Information Warfare: March 15, 2003


Soldiers, particularly Americans, have been taking their PCs to the field with them for two decades now. They treated them gently out in the woods and deserts, and got by. About a decade ago, some computer manufacturers saw an opportunity to supply ruggedized PCs laptops for "harsh environments." They were thinking mainly about factories, warehouses and construction sites. This was where there was a market for more expensive computers built to handle dirty and damp working conditions. But it was soon noticed that the military was also in the market for "field" computers. Although it was a hassle selling to the government (unless it was the U.S. Army Special Forces, who specialized in quickly buying new stuff with a minimum of red tape), the military market kept growing, and more products kept appearing. Again, much of the product innovation was spurred by the demands of civilian customers. But the military did have some special needs. Keyboards that glow in the dark (to allow typing and prevent any light showing when close to the enemy) and removable hard drives (which often contain classified data, and have to be locked up in a safe when not in use.) These needs were addressed one after another, making the "military" computers different from those just built to be used by a construction foreman or forest ranger. The ruggedized military computers cost 50-100 percent more than comparable non-rugged machines. But if you spend a lot of time out in the field, it's worth paying extra for rain proof, bounce proof, dust proof and wireless network equipped laptops. The wireless networking has strong encryption to prevent the kind of eavesdropping that is so common with civilian wireless networks. Many ruggedized laptops are sold to individual soldiers, who don't want to wait their turn getting to use the few such machines their unit might have.


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