United States Army pushes back deployment date of Microsoft’s augmented reality headsets, but insists it still really wants them
The US Army has on Thursday said it is pushing the date it plans to field augmented reality glasses from Microsoft.
However, it has reportedly stated that it remains “fully committed” to the $22 billion contract, after defence news publication Jane had reported that it had halted plans and was re-evaluating plans for the technology.
It comes after the US Army in late March announced that Microsoft would supply the US Army with thousands of devices based on its HoloLens augmented reality headset.
It said at the time that Microsoft would manufacture the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) that will be used both in training and in-theatre operations.
The deal was significant as it is worth up to $21.9 billion over 10 years.
Indeed, it makes Redmond a much more prominent technology supplier to the US military, after it was awarded the Pentagon’s $10bn JEDI cloud contract in late 2019, much to the chagrin of Amazon Web Services, whose legal challenges eventually led to the Pentagon cancelling the contract.
Microsoft was expected to deliver to the US Army more than 120,000 devices based on its HoloLens augmented reality headset.
Microsoft’s standard-issue HoloLens device costs $3,500, and it allows people to see holograms overlaid over their actual environments and interact using hand and voice gestures.
The US Army had previously said that they intended to “rapidly field the capability” in the Army’s fiscal year 2021, which ended on 30 September.
Now the US Army expects the first units to be equipped with the IVAS glasses, by September 2022.
“The Army decided to shift the IVAS Operational Test and fielding to a date later in FY22,” said the US Army in a statement.
“The Army is fully committed to its partnership with Microsoft to advance specific technologies to meet operational requirements and maximize warfighter impact,” it added. “The Army conducted an Adversarial Electronic Warfare and Cybersecurity Test in September 2021, and plans to execute testing regularly throughout FY22.”
“This decision allows the Army and Industry team to continue to enhance the IVAS technology platform ensuring Soldiers achieve overmatch in Multi Domain Operations,” it said. “ The Army intends to continue developing and fielding this revolutionary, first-of-its-kind technology in FY22.
Reuters reported that the Pentagon’s inspector general initiated an audit of the IVAS system on 4 October “to determine whether Army officials are producing and fielding Integrated Visual Augmentation System units that meet capability requirements and user needs.”
The IVAS glasses will essentially integrate multiple technologies such as night and thermal vision as well as augmented reality from sensors, so as to provide a heads-up display that allows the soldier to fight, rehearse, and train.
The Army said that this improves situational awareness, target engagement, and the informed decision-making necessary in a fight.