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Communications and External Relations
ORNL helping make tomorrow's soldiers all they can be
OAK RIDGE, Tenn.,
Feb. 21, 2002
Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator has nothing over the Objective Force Warrior envisioned by the Army and a team from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and organizations throughout the country.
The goal is to develop a high-tech soldier with 20 times the capability of today's warrior and to have that soldier commissioned by about 2010. With advanced technologies, the Army plans to create an overmatch and greatly minimize danger to its soldiers.
"With the Objective Force Warrior, the Army wants to stretch the bounds of technology but still have something that is feasible and can be built," said George Fisher of ORNL's National Security Directorate. "The Army wants an independent look into the future to see what emerging technologies and innovative combinations of these concepts might allow."
Because of ORNL's unique capabilities and its connections to industry, institutions and technologies, the Army has asked the laboratory to coordinate a unique visioning process.
"What we're calling 'the art of the possible' in enabling technologies will leverage the Department of Energy's considerable investment and technologies," Fisher said.
Concept design teams were composed of futurists, systems engineers, biologists, military experts, human factors specialists, writers and others of diverse backgrounds. The teams met late last year and submitted a proposed plan of attack to the Army in December.
Innovative technologies would allow a soldier to engage and destroy the enemy at longer ranges with greater precision and with devastating results, Fisher said. Technologies that would make that possible include better communications devices, advanced situational awareness software, chem-bio detection and protection, advanced weapons, and protective equipment.
Fatigues and the flak jacket of the past, for example, would be replaced by a system designed to protect a soldier and provide hemorrhage control in case a bullet penetrates. The helmet of the future warrior might be a sealed unit that contains communications, vision enhancements, a laser for target ranging and a heads-up display.
To provide a glimpse into the future, one of the panels submitted a hypothetical letter from a soldier to his parents dated Oct. 30, 2017.
In the letter, the young soldier writes, "My suit has the ability to stop a rifle bullet. It is made of a material that is as flexible as my football jersey but gets hard as steel when a bullet or knife is pushed into it. The material has some kind of chemical in it that lets fresh air pass through it but stops and destroys chemical warfare agents . . .
"If I do get injured, the suit automatically inflates over the wound, stopping the bleeding and applying medicine to the injury until our medic can come help me."
The letter continues: "Remember how you used to tell me that playing all those video games wouldn't get me anywhere in life? You have to see my helmet to believe it. It's like an IMAX movie right before my eyes."
The helmet of the future will allow a soldier to monitor power reserves, will show the range of an enemy and will provide an enormous amount of additional information, including the capabilities of the enemy.
While many of the technologies to make the Objective Force Warrior a reality are maturing today, several others, called "breakthrough technologies," have yet to be developed. These include advanced fuel cells, exoskeletons, directed energy lethal and non-lethal weapons, and lethal robotics. The exoskeleton would augment the strength of a soldier and enhance mobility, speed, endurance, range and load-carrying capabilities.
Immediate areas of focus are situational understanding, weapons, power generation and individual protective equipment.
In addition to the members from ORNL, Objective Force Warrior panel members come from disparate backgrounds, including Business Week, Battelle Memorial Institute, Axis Solutions, Yale University, NASA Langley Research Center, the Y-12 National Security Complex, Natick Soldier Center, Picatinny Arsenal, Computer Associates, U.S. Armor Center and Meridian.
ORNL is a Department of Energy multiprogram research facility managed by UT-Battelle.