The second Soldier Touchpoint (STP) for the U.S Army's Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) took place on Fort Pickett. Credit: US Army photo.

Nothing humbles you like a visit to Omaha beach on France’s Normandy shores.

One has total and complete admiration for the US soldiers who were faced with those bluffs, with German machine-gunners raining death on the beaches.

One guide told us, that the only reason one German machine-gunner stopped, was because his gun barrel melted from the heat. Hundreds of US soldiers had been killed by that one gunner.

In battling those pillbox positions, invasion forces only had their courage to storm those positions with the weapons of the day — grenades, rifles and Bangalore torpedoes.

Fast forward to 2020, where the US Army is hoping to use advanced technology to redefine the way soldiers target and kill the enemy on the battlefield.

It’s called IVAS — the Integrated Visual Augmentation System — a soldier-worn combat HUD (Head’s Up Display) goggle engineered with advanced sensors able to overcome some of the limitations of human vision and quickly organize target data.  

It combines two kinds of night vision (infrared and light amplification), a targeting scope wirelessly linked to the soldier’s weapon, navigational markers superimposed on the soldier’s field of view plus other augmented reality aides into a single set of sturdy goggles, and a heads-up-display built around a militarized Microsoft HoloLens.

Yeah, a far cry from grabbing your rifle and attacking the pillbox under heavy fire.

So imagine this — an enemy fighter is several hundred yards away, another is attacking from one mile while yet third fires from a nearby room in a close-quarters urban warfare circumstance, when US Army soldiers apprehend, integrate, and quickly map the locations of multiple targets at once in 3D, all while knowing the range and distance of the enemy. 

According to a report by Kris Osborn of The National Interest, these complexities form the conceptual basis upon which the Army is fast-tracking IVAS.

“We take all soldiers who have IVAS and turn them into a sensor collecting data to share with a greater network. The screen can chart a path and tell you where a reported adversary is. You can see through heat and augment existing light,” General Joseph Martin, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, told an audience during an event at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies

“If you have been dismounted, you know it can be lonely. You want to have a link to your fellow soldiers. This is what IVAS is delivering to our formation.” 

Martin explained that the IVAS system is being quickly improved and upgraded with new software by virtue of a “soldier touchpoint” collaborative process wherein soldiers exercise with the goggle and offer feedback to developers, National Interest reported. 

Dr. Bruce Jette, Assistant Secretary of the Army, Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, told National Interest in an interview earlier this year that engineers created IVAS with an ability to compensate for the limitations of the human eye.

Operation of IVAS calls upon a degree of what could be described as “Human-Machine Interface” because it integrates some of the neurological processes of human vision with software engineered to process, organize and display otherwise challenging factors such as “depth perception,” surrounding peripheral objects and other elements of human visual orientation. 

“We don’t perceive distance with one eye, we just see larger or smaller — but if I can put it in both eyes I can get the object in 3D. To do that I need to have the sensing system to know where the eye is looking and focusing. The IVAS does that.

Soldiers at Fort Pickett, Va. are test a Microsoft-designed prototype goggle, the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS), that offers the capabilities they need to regain and maintain overmatch in multi-domain operations. Credit: US Army.

“It determines what you are looking at and what type of object you are looking at and focusing on to generate a 3D image in front of you. The good part about this is I don’t need all those heavy optics on my face,” Jette said. 

As designed, the IVAS system is built to lessen the hardware footprint, reduce weight and, perhaps of greatest combat relevance, streamline time-sensitive combat data, National Interest reported. 

“The sensor is seeing where my eyes are looking and preserving it based upon certain measurements. Then if I fly a UAV up there, IVAS can show the UAV coming into the scene — and converge the two onto each other so I can put the UAV right where you want it,” Jette said. 

Part of the soldier feedback process, interestingly, involved requests to build even more data, icons, detail and combat information into the sensor, National Interest reported. 

Developers deliberately limited the amount of information displayed on the IVAS system to avoid overloading soldiers, however soldiers really liked the system and asked for an even more integrated display

“Soldiers asked if they could see more things on there. The 20-year olds have done this their entire lives and they said we can use more information,” James E. McPherson, Undersecretary of the Army, said at the event.

While all this technology is fascinating and wondrous, I can only think back to those crosses I saw at the US cemetery above Omaha beach, on that warm summer day — the graves looked after immaculately, and a feeling of general awe having overtaken my senses.

A soldier once said — and he said it well — after that first bullet goes zinging past your head, all bets are off. You’re only in survival mode after that. Not fighting for your country or anyone else, but trying to stay alive.

I wonder if IVAS will really and truly do what the military brass say it will in the chaos of a firefight, as they spend millions in these advanced video-game technologies.

The latter can’t replace courage.