DARPA’s Squad X program has recently taken a major step forward with the U.S. Army awarding the preliminary team contract to Lockheed Martin to develop the technological projects within the program, at a value of $12.9 million. The program is an experiment by DARPA to bring a number of technologies that have been well used by vehicles and larger entities but have always been too cumbersome or inefficient to be utilized by an Army or Marine Corps infantry squad. Specifically, the topics that DARPA is looking for are Precision Engagement up to 1000 meters, Non-Kinetic Engagement out to 300 meters (dealing with enemy UAVs, jammers, etc…), Squad Sensing (Friendly UAV/UGV use), and Squad Autonomy which would allow a squad to be able to locate individual members or collective teams, without the use of GPS devices.
Some of the ideas DARPA has when it comes to what technologies will be paired with at the squad and fire team level-
These slides break down how the communications nodes will be divided up, between both an Army and Marine Corps squad-
We are already seeing some of this move towards an enhanced squad of the future with the Marine Corps idea of experimenting with “Uber” squads, and the actual recent implementation of some of the concepts iin Australia with 3/5 on exercise there. Although very futuristic and certainly worthy of a chance to succeed, I have certain reservations about the program. The first one is that similar to what killed the Land Warrior program of the 1990s (that was an abysmal failure), due to the Government spending, the technology could easily overtake such a large project. The fruits of Land Warrior and later Nett Warrior didn’t even see active service or come into full issue until 2007, by which time they were completely outdated by newer technology. If history tells us anything, any digital system today is going to be obsolete in a year. It would perhaps be better to focus on one particular technological breakthrough, develop it quickly, get it into the field, and then work from there. Instead of spending years getting a whole suite of systems just right, only to buy them for millions of dollars, and issue them to troops that were in elementary school when they were being developed. David Axe from Reuters has a well-written opinion piece on Squad X, comparing it to its predecessor Land Warrior from the 1990s.