When the soldiers of the U.S. Army's 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division hit the ground in Afghanistan this month, they'll be carrying the latest in high-tech gear.
Their officers and squadron leaders will be using "Land Warrior," a $48,000 wearable computer system that will let each user view maps of terrain, track his fellow soldiers with GPS navigation and communicate with others via text messaging or whispers.
The men and women of the 5-2 have been training with Land Warrior at their base in Fort Lewis, Wash., reports the Tacoma News-Tribune.
That could come in handy as U.S. and Afghan forces step up their offensive against the Taliban. They launched a major operation Wednesday in Afghanistan, intended to bolster the security of the local population in the face of the Taliban threat.
The Pentagon continues to beef up its capabilities with high-tech equipment. With the Land Warrior, as in science-fiction movies, the soldiers' helmets will sport computerized eyepieces and microphones.
Their rifles will have an extra array of laser sights and sensors networked with the backpack computers. Each soldier will become part of a network with his assigned eight-wheeled Stryker armored combat vehicle as the center.
"I used it on every mission we went on, and frankly, it was one of the best pieces of equipment we had over there," Staff Sgt. Dennis Davis told the News-Tribune. "It helps with situational awareness on the battlefield. I can't imagine doing a mission now without the luxury of having it."
Davis, part of the 4th Brigade, 9th Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, used the Land Warrior system during a 2007 deployment in Iraq — despite the fact that the program had already been killed by the Pentagon.
But the soldiers of the 4-9 loved the system so much that it's been resurrected for use in the even more difficult conditions of Afghanistan.
"We'd jump off the helicopter, and within seconds we knew exactly where we were and exactly where we the target was," said Davis. "You don't really need to communicate through the radio to find out where others are or pull a piece of paper out of your pocket to find out where you need to go."
The 4-9 stripped the system down so that, at eight pounds, it now weighs half of what it originally did.
"You can spread out more because you know where folks are, and you don't have to maintain as tight of control," Lt. Col. Burton Shields, commander of the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, told the News-Tribune. "It prevents fratricide because you know where everyone is."