The United States Army has been trying for over two decades to connect soldiers on the battlefield to each other. That program, called Land Warrior, has been expensive and plagued with problems from the beginning but it appears the Army has taken to literally any soldiers pocket for a solution. The smartphone. The Army calls the device the Nett Warrior System and it will run a version of Google’s Android. It is the Army’s next generation design that will literally save lives that is if it works and if they have the money for it. The idea is brilliant though. Instead of cumbersome equipment, tangles of wires and batteries that don’t last half a day they looked to the something that has already proven successful.
The Army has been trying to acquaint small groups of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan with the
older version of Nett Warrior and the results were so grim that the Army wanted to scrap the whole project and start over. The previous version would require a soldier to add an extra 15 pounds of kit to his already heavy load and then they had to be taught how to use it. It was costly, ugly and frankly soldiers would have spent more time trying to untangle themselves than engaging the enemy. The Army’s rethink netted them, no pun intended, a device that nearly everyone in the world can use, is cost effective and actually works.
As Brig. Gen. Camille Nichols, the leader of the Army office, called Program Executive Officer Soldier, in charge of the Nett Warrior program likes to point out this device is not a phone. It is primarily the Army’s Joint Tactical Radio System and will allow soldiers to communicate through the device. The Army seeks to ensure that no breaches of security occur considering it will be in the hands of, in theory, every infantry soldier. It will not be able to connect to any WiFi network and will only be able to access the military’s network of classified networks and the Army’s new data nets. It should weigh about three pounds if the Army doesn’t add anymore crap to it before it fields and most of that weight comes from the Rifleman Radio.
Any soldier knows how useful the Blue Force Tracker has been in combat and the Army looks to run a “mapping and tracking” app on the device that is similar to Blue Force. It will enable troops to see where everyone is on the field of battle and where support units are. Commanders will also be getting a mission planning app that will let them send out mission specific plans to the devices or units they select. You heard that right; it will run apps. Army apps downloaded from the Army app store. It is unsure what apps will come loaded onto the device or if it will be up to the command to choose which one its soldiers should have.
The Army hasn’t selected a specific phone but General Nichols purchased about 60 directly from Best Buy that are being put through their paces. Each year new devices, including tablets, will be tested to figure out what the next generation device should be. I have a feeling that the army will have to specially order touch screens that can work with gloves and take a heavy beating. It certainly won’t be a delicate iPhone 4 that you see soldiers receiving orders on nor will it be a Windows phone. Maybe in the future we will see “Army approved” screen protectors?
The problem that Wired has pointed out is that it still isn’t a cell phone and the Army has been upgrading its networks and programs to run specifically on smartphones. In the end this idea may just be scrapped for issuing soldiers phones like you see at large corporations. Phones that run on secure networks, are durable but easy to replace and lastly are easy to use. For now though the Nett Warrior Device has been given the ok to carry on and should be in production by mid 2012 which means it could be in the hands of soldiers by 2013. This is a crucial step to modernize the Army and make warfighting more effective.
How many of you are reading this and thinking “they took cellphones away from us in basic training and now they’ll be giving them out”?
Source: Wired Source: Military.com