Magazine article National Defense

Soldiers Track Each Other with Smart PDAs

Magazine article National Defense

Soldiers Track Each Other with Smart PDAs

Article excerpt

Many of the military's ground vehicles are equipped with blue force tracking systems that help troops monitor the locations of friendly units and enemy forces. But when soldiers dismount to patrol an area on foot, they lose that digital awareness of their surroundings.

The Army's troubled Land Warrior program--a wearable computer, GPS, radio and monocle display technology ensemble-was designed to give dismounted troops that battlefield information. The program is still alive and showing progress, according to Army officials.

A team at Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Advanced Technology Laboratories in Cherry Hill, N.J., meanwhile, has developed a Land Warrior-like handheld computer for small infantry units to track and communicate with each other on the ground.

The "distributed operations," or "DisOps," system consists of a group of PDAs and a software package that can be installed on a laptop.

Troops can upload GPS maps, photos and standard operating procedure cards to the handheld units, which weigh 1.5 pounds and function for 15 hours on batteries. The devices communicate via WiFi, tactical radio networks and cell phone networks, says Gerry Mayer, director of the artificial intelligence lab that developed the technology. They also interface with Mitre Corp.'s "Cursor on Target," a machine-to-machine language used by remotely operated aircraft to share battlefield data. All communications are protected by the National Security Agency's Suite B encryption.

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On the laptop, squad leaders plan their missions. They can draw on the grid-based maps, just as TV sportscasters do during football games, to show troops key maneuvers in an operation. They can place military-standard icons on the maps and insert photos of wanted insurgents. Once the planning is complete, the unit syncs its PDAs. All of the leader's annotations will appear on those displays.

As the unit moves out on foot, squad members will see the other PDA locations in real time. Each is denoted by a symbol and the user's call sign. For example, there might be one labeled Eagle Eye and another, Red Wing. Built-in navigation tools help troops determine the range and azimuth between any two objects marked on the map. If they receive a target's location by radio, they can input the code and the system automatically plots it on the display.

Troops also can jot notes on the maps or take a photo. Any updated information is sent to their comrades in seconds.

"One of the key things was to make the tool very flexible so they could use it however they wanted," says Mayer. …

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