WASHINGTON — Congress provided money for continued development of the U.S. Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System in legislation unveiled this month, but decided to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in procurement funds as kinks are worked out.
The Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS, is a military version of Microsoft’s HoloLens, a mixed-reality headset. The Army awarded Microsoft a multibillion-dollar contract in March 2021.
Nearly $350 million in IVAS procurement money has been frozen until initial testing and evaluation are completed and lawmakers are further briefed on the project, fiscal year 2022 budget documents show. Congress also expects an updated IVAS development plan from the Program Executive Office Soldier, an Army acquisition agency responsible for prototyping, procuring and fielding equipment like body armor and weaponry.
Asked about the cuts March 9, Doug Bush, the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, said: “We’re working through that.”
“We’ve got to work through ‘22 money they did provide. They transferred some funding to R&D, which we had asked for, and then how much procurement money is left,” Bush said. “So that’ll be a running conversation with them.”
The program is supposed to revolutionize how soldiers train, operate and consume information on the battlefield. The do-it-all goggles tout a suite of new offerings, including a futuristic heads-up display and smart crosshairs.
“It’s just not a better night vision goggle,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said March 9. “It’s going to give a much greater capability to our troops.”
But the venture is pockmarked by questions, concerns and other challenges: The Department of Defense’s inspector general in October 2021 announced an audit, hoping to determine if IVAS units meet “capability requirements and user needs”; Congress has been skeptical, and has cut funding before; and an operational test was pushed back.
The project, though, is far from dead.
“The Army did not halt or stop the IVAS program, and remains committed to getting the best equipment in the hands of our soldiers as quickly as possible,” officials said in a joint statement late last year, when testing was moved to May 2022. “The shift in the IVAS program will allow the Army and industry team to continue to enhance the IVAS technology platform, ensuring soldiers achieve overmatch in multi-domain operations.”
McConville said the “interesting thing about IVAS is just how fast it improves” and suggested how revolutionary the tech will be — once finalized.
“When I look at something like IVAS,” the general said, “I see so much potential in that.”
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its NNSA — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.