US takes away $400m in Army HoloLens spending

Congress is putting its foot down on funding the US Army’s experiments with Microsoft HoloLens headsets, apparently eliminating program funding in fiscal year 2023 for all but research into newer, less nauseating hardware.

The Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) is a HoloLens-drived piece of military augmented reality equipment that would ideally provide improved site in low-visibility, a heads-up display and maps, but it has yet to make it out of the test phase.

IVAS has suffered through delays, and a Department of Defense report issued late last year indicated most soldiers who tested the hardware were afflicted with “mission-affecting physical impairments,” like headaches, eyestrain and nausea. 

Now, a DoD appropriations summary [PDF] released with passage of the $1.7 trillion FY 23 omnibus spending bill shows the IVAS program is being hit with a $400 million reduction, with $360m stripped away and the remaining $40m shifted toward building a better headset, specifically version 1.2.

The US Army said last week that it awarded a task order to Microsoft “to develop the 1.2 variant of the [IVAS]” on December 20, a few days prior to congressional passage of the bill. The close timing may reflect Congress’ line item reassignment, though The Register can’t be sure that’s the case since the Army has yet to answer our emails. 

The new award is the latest step in a funding series between the Army and Microsoft that began in March 2021 with an order for IVAS production, the branch said, adding “the Army envisioned improving the system through an iterative process, and this task order will provide improvements based on completed test events.”

In total, the Army has allotted as much as $22 billion over 10 years to the program, which it said it has only spent around 2 percent of. The funding allocations for development of IVAS 1.2 in the appropriations bill also don’t put much of a dent in the total pot, either: The aforementioned $40m is joined by another $16.5m listed as a “program increase” for IVAS 1.2 in FY 2023.

According to the Army, fielding of IVAS will begin incrementally in September, although it’s unlikely that means anything more than another round of trials, as “delivery orders for IVAS 1.2 production systems will be placed after qualification and operational testing,” the Army said. 

Microsoft, for its part, appears unconcerned based on what a spokesperson told us. “The regular cadence of building and testing IVAS is a critical part of the development process. Ultimately, this cadence will help us refine and improve the technology to ensure it brings unparalleled protection and capabilities to America’s Soldiers,” a spokesperson told The Register.

IVAS 1.2 will include “a new form factor to address human systems integration,” which the Army said will include addressing “physiological impacts identified during testing.” Those changes will include a lower profile heads-up display and counterweighting to improve comfort, as well as software improvements “for increased reliability and reduced power demand.”

Still unclear, however, is whether the average rank-and-file Private will want to wear the thing in the first place. ®

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