Infantry: Making Combat Wi-Fi Work

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November 20, 2009:  The U.S. Army and the Marine Corps have found that competition, and a growing flood of new technology, is the fastest way to get the troops battlefield Internet technology. This has revived the cancelled Land Warrior project, and added several other similar systems deemed ready for battlefield use.

All of these systems belong, in the end, to the new "Ground Soldier Ensemble." The troops will continue to get new tech that works on the battlefield, and both the Son of Land Warrior and systems like Tacti-Net are being used right now by mechanized (Stryker) and light (airborne, marine and Special Operations) infantry. Out of all this will come one, standard system (which will then have to rapidly evolve to take advantage of new tech).

This new equipment succeeds when it can deliver fast, reliable and networked voice and data to troops in combat. While the army wanted to do this with FM (line-of-sight) radio, in many situations it's been found the satellite communications (despite being much more expensive) is the only way to go. The reliability and usefulness has been achieved by going through about four generations of hardware in the last five years, plus having thousands of troops use the stuff, first in training exercises, then in combat.

For the last two years, these battlefield Internet systems have been used in combat. The current stuff is pretty popular, mainly because of reliability and dealing with a large number of specific troops criticisms. Anything that tends to fail, when the going gets rough, is quickly shunned by the guys who are putting their lives on the line. The latest gear provides Blue Force Tracker (icons showing where all friendly troops are) capability, as well as wireless updates of maps and transmission of video. The latter is important for commanders and intelligence operatives, who can make key decisions, or analyses, more quickly if they can see what the troops in combat are seeing. This is not meant to be used for micromanagement, but to share experience, as well as information. If the troops come across something they are not sure of, sending a vid back to the boss or the intel pukes, is likely to get a better answer to what they are looking at.

Meanwhile, last Summer, the army sent an infantry brigade, equipped with Land Warrior gear, to Afghanistan, in spite of the fact that, two years ago, after ten years of effort, and about $500 million, the Land Warrior program was cancelled. Well, sort of. A lot of this futuristic gear for infantrymen is already out there and in use. However, the Land Warrior program included a lot of technology that still wasn't ready for prime time. In effect, the Land Warrior program is dead, but the Land Warrior concept lives on with new stuff the combat troops are using.

Most (6 of 7) Stryker brigades have some battlefield Internet capability, as do four brigades that are now in Iraq or Afghanistan. The marines also have several battalions so equipped, and the Special Forces is sending over a dozen A Teams to Afghanistan with this sort of stuff. The troops expect this kind of battlefield Wi-Fi, because they grew up with the civilian version, and just take for granted that similar tools will be available when their lives are on the line.

 


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