Army headset’s latest version clears hurdle, but service wishlist remains long

Spc. Layne Alfieri of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division, dons an Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) 1.2 prototype during tests held by PEO-Soldier on Fort Drum, New York, on August 22, 2023

Spc. Layne Alfieri of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division, dons an Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) 1.2 prototype during tests held by PEO-Soldier on Fort Drum, New York, on August 22, 2023 U.S. Army / Jason Amadi, PEO-Soldier

Service approves further development after Microsoft’s IVAS 1.2 proves lighter, crisper.

Soldiers who tried out the latest prototype of the U.S. Army’s futuristic infantry headset called it much improved over an earlier, heavier version. But the Army’s wishlist of capabilities for a soldier headset remains long and ambitious.  

From August 18 to 24, soldiers at Fort Drum, New York, tested version 1.2 of Microsoft’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS, which Army leaders hope will give forces a massive advantage in everything from training to mission rehearsal to combat. 

The testers “appreciated the improved form factor, with the flip-up heads up display and significantly improved center of gravity/weight distribution,” said David Patterson, a spokesman for PEO-Soldier. He said the positive reviews led the Army Acquisition Executive to greenlight IVAS 1.2 for more development and a planned operational assessment in fiscal 2025.

The new version has a slimmer visor and a new display that help reduce eyestrain and motion sickness, Microsoft says, as well as better night vision, compatibility with weapons optics, and more stable and reliable software. The system can also incorporate imagery from a rifle’s digital sight, allowing soldiers to peer around corners without exposing themselves to fire.

Defense One tested the new IVAS in a simulated training exercise at one of Microsoft’s Virginia offices. Compared to the original version, the new one is indeed smaller and lighter. The night-vision picture is clearer and crisper; a new option to fuse visible-light and thermal data helps when thermal imagery alone doesn’t work well, such as through glass.

IVAS comes with an embedded training tool, the Squad Immersive Virtual Trainer, which the Army hopes will become central to the way troops learn and practice their craft. It allows soldiers to fight holographic adversaries in realistic settings, then rewatch and learn from their efforts, down to the position of the gun at different moments. (When Defense One ran through several simulations, we did indeed improve over time, yet repeatedly died, as we are not actually good at this stuff.)

Microsoft delivered 20 IVAS 1.2 headsets in August; a spokesman said the company expects to deliver more by January for testing and refinement.

It was a critical test of a system that has seen delays, scaled-back expectations, and complaints about neck strain and glitchy software. In April, Army acquisition head Doug Bush told lawmakers that the Army “is absolutely prepared to end that arrangement and seek a new competition.”

Big Ambitions

But the program’s problems reflect the Army’s big ambitions for the headset as much as the actual hardware and software issues.

“It’s not ready,” PEO-SOF Warrior’s Col. Anh Ha said of IVAS in May. “But it's not because of any type of problems with industry. The technology that [Army leaders] want to get after is not there yet…They want to make sure they get the best, but they are building some right now to understand what they can and can't do in the realm of possibility, technically, for IVAS.”

The program owes its origins to an earlier vision of future tech: the “Iron Man” suit that then-SOCOM chief Adm. William McRaven announced in 2013. The armored exoskeleton was supposed to give the wearer super abilities, like running through walls and swatting away bullets. It was ultimately crushed by the limitations of physics, particularly battery technology. But a portion of the idea lived on in the idea of the hyper-enabled operator, supplied with data and optical gear to understand the battlefield better than his or her adversary.

The Army has relatively near-term goals for IVAS or whatever AR headset it eventually adopts, such as pulling in video feeds from soldier-borne drones such as the Teledyne FLIR Black Hornet. But ultimately, the service wants to use artificial intelligence to collect and disseminate battlefield data much more quickly and effectively, data collected from and sent to the headsets, the IVAS program’s head-up-display leader said in May 

“As we speak, the Army intel data platform is undergoing an operational test both here in the National Capital Region and all over the world. And that's gonna get deployed early next year. So [Army Data Platform] is a big data platform hosted on the cloud, multiple security enclaves,” Robert Luke told a crowd in Tampa. “Right now we're in the tens of millions of individual files and data objects and multiple security lanes, dozens of pipelines increasing every day…We have a warehouse full of data that is timely. We have countless sensors adding to it, basically, by the minute, in real time, 24 hours a day. So it's pretty obvious to us early on that we needed to be able to effectively manage this giant volume and complexity of data. The only way to do that is through artificial intelligence.”

The Army doesn’t want AI to replace human decision-making, Luke said, so much as allow human operators to make better decisions faster with much more data. The IVAS, ultimately, is just a one of several points where soldiers will access information about the world around them allowing them to act faster than their foes not only when they are dismounted but when they are operating vehicles and weapons around them. 

“At the tactical level,” he said, “On a fighting platform, with an open-systems architectural approach, I can now take a…data feed; I can link that to a the appropriate antenna that is listening in the EW spectrum; I can fuse that with multispectral imagery coming from multiple optics on the platform, and now present a synchronized multimodal, ‘Hey, this is what the battlefield looks like around you. I recognize these things are threats. Shoot this one first.’ 

“And the gun does it by itself because I've…accelerated this decision cycle filtering, multimodal information into that vehicle commander, you know, synthesized for him, and he's just pressing the button because he agreed with the prioritization and the identification,” he said. “If you're going to do that, you're basically out-fighting someone else's OODA loop and you're going to win every day.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.