US Army soldiers in Poland ahead of Exercise Defender Europe 20 110320 CREDIT US DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE.jpg
USA

Microsoft To Sell 120,000 Augmented Reality Headsets To US Army

The headsets will be manufactured in the US for soldiers in the Army Close Combat Force.

US Army soldiers in Poland ahead of Exercise Defender Europe 20 110320 CREDIT US DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE.jpg

US tech giant Microsoft has won a nearly £16bn ($22bn) contract to supply US Army combat troops with 120,000 augmented reality headsets.

They will be manufactured in the US for soldiers in the Army Close Combat Force.

The technology is based on Microsoft's HoloLens headsets, which were originally intended for the video game and entertainment industries.

Pentagon officials have described the futuristic technology — which the US Army calls its Integrated Visual Augmentation System — as a way of boosting soldiers' awareness of their surroundings and their ability to spot targets and dangers.

Augmented reality adds graphics to the physical world in front of a user — anything from holograms in virtual game worlds to repair instructions floating over a broken gadget.

Users can control what they see using hand gestures or voice commands.

Microsoft claims the platform will "keep soldiers safer and make them more effective".

This is slightly different to virtual reality which replaces a user's view with an entirely new environment.

The US Army's website says soldiers tested the gadgets last year at Fort Pickett in Virginia.

Soldiers from 40 Commando Royal Marines trialled a virtual reality system earlier this year.

It said the system could help troops gain an advantage "on battlefields that are increasingly urban, congested, dark and unpredictable".

Microsoft President Brad Smith told the Senate Armed Services Committee in February the system could integrate thermal night vision and facial recognition to provide soldiers with "real-time analytics" on remote battlefields.

He also described how it could help in planning a hostage rescue operation by creating a "digital twin" of a building.

Microsoft said the contract would amount to up to $21.88bn over the next decade, with a five-year base agreement that can be extended for another five years.

The US Army first began testing Microsoft's system with a £348m ($480m) contract in 2018 and said the headsets could be used for both training and in actual battle.

The announcement comes after the defence policy bill Congress passed in January, confirming a 3% pay raise for US troops but included cuts to the headset initiative.

A group of Microsoft workers in 2019 petitioned the company to cancel its initial US Army deal, arguing it would turn real-world battlefields into a video game.

The company pivoted away from consumer applications for its second-generation HoloLens 2, introduced in 2019, which is the basis for the US Army's new gadgets.

Cover image: US Army soldiers in Poland ahead of Exercise Defender Europe (Picture: US Department of Defense).