U.S. soldiers have been waiting for a long time for weapons to replace current ones that rely on Vietnam-era technology. And the new weapons are right around the corner.
While I don't have any military experience, I do play lots of military video games. So here goes my assessment of what the next gen soldier needs in order to keep the us at the top.
One of the best advantages you can have over you enemy is to see them before they see you
(Night vision, good recon, ), then act on that information. Remote control or automated vehicles are a great method of doing this. They don't risk the lives of Americans, and the information that is received could save lives. If the big toys are made cheaply, and made well they could server our troops well. The also can draw enemy fire, there by exposing the enemies position. One idea that I think would work well by have not seen anywhere , combine an automated ground robot with an automated air vehicle, and you have very useful tool. One that can see what is on the ground from two places.
The M-16 in some circles is not held in high regard. Also, all of the weapon that I hear about terrorist using are AK-47's. I don't know if that is because an AK-47 is better, the Russians liquidated their stock, eastern block companies ripped of the AK-47 technology to sell, or a combination of all above. I am enough of a free market thinker to believe that if the M-16 was vastly superior, then the eastern block companies would have ripped off the M-16 instead of the AK-47 (even though they already had factories for the AK-47).
The armies effort to replace the M-16 is an interesting one. In this world of high tech battles, laser guided bombs, and tanks, the clean up is done buy the foot soldiers. One fact which has not changed in warfare of any time period is that better side arms makes better soldiers (bronze swords to steel, rifles to automatics, etc.). So arming our solders with a better side are does makes sense. While the increase in our soldiers ability by going to a better version of the M-16 will save lives, I don't think it is a major leap forward in warfare. In order words, resources could be allocated in other ways to increase our fighting forces effectiveness that might yield better returns. Though since our fighting force is smaller and more mobile, increased fire power or effectiveness for the individual soldier could yield great gains. In other words, I could be wrong.
Commanders on the ground will need the best information possible. The first step is getting information, the next step is showing that information in a useful way to the commanders who are making the day to day decisions. Lets tak my job for example, I don't need access to the highest level of information with in my company, but I know the larger goals within my company so I can align my own resources with the companies larger goals. The more information that a commander has the better, but to be useful that information has to be timely and presented in a usable format. In the type of warfare our army is now engaging it, the need for better information can be handled through developing and deploying information systems. For example, a commander could download the entire region onto his laptop with locations of the bad guys and the friendlies. That information could be updated by the recon droid that he sent out an hour ago, and he could take a look at that before he goes on patrol. Information technology has allowed corporations to increase productivity, make more informed choices, and distribute information in a quick manner. Information Technology could do the same thing for the US army, and the backbone of that infomation technology needs to be based on secure, high capaticy networks.
One thing that I do understand by technology is that it tends to move exponentially, if we start improving the capabilities of the US army now during a time of relative peace and prosperity, we will be so far ahead of the rest of the world that they will never be able to catch up.