Cold Region Test Center, Alaska –
Military conflicts have been decidedly won and lost in extreme cold environments.
“History is littered with failure because of cold,” said Col. Troy Denomy, Project Manager Integrated Visual Augmentation System (PM IVAS) while at the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command’s (ATEC) Cold Region Test Center (CRTC) in Alaska in March 2021. “Nobody likes to fight in the cold because there is a point that technology, and eventually the body, stops working. So if you do have that ability, it’s a strategic advantage.”
In order to ensure near-peer overmatch independent of environment, Program Executive Office Soldier and the Soldier Lethality Cross Functional Team (SL CFT) supported the ATEC-led extreme weather test event at their Cold Region Test Center in Alaska and shortly after at the Tropical Region Test Center in Puerto Rico.
“One of the things that we have to consider from the program's perspective is, where does our national strategy suggest that we're going to fight,” said Denomy. “If we only test and understand how the system works in a nominal environment, that very much restricts options on where we fight. Designing the system for extreme cold, humidity, and heat is paramount.”
IVAS is being developed to deliver information-sharing and situational awareness tools that increase Soldier lethality in any future battlespace.
“Just as we’ve always recognized IVAS’ incredible potential as a weapons system, we’ve always recognized and planned for it to serve our Soldiers in any environment, including incredibly extreme conditions,” said Lt. Col. Bradley Winn of the SL CFT. “We’re testing it for that purpose, so the environment won’t put the Soldier or the system at risk.”
The IVAS Capability Set 4 was put through its paces by the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division out of Alaska’s Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in temperatures as low as negative thirty degrees Fahrenheit. Land navigation and Rapid Target Acquisition were among the capabilities tested during the event.
“These [land navigation] observation points were chosen so [the Soldiers] could observe some existing mission infrastructure as part of a scenario where they are tasked to move into an area and do reconnaissance,” said Ivan Geroy, CRTC test officer. “It’s pretty complex rolling terrain with steep sections: this is the first time the system has been exercised in extreme cold with complex topography.”
“You want to know how the system will react in adverse conditions, and there is nothing more adverse than falling in five feet of snow and pounding your head on a tree, subsequently jarring your equipment and seeing how that affects the interface of software and hardware,” said Spc. Nicholas James, one of the test participants.
Soldier feedback is a priority of the program’s iterative design structure, as Soldier acceptance and usability has been central in the development of the IVAS technology. Chief of CRTC's Test Operations Division, Greg Netardus, addressed the level of impact that each Soldier had and the value of their quality feedback during the test event’s opening remarks.
“This is probably one of the few times in your life that you will be able to directly affect the entire Army on something,” said Netardus. “You have a lot of power in what you're doing here. I want you to remember that the comments that you make and feedback that you give at this test is going to make a system better than it is now and it's going to make it better for future Soldiers.”
From inception, Team IVAS has consisted of an intersectional group of Army stakeholder organizations working together to develop and deliver the composite system. The Army’s testing community has been an integral part of the team and to the execution of the IVAS program.
“The CFT and PEO Soldier have worked in lockstep to get us to this point quickly, but we also have a very close partnership with the testing community,” said Winn. “I don’t think most people are aware that the test community has worked with us from the start to ensure all these next-generation technologies are pragmatic and functional in any environment and under any condition when the Soldier goes to war with it.”
In effort to rapidly prototype the technology, it was important to include members of the Army test community concurrent to the project’s iterative development. Team IVAS has built a strong and productive relationship with the Army test community that has strengthened bilateral operational goals based on lessons learned.
“The testing community absolutely has to have its independence to call balls and strikes, which we will never impinge on,” said Denomy. “But they've also provided a partnership by saying ‘hey based on what we're seeing, here are some things we think you should consider’, and I think that paradigm can be hugely powerful for the Army to make those changes quickly, and not waiting until it's almost too late sometimes.”
Members of the ATEC team were on the ground during previous IVAS Soldier Touchpoints at Fort Pickett, Virginia, spending time with the system to better understand the width and breadth of its capabilities in order to most effectively design a comprehensive test event.
“I can't give high enough praise to the ATEC team and the team here at CRTC for their flexibility, adaptability, and professionalism,” added Denomy. “It's been remarkable and I'm looking forward to continuing testing with them because I think their mindset and open mindedness to understand what we're trying to do and why we're trying to do it leads me to believe that the feedback that we're going to get from the Soldiers and from those test teams will be super valuable to the program going forward. I have no doubt."
Team IVAS is continuing extreme weather testing at ATEC’s Tropical Region Test Center in Puerto Rico throughout March 2021.