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New Developments in the Microsoft and Army IVAS Agreement

Funding for the Integrated Visual Augmentation System developed by Microsoft under contract with the United States Army ...

Funding for the Integrated Visual Augmentation System developed by Microsoft under contract with the United States Army has been reduced in the fiscal year 2023 due to delays in development and critical user feedback. Get the latest news on the Microsoft and Army IVAS agreement and future prospects for cloud-connected, mixed-reality tactical systems.

unsplash - stock - US Army-2The Latest on the Microsoft and Army IVAS Agreement

The IVAS agreement between Microsoft and the U.S. Army dates back to late 2018 when the technology giant won a $480 million evaluation contract to adapt its HoloLens mixed-reality headsets for tactical deployment. A little over four years later, the Army has still not fielded IVAS version 1.0 devices. IVAS versions 1.1 and 1.2 are simultaneously under development.

A defense appropriations summary released with the passage of the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill for the fiscal year 2023 indicates lawmakers have blocked $360 million of the $400 million the Army requested for the IVAS program. The remaining $40 million in funding, along with another $16.5 million program increase under the Microsoft and Army IVAS agreement, is accompanied by a task order to improve the redesigned IVAS 1.2 mixed-reality hardware and software.

User Feedback From IVAS 1.0 Operational Testing

As of late 2022, the Army had conducted over 30 test events and 100 technical sub-tests of IVAS and received feedback from more than 1,000 soldiers on the basis of 100,000 hours of use. In October, the Army released a 79-page report marked Controlled Unclassified Information, and Bloomberg News obtained a summary of this report, which was not provided directly to Microsoft.

The report summary states more than 80% of soldiers involved in testing IVAS version 1.0 experienced physical discomforts such as eye strain, headaches and nausea within three hours after using these headsets. IVAS 1.0 also had software glitches, limited night vision functionality and moisture intruding into the heads-up display during a hard rain. This report factored into the congressional decision to scale back funding for the Microsoft and Army IVAS agreement in 2023.

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IVAS Hardware and Software Challenges

The hardware issues associated with IVAS version 1.0 range from the physical discomfort of the user to design flaws that expose the heads-up display to environmental damage.  Low-light sensors are among the improvements to version 1.1, which has a similar helmet design. IVAS version 1.2 will be a redesigned low-profile visor that can easily flip up and features distributed counterweight to enhance comfort and improve the user experience.

The Microsoft and Army IVAS agreement goes beyond hardware to include software and cloud services. The summary of the October 2022 Army report stated that IVAS software has been plagued by failures that rendered the systems inoperable. Later versions showed Improvement with a longer mean time between system failures. The summary also states the report indicates low levels of acceptance of the system among soldiers. Test users and leadership do not currently find that IVAS contributes to their ability to complete missions.

IVAS Version 1.1 and 1.2 Features

Subsequent versions of IVAS technology enhance the user-friendliness and features of version 1.0. The goal of these improved mixed-reality headsets is to increase soldiers’ situational awareness and coordination capabilities. IVAS has a wide field of view, and these systems are also designed for wearers to see in the dark, observe situations through smoke and view around corners.

IVAS systems can display three-dimensional maps of terrain, project a compass and display holographic imagery. The functionality of IVAS 1.0 and 1.1 is undermined by light emissions and discomfort after long periods of wear. The version 1.2 redesign under the Microsoft and Army IVAS agreement should make it easier for users to take breaks and minimize the negative side effects of prolonged outdoor wear.

Changes To IVAS Program Rollout Plans

IVAS 1.0 devices are scheduled for field testing in August, which is two years after the original rollout schedule. Furthermore, IVAS 1.0 systems will never actually be deployed on the battlefield. Changes to the Microsoft and Army IVAS agreement mean this version will be primarily used at educational facilities and Army Recruiting Command.

The $40 million allotted for project funding under the fiscal year 2023 omnibus spending bill comes in the form of a task order to develop IVAS version 1.2. In the past, the Army has issued production contracts for 5,000 IVAS 1.0 units and 5,000 1.1 units prior to testing. The Army’s initial $400 million request was for 6,900 units of the new version of IVAS. After budget cuts, the Army will place delivery orders for IVAS 1.2 systems after the completion of operational testing.

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The Future of the Microsoft and Army IVAS Agreement

As of January 2023, the Army has only spent about 2% of the $22 billion originally projected for 10 years of the IVAS program. This is still a substantial investment in the development of mixed-reality hardware and software for tactical use. The Army is also negotiating a lower price point for IVAS units. At present, each of the 5,000 units of version 1.0 has a price tag of $46,000 for hardware and the cost of the cloud package.

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