What the army of the future will look like after the military is gone

What the army of the future will look like after the military is gone

Success or failure on the battlefield often depends on how well the soldiers know the enemy and the terrain on which they are fighting. Tactical information makes the difference – where bombs could be hidden, where snipers could be fired from, the identities of locals who could help fighters, and so on. Military strategists gather all this information and store it on a computer. It’s just that accessing and using them in the face of adversity is not at all easy. Well, this is about to change thanks to display technology, known as augmented reality (AR).

AR involves superimposing computer-generated graphics over the real world. It has become popular in applications ranging from video games to furniture sales. The US military wants the field soldier to have such tactical information on missions, and to have it delivered to him on a transparent display attached to his helmet and which can be activated without using his hands. And for this kind of equipment, the US military is willing to spend as much as it needs to have it. The contract with Microsoft to build the system was announced in March. The contract could span a decade and cost a staggering $ 21.9 billion.

The military named the kit the IVAS (short for Integrated Visual Augmentation System). David Marra, who leads the project from Microsoft, describes it as a kind of holographic computer. How IVAS succeeds in this little witchcraft – it processes and assembles several types of data.

A GPS receiver locates the one carrying the system with a margin of centimeters. Instruments equipped with accelerometers and gyroscopes provide information about the movements that the wearer makes. The cameras accurately track the movement of the eyes. IVAS must have data on the soldier’s environment, and for this he relies on an optical radar (which works with the light of a laser). Several sensors help to calculate the distance from the surrounding objects, and a special program that recognizes the objects follows their trajectory as they move.

Marra describes the whole process as “a continuous rendering according to the three coordinates of everything around.” IVAS then calculates with extraordinary speed where to project the graphics on the visor of the headset. A latency of even seven milliseconds risks causing dizziness similar to dizziness, which is why the development of AR or virtual reality (VR) devices has not even taken off much.


To build this whole system, Microsoft has modified an AR headset called HoloLens, which has so far been marketed to companies or research centers. The military version was fitted with a battery about the size of a mobile phone, which the soldier holds to his chest.

Tactical information can be uploaded before a mission, with updates being transmitted wirelessly as needed. Graphics and messages loaded in AR guide soldiers on the unfamiliar battlefield, highlight where Allied forces are, and mark hostile or suspicious areas. The helmet will also be equipped with facial recognition technology to obtain information if possible targets of interest come into view. With no need to look down at a screen, soldiers will be able to focus on the moving targets they are aiming for, as explained by Susan Fung, IVAS Deputy Director.

IVAS will also exchange information with Azure, Microsoft’s cloud, which will facilitate additional features such as translation, among other things. The production of headphones, which weigh almost a kilogram, has begun, and the first of a batch of 120,000 will enter the army equipment this year.

It’s not just the Army that’s interested. The Marines are also part of the IVAS program. Likewise, US allies. HoloLens headphones could also be used on aircraft carriers. The British navy has paid $ 25.5 billion to British giant Bae Systems to adapt. And for tanks, where those inside see the world only through the periscope, the benefits of augmented reality could be even more important.

Daniel Covzhun, chief technology officer at Limpid Armor, an AR company in Kiev, has developed a system dubbed LPMK, which overlays graphics on video images collected by cameras and infrared sensors mounted on the armored vehicle. They will be able to do the same with the images obtained from the drones flying nearby. Trial versions of the LPMK have already been mounted on several armored vehicles of the Ukrainian army. Before the operation begins, they are fed with information from the battlefield management system (BMS). Commanders choose what they want to be marked, says Colonel Vadym Slyusar of the Central Scientific Research Institute of Armament and Military Equipment in Kiev.

The price of such a system starts at about $ 50,000. Ukraine recently ordered more than 50 to be delivered this fall. Likewise, Limpid has already received orders from the United Arab Emirates and from an Asian country that it did not disclose.

Last but not least, AR can increase the capabilities of the optical equipment that soldiers already use.

In September last year, the U.S. military began using the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle-Binoculars (ENVG-B) military goggles, to which the AR function was added. Made in Florida, the new nightgowns allow American soldiers to see in the dark the “bright” figures of enemy soldiers as in the “Halo” video game. The system includes a new high-resolution screen and a custom wireless network for soldiers, quick targeting, and Nett Warrior-compatible AR algorithms. With ENVG-B glasses, which allow all information to be displayed on the screen, soldiers can keep an eye on their targets without looking down to read maps or check radio stations. The U.S. military and navy have already purchased more than 6,000 such systems.

Some risks in the future

All this equipment seems dizzyingly revolutionary, and the improvement of AR combat operations will remain in the area of ​​the most sophisticated armies.

Marcel Baltzer of the Fraunhofer Institute in Wachtberg, who leads a research team in the AR area for the German army, believes that even the most advanced armies in Europe – and, to his knowledge, would be the British, German, Lithuanian armies, the Dutch and the Norwegian – will need another 10 years to integrate AR. But what will become common will be the use of augmented reality for training and for the maintenance and design of military hardware, says Baltzer.

But there is no lack of ambition. Mojo Vision, a California startup, received money from DARPA, the US military research agency, to develop a contact lens AR system. Steve Sinclair, the company’s chief marketing officer, expects a working version of the system to be ready in a few years.

Feasible or not, the use of augmented reality on the battlefield will also bring risks. Those who design these AR-based systems need to identify the point where visual magnification leads to an overload of information that could be confusing, and what happens in a training session may not accurately reflect the chaos of a real confrontation. . Overlapping data can lead to serious errors. And if an AR system can be attacked by hackers, soldiers can be easily fooled by enemies with dramatic consequences.

And there is another risk. AR could allow non-battlefield commanders to order what to do to fighting soldiers. The risk is that those who are not on the ground will feel like puppets of those who are fighting, believes Axel Dyèvre, from the consulting firm Avisa Partners in Paris and who is studying AR for the French Ministry of Defense. He calls the phenomenon “destruction of command chains”, which leaves soldiers without any degree of autonomy to fight effectively. In conclusion, AR offers unexpected benefits, but also additional risks for all those involved in a military confrontation.

Revolutionary technologies

Virtual reality and augmented reality are two of the technologies that have revolutionized many industries in recent years.

DEFINITIONS. If virtual reality transports the wearer of the gadget into an alternate universe, augmented reality superimposes digital elements over real-world images. Augmented reality is considered by some to be an extension of virtual reality, a virtual space in which one who sinks exceeds the limits of physical reality. THE MOST. The American corporation Microsoft has been working for years to develop an augmented reality device for the United States military. The $ 21.9 billion contract is already the largest signed in the field of this technology, and at the end of the program could prove even bigger, depending on the orders that the US military would make. THE PREVIOUS. In 2019, Microsoft won a $ 10 billion contract with the Pentagon (to the detriment of Amazon’s rivals) to build the so-called Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) system, which is the Department of Defense’s core cloud computing infrastructure. In July of this year, the Pentagon canceled the contract, citing the “changing technological environment”, which makes the contract no longer meet the needs of the institution.

This article appeared in issue 125 of . magazine

PHOTO: Getty