The Digital Squad
The "Digital Soldier" is one of the U.S. Army's more wasteful programs. It plans to load up each infantryman with pounds of electronic gizmos which he rarely needs. The problems of weight, battery power, and technical training are wished away. However, infantrymen can benefit from advanced technology if the concept is changed to the "Digital Squad".
Soldiers operate in small groups, with a squad of 9-14 soldiers considered the basic team. Therefore, electronic gear must be configured as a squad set, with something like: one GPS receiver, one sat/cell phone, a few thermal imagers, hearing amps, and binoculars. This will allow the weight to be distributed among several soldiers.
The only digital gear every grunt needs is a tiny radio and maybe a GPS watch.
However, training and equipment accountability will remain a problem unless a soldier is added to each squad who has specific training to operate and maintain the electronic gear. This soldier cannot carry and operate all these devices, but he can distribute the equipment as directed by the squad leader. Most equipment is simple to operate, but the expertise of a highly trained soldier is required to calibrate, troubleshoot, and answer questions. Highly trained means several months of schooling, including basic maintenance. Equally important, this one soldier will be held accountable for keeping his squad's set of electronic gear.
One of worst ideas is computerized notebook maps. They are heavy and will break in the field. However, every combat battalion needs a computerized mapmaker. Using CDs or electronic links to map databases, it is simple to use laser color printers to produce hundreds of high quality maps. A field headquarters could even type comments or add overlays before they are printed, and then use a large electric laminator to waterproof them. The days of 30-year old maps, ordering maps, or storing maps should be over. Every battalion should be able to print their own maps on demand using the latest information available. The technology is cheap, proven, and easy to use.
Valuable "digital" gear is already available in the civilian market. There is no need to waste billions of dollars for development. The Marine Corps recently purchased several thousand tiny hand held radios from a commercial source, and the Army should buy one for each infantryman. However, this is the only "digital" gear each soldier needs. The Army needs to focus on the "Digital Squad", and establish a technical specialty of "Infantry Electronic Tech" to provide each squad with someone who can properly operate and maintain this expensive equipment.