U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville today voiced his support for the Army’s use of augmented reality (AR) headsets, saying the service branch needs to “be persistent” with them in order to transform how soldiers operate on the battlefield.
The Army awarded Microsoft the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) headset contract in March 2021, which is worth up to $21.88 billion. The headsets are based on Microsoft’s HoloLens technology and use Microsoft’s Azure cloud services to operate them.
However, the headsets have faced several delays, as well as scrutiny from the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General (OIG) – who warned the Army could waste billions in taxpayer funds to field the AR headsets that soldiers may not even want or use.
Nevertheless, the Army awarded a task order to Microsoft in December 2022 to develop the 1.2 variant of IVAS. The Army already has 1.0 and 1.1 versions of the headset, and it expects to begin incremental fielding of the headsets in September 2023.
“One of the systems that is not moving as fast, but I think is one of the most transformational, is IVAS, the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, and to understand that you have to kind of look into the future,” McConville said today during an event hosted by the Brookings Institution.
McConville compared IVAS to the development of the cell phone. He explained how it once began with a clunky phone stuck on a wall, but today it is a smartphone that can play movies, take pictures, and offer navigation.
“That is what IVAS is going to be, and people just got to be persistent,” McConville said. “They got to be consistent and stay with it. And it’s clunky right now, but what that is going to do is transform the way our leaders and soldiers can operate in the battlefield. We have to be patient, but we have to get it done.”
“Because, when you start to see what you can do – you can bring video in, you’re gonna have manned-unmanned teaming, you’re gonna have unmanned-unmanned teaming – you’re going to have all these types of things going on in the battlefield, and you want to have the ability to pass data to leaders so they can see it in the heads-up display,” he added.
The chief of staff also expressed his confidence in Microsoft, saying he has seen “major progress” in the development of the headsets.
“When I look out there and I see how far they’ve come, if you can envision what it will do in the future, it is really going to make a difference,” McConville said. “If we want to be on the leading edge of technology, we got to go with technology, and it’s going to take some time. What I’ve learned is you have to be persistent and consistent on getting these things done … we just need to stay with it.”
“If you take a look at where we’re going with the 1.2 model, it’s going to happen,” he added. “And when we visualize what it’s going to end up being five to 10 years from now, people go, ‘Wow, how do we ever operate without this system?’”