Microsoft wins USD22 billion deal making headsets for US Army

AP – Microsoft won a nearly USD22 billion contract to supply United States (US) Army combat troops with its augmented reality headsets.

Microsoft and the Army separately announced the deal on Wednesday.

The technology is based on Microsoft’s HoloLens headsets, which were originally intended for the video game and entertainment industries.

Pentagon officials have described the futuristic technology — which the Army calls its Integrated Visual Augmentation System — as a way of boosting soldiers’ awareness of their surroundings and their ability to spot targets and dangers.

Microsoft’s head-mounted HoloLens displays let people see virtual imagery superimposed over the physical world in front of them — anything from holograms in virtual game worlds to repair instructions floating over a broken gadget.

File photo shows members of a design team at Cirque du Soleil demonstrating Microsoft’s HoloLens device at the Microsoft Build 2017 developers conference in Seattle. PHOTO: AP

The Army’s website said soldiers tested the gadgets last year at Fort Pickett in Virginia. It said the system could help troops gain an advantage “on battlefields that are increasingly urban, congested, dark and unpredictable.

The Army first began testing Microsoft’s system with a USD480 million contract in 2018 and said the headsets could be used for both training and in actual battle. The new contract will enable Microsoft to mass produce units for more than 120,000 soldiers in the Army Close Combat Force. Microsoft said the contract will amount to up to USD21.88 billion over the next decade, with a five-year base agreement that can be extended for another five years.

It’s not clear how it corresponds to the USD740 billion defense policy bill that Congress passed in January after overriding a veto by then President Donald Trump. The bill affirmed a three per cent pay raise for US troops but included cuts to the headset initiative.

Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who leads the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday that the technology is promising but its results must be closely tracked “and it’s our job to raise issues if the technology isn’t meeting the needs of our troops now and in the future.

Microsoft President Brad Smith told Reed’s committee in February that the system could integrate thermal night vision and facial recognition to provide soldiers with “real-time analytics” on remote battlefields. He also described how it could help in planning a hostage rescue operation by creating a “digital twin” of the building.

A group of Microsoft workers in 2019 petitioned the company to cancel its initial Army deal, arguing it would turn real-world battlefields into a video game.