Although it isn’t planned for use in the air, the Broadsword program has such wide potential utility that its presence in BAE’s pavilion at Farnborough does not seem incongruous. The system is being offered to U.S. and UK defense departments as part of ongoing work to lighten the load of the dismounted soldier. But the technology underpinning the suite of capabilities leverages work done in head-up and helmet-mounted displays and could yet find utility in airborne applications—as well as providing an enhanced capability to troops on the ground in forward air-control roles.  
At the heart of the suite of Broadsword products is a fabric that can carry power and data. This can be embedded into any garment—initial iterations have focused on the Osprey body armor worn by British combat troops in Afghanistan, while the version on display at Farnborough is a more minimal garment optimized for training or lower-threat environments. A battery roughly the size of a smartphone slips in to a pouch at the back of the garment, and up to eight USB 2.0 ports can be sewn on at any point they may be useful.
“The e-textile itself is a woven fabric with conductive yarns in both the warp and the weft,” explains Paul Wright, BAE’s international business-development manager for soldier systems at Rochester. “That carries the power and data through the system. The textile is put inside a shielded coating which contains a Faraday cage.”
The result is a garment that can power and connect a wide range of devices and subsystems used by the modern infantry officer. Handheld computers, radios, situational-awareness sensors, even lower-tech items such as torches can be connected and powered through the fabric.
“The original driver was to find a way for guys to reduce the number of batteries they carry,” Wright says. The work comes under the UK Ministry of Defence’s LOSA (Land Open Systems Architecture) initiative, and will feed in to the VIRTUS soldier-system program, scheduled for completion around 2018.
The work also provides an example of MoD’s efforts to involve innovative small and medium-sized enterprises in the defense-equipment market. The e-textile is made by Intelligent Textiles, a British SME introduced to BAE via the MoD’s equipment procurement wing, DE&S (Defense Equipment and Support). The system is currently being assessed by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), in combination with BAE’s Q-Warrior waveguide-based helmet-mounted display system, for use by forward air controllers (or JTACs, in US parlance).