Lawmakers are getting tough with the Army concerning its $22 billion virtual reality project that is supposed to help with soldier situational awareness.
The 2022 defense authorization bill, which only awaits President Biden’s signature, withholds 25% of the Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System’s (IVAS) funding for the coming year, until the Army can provide answers on the program’s delays.
The bill would fence off about a quarter of billion dollars from the $1.1 billion the Army wants to spend on IVAS until the service can provide Congress with a report on the program.
That report would be due 60 days after the bill becomes law and require a plan to ensure IVAS’s battery management system meets planned requirements, a strategy including critical milestones for 3D geospatial data and a plan for iterative improvements to sensors and software throughout the procurement of the system. Congress also wants certification that working components of the program are in order.
Congress also wants an assessment of the program from the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation within 60 days as well.
The Army lucked out considering that Congress is only withholding the funds. The original text completely eliminated 25% of IVAS’s 2022 funding because of concerns about the program.
“The committee recognizes the importance of IVAS and supports expeditious initial fielding of this advanced capability to close combat soldiers, but is concerned about the projected level of system development and ensuring iterative improvements between initial and full fielding,” the Senate Armed Services Committee wrote in its version of the bill, which recommended a nearly $270 million decrease in the program. “The committee believes that completion of robust operational testing and implementation of iterative improvements are warranted before proceeding to the production rate the Army is seeking in fiscal 2022.”
The Senate version of the bill also wanted to fence 50% of funding until the Army could provide a report. That report was expected by the end of January 2022.
This isn’t the first time Congress has punished the Army over IVAS procurement failures. Last year, the legislature reduced funding from more than $1.1 billion to about $900 million.
The IVAS program is supposed to revolutionize the way soldiers can operate in the field and pair soldiers with much of the work the DoD is doing to incorporate data into its weapons systems.
“The IVAS prototype heads up display packs a variety of impressive capabilities into one package. Night vision and thermal scope settings are both available at the press of a button,” an Army release states. “Soldiers can share topographical imagery or 3D maps of an objective at any time, whether rehearsing or in the field. A soldier can pair the IVAS to a weapon, enabling the weapon to be aimed using a reticle projected into their field of vision rather than holding it at the shoulder and peering through the scope. All members of a platoon can know where all of their teammates are at a given time, no matter how dark or dense the surrounding terrain.”
The Army has been using Microsoft’s HoloLens technology paired with a variety of sensors to create the goggles. According to Microsoft, by February 2021, the company had collected almost 80,000 hours of soldiers feedback over four rounds of testing prototypes.
That input helped Microsoft tweak the goggles for better features.
However, in October, the Army announced it needed to delay IVAS by a year, pushing the fielding process to fall 2022.
“The Army is fully committed to its partnership with Microsoft to advance specific technologies to meet operational requirements and maximize warfighter impact,” an October Army release states. “The Army conducted an adversarial electronic warfare and cybersecurity test in September 2021, and plans to execute testing regularly throughout 2022. This decision allows the Army and industry team to continue to enhance the IVAS technology platform ensuring soldiers achieve overmatch in multi domain operations.”
The program is already under the magnifying glass of the Defense Department Inspector General. The office announced an investigation into IVAS on Oct. 4.
“The objective of this audit is to determine whether Army officials are producing and fielding IVAS units that meet capability requirements and user needs,” the DoD IG’s memo states. “We may revise the objective as the audit proceeds, and we will also consider suggestions from management for additional or revised objectives.”