The Army’s Wasting Billions on Tech Toys…and It’s Not Over

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Tech toys are fun. We’ve all been guilty of waiting in line for the latest and greatest iPhone or simply being envious when someone posts photos of a fun tech gadget that they bought for their home.

Toys are fun. And tech toys for the military are both fun and necessary. We keep hearing about how China, North Korea, and all of these other enemy nations have tech that is far beyond what we could imagine.

In the event we ever have to go to war with one of these countries, we will need plenty of our own tech toys. The question is, how much are we willing to spend developing these toys?

The Army may be answering this question for us – especially since they’re guilty of wasting billions of dollars on ‘mixed reality’ goggles that aren’t even field-ready yet. The Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) is a program that works with Microsoft to provide augmented reality in the form of goggles worn in the field.

The augmented reality goggle program has cost more than $21 billion. These goggles have the potential to give soldiers on the field real-time data. Initially, it was expected that the goggles would be readily available this fall. Now, it seems that soldiers may have to wait until the fall of 2023 before they can even think of playing with such tech.

The Inspector General of the Pentagon got involved. After publishing a report, it says that the Army has been “wasting” taxpayer funds to create a system that may not ever get used as intended. There’s even a question as to whether the soldiers would even want to use these goggles.

There’s a definition lacking, which has to do with the “minimum user acceptance levels to determine whether IVAS would meet user needs.” No one wants to identify these levels – and without a proper definition, it’s difficult for the Inspector General to determine whether taxpayer funds are being used appropriately or not.

Essentially, how do we know when the goggles have achieved their goal and they are worth the money that was paid for them?

According to PEO-Soldier spokesman David Patterson, as reported by Army Times, the Army has defined the prototype metrics by saying that officials “recognized the importance of Soldier Acceptance as a factor, but not the only factor in developing the capability and determining the path forward.”

Soldiers have certainly had the opportunity to provide feedback. The Army also argues that the design has been heavily influenced by soldier input. This includes not only surveys given to soldiers but also field testing to understand the various variables of the design.

Patterson fought for understanding that the IVAS program is of the utmost importance to the military’s ability to move forward. He explains that the system “represents a disruptive technology in the night vision space and the adoption of new technology is often slow.”

The program, which is based on the HoloLens platform from Microsoft, began in 2018. There have been a number of prototypes and demonstrations to show how it will allow for night vision, target acquisition, navigation, biofeedback for the user, and more. It may also allow for cloud computing access so that soldiers can connect to more command and control systems while they’re in the field.

The question is not so much about whether the tech is useful. That is obvious. The question is whether the Army is utilizing the $22 billion in a sensible way – and right now, it looks as though they’re not.

Considering that the IVAS program has been in place for nearly four years, it should be able to provide more certainty to the Inspector General. As Military Times reports, “The IG recommended that Bush develop an ‘Army-wide policy’ that requires program officials to define user acceptance measurements for testing and evaluation.”

If we ever have hopes of being able to have the best military in the world once again, the Army needs to pull it together. $22 billion isn’t chump change, and they need to show some responsibility with that kind of money.