Army Secretary Christine Wormuth informed senators that they would only spend $22 billion on high-tech Army goggles after ensuring that the system will not make soldiers vomit.
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As Army leaders make the rounds on Capitol Hill, they’re carrying a stark message about the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) program: the service’s struggling, would-be heads-up display of the future is on its last chance.
Over the past several years, the Army’s foray with Microsoft into militarizing the HoloLens 2 heads-up display would not be considered smooth. Soldiers have shunned the technology in operational tests due, in part, to software glitches and physical side effects. Despite initial plans to spread the technology across the service, leaders have limited the initial fielding to 10,000 IVAS units while it works with the company to overhaul the hardware’s design.
“If Congress gives us the money that we’ve requested for IVAS in this year’s budget, we are going to use that to work with Microsoft to get the system to a place where our soldiers will want to use it,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told Senators on May 2. “And, if Microsoft isn’t able to do that, we will not develop the program further. We’re not going to spend $22 billion on a system if it doesn’t work.”
Doug Bush, the Army’s head of acquisition, has made a similar vow and promised that he is prepared to admit failure if IVAS testing does not prove “very quickly that it’s capable and going to get us what we need.”
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“The Army is absolutely prepared to end that arrangement and seek a new competition,” Bush told Senators during an April 18 hearing.
Wormuth and Bush did not detail when the service plans to make that critical determination on the path ahead. But in an exclusive interview, two key program officials told Breaking Defense that there are a number of new benchmarks laid out internally that will help decide the program’s future.
Among the new information laid out by the officials:
- The Army has 5,000 units of the IVAS 1.0 early iteration but is unable to distribute them due, in part, to a budget shortfall. It is now determining if there is a pathway for a limited fielding to occur before lawmakers decide on 2024 funding.
- Microsoft has completed a new software release for IVAS 1.0 and 1.1, and a test report should be finalized this month.
- Microsoft has found a new low-light camera for the 1.1 version and the service is aiming to have it ready for soldiers by the end of September 2024.
- If IVAS 1.1 testing is a success, the service anticipates spending $62,000 for each unit, a 33 percent increase over the price of the 1.0 system.
- The larger IVAS redesign under the 1.2 effort is ongoing, and the service plans to begin testing a prototype later this year with a goal of having it ready for soldiers towards the end of 2025.
- The IVAS 1.2 design will move the computer puck from the soldier’s chest to the back of their helmet, but will weigh more than the older designs.
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