The United States Army has rolled out AR combat and training goggles to bring its soldiers further into the digital age. It has made notable leaps with the technology since the late 2010s, displaying a promising advancement.
What AR Technology Does the Army Have?
The U.S. Army uses AR headsets for training and combat purposes. Although there is an enormous amount of soldiers in the infantry, they’ve traditionally worked with more old-school equipment and technology.
Since the battlefield constantly changes, the Army needs constant upgrades. With AR, it stands to revolutionize its conventional practices, propelling soldiers into an advanced technological era.
In 2021, Microsoft won a contract worth nearly $21.9 billion to produce 120,000 headsets based on its Hololens device. They grant unique situational and tactical advantages, including position mapping, target acquisition, sight alignment, and data aggregation for commanding officers. To use them, soldiers equip a wearable battery, computer pack, radio, charger, and display.
The AR combat goggles — formally known as the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) — project mission-critical information to soldiers in real-time to help them navigate and engage combatants. Although the Army has used such devices in the field for close to a decade, they’ve only recently made strides with the technology.
Who in the Army Is Using AR Combat Goggles?
Although the Army wants to broaden its use of AR combat goggles, it has stuck with a few particular test groups. As of 2023, its primary users are infantry soldiers. With more research and development, they could become standard-issue equipment.
In fact, it’s already branching out to find the best use cases for the technology. Specialized teams use it for training and maintenance purposes since it’s so versatile. For example, the Synthetic Training Environment Cross-Functional Team worked hard to roll out the AR goggles at the battalion and company levels in 2021.
How Is the Army Using AR?
The U.S. Army uses AR to train soldiers, guide them in combat, and assist with complex maintenance tasks. The augmented overlay is incredibly versatile, so it has many practical applications whether you need it to support the lowest-ranking foot soldiers or super-specialized teams. After all, experts believe it has limitless training potential in most industries.
While the AR headsets haven’t seen combat up close and personal yet, the Army has deployed them in live fire simulations. They display mission-critical information and helpful aiming guides, which are useful for high-stakes, fast-paced environments. Plus, soldiers can review their sessions afterward to see what they missed and how they can refine their skills.
Training is one of the more promising areas, with many groups benefiting from the headsets. For example, specialists in the Advanced Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNE) branch use AR technology to enhance their defense training. They get to receive firsthand learning without the risk of hazardous exposure.
The lead digital artist of the branch’s AR program spoke about how they can adapt standard training material to align with the unique needs of special forces teams or help soldiers repair mission-critical equipment. Instead of simply reading a manual or sitting through a long class, they can get personally familiar with their specialty.
Is AR Technology Helping Soldiers?
While AR can provide many promising benefits to soldiers, it doesn’t help them as much as they hoped. The technology is still in its testing phase, so you should expect it to have some negative qualities that still need tweaking.
The Army quickly realized there were multiple technological obstacles after deploying its initial version of IVAS. Although the headsets should have helped soldiers aim and communicate better, an assessment from the U.S. Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) found they engaged in live fire drills more slowly and hit fewer targets.
While the Army wanted to increase its soldiers’ lethality, it failed to deliver an effective proof of concept. On top of finding various technological limitations, the Army realized its soldiers weren’t too fond of AR headsets. According to the DOT&E, most preferred their standard equipment and didn’t generally accept the new tech.
You could contribute most of the hiccups and complaints to the newness of the technology, considering there’s always a learning curve when you pick up something new. This fact is especially true for soldiers, considering they spend years picking up specific behaviors — on top of getting used to AR, they need to override their previous training to adapt to it.
Still, the less-than-promising results didn’t please the federal government. After the initial letdown of IVAS 1.0, the general agreement was to put everything on hold to polish the technology and make it usable. While there’s still hope for it, it will take time before everyone gives it the go-ahead to move forward.
What Is the Future of AR in the Army?
While only time can tell what the future holds, AR in the U.S. Army is here to stay. It’s run into some hiccups it needs to fix, but the technology is lightweight, practical and promising. With effort and further investments, it could revolutionize training and combat.
While the Army’s first contract with Microsoft was worth billions, it could only approve $40 million for new research and development because of the federal government’s faltering confidence in its AR technology. Congress denied their initial request for $400 million, telling them they needed to improve what they had instead of increasing their stock.
However, things are still moving forward. In August 2023, the Army held an industry engagement event to assess contractors for its AR training and maintenance programs. Although it won’t make anything official until sometime in 2025 with IVAS 1.2, plans are already in motion to innovate on technological advancements.
AR in the Military
If the U.S. Army successfully displays an adequate proof of concept, there’s a chance the entire military could adopt AR combat and training goggles. Even though you have to wait until 2025 to find out, it seems likely.