooling and heating, stress monitoring and communications. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Patterson recently demonstrated some advanced concepts for outfitting infantrymen to members of Congress and their staffs. Patterson is part of the Soldier Support Center in Natick, Mass.

"This is the equivalent of a concept car for infantrymen," he said. "We're taking a look at every idea and asking, what possibly could make my life great?"

Do you want one uniform for all climates? This prototype has a built-in heating or cooling system. The outfit is interlaced with tubes. "You cool the bodysuit or heat it depending on the core body temperature," Patterson said.

Do you want a read-out on what your condition is? This outfit has built-in monitors that check heartbeat, breathing and hydration. It also will monitor sleep and gauge your combat stress. Not only does the service member have the information, but the commander does also.

Need an integrated communications and data system? "We're going to have body-borne antennas, so no more of those long antennas sticking up," he said.

"We're looking at a really visionary idea of being chameleons," he said. "We're going to have a chameleon uniform that changes color depending on where you are. It'll be an arctic uniform, a jungle uniform, a desert uniform as needed."

Not having to carry extra gear, such as field jackets or rain gear, lightens the load. "Backpacks will no longer be needed except for food, extra ammo and water," he said. "We're actually going to carry just mission-specific items and none of what we call 'snivel gear.' So we don't have our cold weather gear, our wet weather suits, our chemical- biological protection -- it's all integrated into one suit."

Patterson's black suit included body armor and integrated his weapon in a helmet-mounted heads-up display.

"The display is on the helmet visor. On the top, we'll have an embedded sensor suite with night vision and thermal sights," he said. "We'll be able to see 360 degrees, everyone knows where each other is through combat identification, and you can link to everyone and transmit real-time data directly to their heads-up displays."

All of this may sound like a page out of "Starship Troopers," but it could happen. "We can't do these things now, but we should be able to make the technology work in the near future," Patterson said. "It's just a chance to push the envelope."

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