Wireless devices link soldiers on the digital battlefield

Jan. 1, 2001
Military leaders are turning to commercial wireless technology to help create a digitally networked force, which uses wearable computers and wireless radios to help create composite view of the battlefield.

Military leaders are turning to commercial wireless technology to help create a digitally networked force, which uses wearable computers and wireless radios to help create composite view of the battlefield. In the background the same wireless appliances are improving the efficiency of logistics and maintenance personnel.

By John McHale

The U.S. Army's Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2) program integrated by TRW provides situational awareness to a brigade-sized combat team on a digital battlefield. Art above designed by TRW artist Phil Weisgerber.
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Wireless devices such as cellular phones, handheld computers, and modems that have made life easier and more efficient for business executives, traveling salesman, football coaches, and even soccer moms are now helping the U.S. military plan for winning wars.

Military leaders are using the appliances to create digital networks that link individual soldiers with tanks, aircraft, and ships at sea. Planners call for these devices to swap messages between tanks, soldiers, sailors, and pilots so as to create a networked force, where each warfighter shares the common view of the battlefield.

The devices are for the most part commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) items or ruggedized versions from the same companies — Palm Computing, Casio, Cisco, Via, etc. — that supply wireless technology to the consumer market.

Engineers at Palm Computing in Santa Clara, Calif., offer the same device to the average consumer that they offer to the military, says John Inkley, marketing manager for Palm. Palm devices have become popular within the military for wearable computing applications, he adds.

One place where Palm devices are being used is aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul (DDG 74) in Norfolk, Va., Inkley says. About 150 officers and sailors use the handhelds to coordinate scheduling information aboard ship.

A data synchronization software package known as Scoutware from Aether Systems Inc. of Owens Mills, Md., ties together Palm handheld devices with a server from Clarinet Systems in San Jose, Calif. The ship's crewmembers use the system to send and receive email, conduct training and evaluations, consolidate checklists and databases, and coordinate schedules.

However, they are not very rugged, but sailors can use them in the rain by covering them in a plastic bag.

U.S. Navy officials demanded that COTS equipment be used on this application, Inkley says. They wanted something in large quantities that were inexpensive and easy to replace, he explains. The Navy is using the McFaul as a test ship for possible application of the solution throughout the Atlantic Fleet.

Navy personnel liked the devices so much that they are already asking for more functions to be added, Inkley says.

Technology from Cisco Systems enables military personnel to set up mobile command centers without the need for cables and gives Navy personnel a secure and efficient way to transmit data from ship to shore.
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What is so great about the devices is that you are taking the traditional functions of a portable or desktop computer and placing them in a lightweight handheld device, Inkley explains. Currently Palm works with several third-party software providers and is adding new features frequently, he adds.

Navy personnel on submarines also are Palm devices essentially as electronic clipboards, while Army officials use Palm devices for bar code scanning during logistics and supply chain management, Inkley says.

The idea behind wireless technology for the military is to create networks on the battlefield in much the same way as computer technicians do in an office, says Bruce Alexander, manager of technical marketing for Cisco Systems in San Jose, Calif. For example Cisco engineers provide the Army with their Aironet 340 Series local area network (LAN) solution for a wireless command center, Alexander adds.

When soldiers in the field set up a mobile command center with tents and laptops, the Cisco LAN eliminates the need for cables, and cuts down significantly on the setup time, he explains. Cisco's Aironet 340 Series runs at 11 megabits per second, Alexander continues, through a IEEE 802.11-compliant Wired Equivalent Privacy packet encryption in hardware that provides 40- and 128-bit encryption for data security that is comparable to wired LANs.

The Aironet 340 Series is an integrated family of access points, easy-to-install PC Cards, PCI and ISA client adapters, Ethernet clients, and line-of-sight outdoor bridges. Client driver support includes Windows 95, 98, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, and Novell Netware. The product's access points can serve as the center point of a stand-alone wireless network or as the connection point between wireless and wired 10/100 Ethernet networks.

The Aironet wireless bridge products provide point-to-point or point-to-multipoint connections between buildings as far apart as 25 miles. For Ethernet-equipped devices without an expansion bus, Cisco provides Ethernet client and multi-client adapters that support as many as four MAC addresses for support of multiple Ethernet-equipped devices using an inexpensive Ethernet hub. As part of the Aironet 340 series, Cisco offers a range of antennas, cable, and accessories to enable customized deployments to suit the specific applications.

The Navy also uses a Cisco solution for ship-to-shore communication, Alexander says. Previously they would have to dock and transmit the information via memory to the base, now with a wireless network they can be off the coast transmitting data over the network, he explains. The channel is also secured with 128-bit encryption, Alexander adds.

Future use points to the possibility of tank squadrons functioning as a LAN, with each tank being an individual computer within the network, so to speak, Alexander says.


TRW experts in Redondo Beach, Calif., are using wireless radio technology combined with a software solution to create a digital battlefield for the U.S. Army's Force-21 Battle Command Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2) program.

The goal of FBCB2 is to provide situational awareness to a brigade-sized combat team, providing a common view of the battlespace to combat arms, combat support, and combat service support elements. Based on current experimentation and evaluation, TRW and Army officials have found that situational awareness when integrated with active combat identification reduced fratricide, TRW officials say.

TRW officials say they have found that digitization provides significant benefits not just to the combat team, "but also to the combat service support elements in the form of more accurate and timely logistics, and a near-real-time view of personnel/logistics supply status."

The communications are all performed through two types of old radios, the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System SINGARS from ITT Industries in White plains, N.Y. — better known as SINCGARS — and the Enhanced Position Location Reporting System — otherwise known as EPLRS — from Raytheon in Lexington, Mass., says B.K. Richard, business area manager for battlefield digitization at TRW and project manager for FBCB2. The devices have been around for about 15 years but have gone through several refreshments and still perform very well, Richard explains.

The radios have a reliable 1,000-bit-per-second performance and are encrypted, Richard adds.

The radios transmit text messages back and forth between individual combat elements in near real-time that are continuously translated onto a digital map background displayed on an operator's computer in a tank, helicopter, or command center, Richard says. The symbology on the TRW-provided Applique computers' display shows enemy forces as red icons and friendly forces as blue, he explains.

The radios are still used for voice transmission, but only for tactical functions, Richard says. Before FBCB2 voice transmissions were primarily used to determine location, now the soldiers and commanders are freed from that and can concentrate on making command decisions, he explains.

The communications system is called the Tactical Internet and is based on layered software applications connected via a "software backplane" and built-in evolutionary increments, starting with a software architecture skeleton, TRW officials explain.

FBCB2 was the first large-scale software system to be developed in compliance with the new Army Technical Architecture, a "building code" for complex software systems since adopted as a joint standard, TRW officials say.

In about three to four years the Army will introduce a new radio standard, the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) to replace SINCGARS and EPLRS, which FBCB2 will upgrade to, Richard says. The system will have much higher capacity and bandwidth, enabling the transmission of video imagery, he continues. It will be similar to Ethernet capability, Richard adds.

TRW experts are currently evaluating a rugged handheld computer for use when a soldier must leave the vehicle, Richard says. It will be for logistics functions and have a long battery life, but will be a short-range kind of thing, he explains. However, no contract has been awarded yet, Richard adds.

TRW engineers are also working with the Army's Land Warrior program to network with individual infantryman to help create a complete digital battlespace, Richard says.

Land Warrior

Wearable computing and wireless technology are an integral part of the U.S. Army's Land Warrior program, designed by experts a the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Command in Natick, Mass. Land Warrior is a first-generation modular, integrated fighting system for the individual infantryman.

The palm device pictured above enables Navy personnel to coordinate schedules, receive e-mail, conduct training and evaluations, and consolidate checklists and databases.
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The system will enable infantryman and infantry units to participate in military operations where orders, intelligence, and other combat information are distributed digitally. Digitizing the infantry is a particularly difficult challenge because these soldiers fight on foot, and their electronic gear must be light, rugged, and easy to use.

This is where wireless technology comes in, enabling each soldier to communicate seamlessly with his comrades within a networked unit. Eventually Army officials say they would like the soldiers to be able to transfer video between each other though the use of a miniature camera interfaced with a lightweight wearable computer. That way each infantryman can see what the other sees, much the same way tanks and helicopters can with FBCB2.

Engineers at General Dynamics Information Systems (GDIS) in Bloomington, Minn., and Via of Burnside, Minn., are hopeful the lightweight, rugged wearable computer they are developing for evaluation in the Land Warrior program the one the soldiers use.

GDIS engineers take the standard Via wearable device that is sold on the commercial market and ruggedize it for use by the military, says Tom Rohde, business development manager for GDIS. The device's original cover is removed, then the computer is bent back at a flexible point in the middle to create a small device that is in line with the Land Warrior specifications, he continues.

It then goes in an aluminum enclosure, Rohde adds. The device has EMI shielding, is waterproof, and has a temperature range of about zero to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, Rohde continues. The computer can survive in cold weather, but there are problems with a rotating disk drive, he says. However, a device is currently being tested using Flash memory, which works better in cold weather, Rohde notes.

However, the next generation Via wearable, which uses Santa Clara, Calif.-based Transmeta's Crusoe processing chip, not only promises to be light but also powerful and power efficient, Rohde says.

The chip is a breakthrough, running at 700 MHz and consuming only 2 watts of power, he claims. This is very impressive when you compare it to a comparable Pentium III chip, which runs at 500 MHz consumes about 4 watts of power, he adds.

The device with the Crusoe chip will be light because it is encased in a rugged plastic enclosure, Rohde says. The only aluminum is used for a heat sink on top of the device, the low power consumption results in a minimal need to dissipate heat, he explains.

The program is in the first year of a two to three year development program for Land Warrior. The device is being tested against another manufacturer, which is in a PC-104 form factor, he says.

"We looked at other processors for our next generation computer, but chose the Crusoe because of its low power and low heat requirements while still having the processing power mobile workers need," says Ed McConaghay, president of Via. "The Crusoe's unique ability to use software to adjust voltage and frequency on demand, means that the computer only uses the amount of power needed for maximum efficiency, thus extending the battery life and making it the perfect mobile computing processor."

Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the first versions of Via's next-generation wearable PC are currently being used by the U.S. Army Military Police in field tests at Fort Polk, La., and elsewhere.

"The new Via PC with Transmeta processor has high performance, lower power, and no noticeable heat," says Henry Girolamo, program manager the Army's Natick Soldier Systems Center. "Via's Crusoe-based computer has the potential to be a central component in a soldier's weapon system, providing communication and information management in critical combat situations."

Via's next generation of wearable computers will use a 700 MHz Crusoe microprocessor and will run Windows 2000. The lightweight body-worn PC was designed to work with Via's new SVGA indoor readable display and new indoor/outdoor display. The new PC will complete testing this year, with general availability planned for late first quarter 2001.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency in Alexandria, Va., also are interested in developing a handheld from Palm to plot the location of hostile forces on the battlefield, Palm's Inkley says. It would use the SINCGARS radio channel, he adds.


The Via and GDIS collaboration is also being used for telemaintenance applications for the military, Rohde says. On one such application, the U.S. Army M1A1 Abrams main battle tank, Army maintenance personnel can work within a local area network directly with engineers from the program's contractor, reducing a process that may take weeks into hours or even minutes, he claims.

"A grade B mechanic can become grade A just by working with the designers over a LAN," Rohde adds.

On the Abrams application the device interfaces with a 1553 databus and using that data rate can help maintenance personnel diagnose system problems in minutes, reducing downtime tremendously, Rohde explains.

It is done using mostly COTS software, such as Microsoft's Net Meeting, he says. The software has been pretty reliable so far and evaluations are being made on more robust systems for demanding applications.

Some devices are also fielded with a small handheld camera to enable video capability, he adds.

Bath Iron Works, a division of General Dynamics, in Bath, Maine, uses the same wearable computers to conduct inspection checks on U.S. Navy warships.

U.S. Air Force officials are also looking at Palm handhelds for inspections of aircraft on the flight line.

Electrofuel designs 21-hour battery

Engineers at Electrofuel in Toronto are designing the PowerPad 21, a 21-hour rechargeable battery that delivers as much as 10 times more power for notebook computers than conventional batteries, making a infantryman's job a little easier when he is away from base on a long mission.

The battery has potential for military applications because when soldiers are out of touch on a mission for three or more days at a time they need to know their battery will not suddenly die in the middle of a firefight, says David Murdoch, vice president of marketing at Electrofuel.

The PowerPad's energy density takes care of that and its lightweight design lightens the 60-pound load that he may be carrying on his back, he continues. The long runtime of the device also reduces the number of spares needed, thus reducing the weight of his backpack again, Murdoch adds.

"Electrofuel's introduction of the PowerPad 210 responds to the demand from power users of portable computers for extended run-time in a form and weight that enhances their mobility and increases productivity," says Dr. Sankar Das Gupta, president and chief executive officer of Electrofuel.

The device achieves the performance through Electrofuel's Lithium Ion SuperPolymer technology, Murdoch says. The technology enables the battery has an energy density of 470 watts per liter and 183 watt hours per kilogram, which is what allows it to run from15 to 21 hours, Murdoch explains.

Typical Lithium ion polymer batteries reach densities of less than 300 watt hours per liter and in some cases are below 200 watt hours per liter, he adds.

The SuperPolymer aspect enables Electrofuel to mold the battery into virtually any form to fit the shape of any device it powers, Murdoch says. The battery pack can be as thin as a credit card or the size of a briefcase to power electric vehicles.

"The Electrofuel battery is the longest running one that we have tested in our lab environment," claims Ari Maskatia, vice president at Acer Advanced Laboratories in San Jose, Calif. "Long battery life is important to mobile users and addresses one of the most important needs they have in daily use."

The dimensions of the device are about the same as letter-sized paper, at 8.75 by 11 inches and only three eighths of inch thick, so it can fit inside a briefcase or notebook carrying case. It will recharge in about five hours. The PowerPad 210 can be used with many models of notebooks made by IBM, Toshiba, Compaq, Acer, Hewlett Packard, and Dell.

The new Electrofuel device, uses the same core technology as its predecessor, the PowerPad 160, which has 16 hours of run time. The Power Pad 210 has a capacity of approximately 210 watt hours and based on its energy storage capacity relative to the PowerPad 160, should have a typical run-time of 18 to 21 hours, Electrofuel officials say.

Approximately the same size as the PowerPad 160, the PowerPad 210 weighs approximately 2.9 pounds. Electrofuel officials expect to have the PowerPad 210 ready for commercial production by the spring of 2001. However, the decision to produce the PowerPad 210 commercially will depend on factors such as demand for each of the PowerPad products and the availability of manufacturing capacity, they say.

Company engineers are also developing other PowerPad products with different energy storage capacities and run-times to target different markets or users.

For more information on the PowerPad devices and Electrofuel contact David Murdoch by phone at 416-535-1114, by fax at 416-535-2361, by mail at Electrofuel, 21 Hanna Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M6K 1W9, by email at [email protected], or on the World Wide Web at http://www.electrofuel.com. — J.M.

Boeing uses Two Technologies handheld for Army tracking program

Engineers at Boeing in Seattle are using the CEL handheld computer from Two Technologies in Horsham, Pa., as an interactive terminal for the U.S. Army's Grenadier BRAT Tracker unit.

The Boeing Grenadier BRAT tracker solution employs a flexible architecture solution to providing the means to track and locate multiple assets over large areas, Boeing officials say. It is deployed in a ruggedized package to provide a low risk solution to the military.

The unit can be deployed as a stand-alone model, reporting information automatically, or via the Two Technologies handheld. The CEL can be attached or removed as desired during operation and provides additional capabilities of global positioning system (GPS) navigation, free text message composition, and immediate transmission request, Boeing officials say.

The CEL has an AMD SC400 microprocessor running at 66 MHz with 16 megabytes of DRAM and as much as 12 megabytes of Flash memory. It has a storage and operating temperature of 0 to 50 degrees Celsius.

For more information on Two Technologies contact Joan Rickards by phone at 215-441-5305, by fax at 215-441-0423, or on the World Wide Web at http://www.2T.com.— J.M.

Acqis develops modular PC

Designers at Acqis in Mountain View, Calif., have developed a new approach to personal computing that intends to make life easier for the average business person and mobile military personnel alike. They intend to replace traditional personal computers with a single computer module that runs in a variety of stations.

"Why use multiple computers and hassle with constant updating and synchronization of files and applications," says Bill Chu, founder and chief executive officer of Acqis. "Our concept is that a user needs only one single computer module and uses it for any purpose."

Acqis engineers have partitioned core elements such as processing power, main memory, hard drive storage, graphics, audio, network, and the operating system from other parts of the computer. By doing so, they have created the Acqis Interputer module, which a user inserts into any Interputer station.

Interputer stations contain peripheral elements such as communications, user input/output devices, secondary storage, and power supplies. They can look like notebooks, slim desktop stations, book-size portables, handheld tablets, or any electronic device from which users want to access their applications and information, Acqis officials claim.

Before modular computing people had to buy several different computers if they traveled to different parts of the world. Now they can remove their computer from a desktop terminal, plug it into a laptop terminal while they travel, and then plug it into a workstation 3,000 miles away, says Tony Man, vice president of business and system development at Acqis. The computer is independent of the terminal or display.

The Acqis Interputer system offers improved data security, a small form factor, fast system recovery, improved upgradeability, and simplified support and maintenance, Acqis officials claim.

Acqis officials recently launched an Interputer module at the COMDEX show in Las Vegas based on Intel's mobile CPU (600 MHz and higher) and Microsoft's Windows operating systems. The device's main memory tops out at 256 megabytes with storage of as many as 20 gigabytes. Acqis showed a slim desktop docking station that uses the small Flex-ATX form factor with full storage expansion and two PCI slots. A book-sized satellite station was also demonstrated.

For more information on the Interputer and Acqis contact Tony Man by phone at 650-938-8198, by fax at 650-938-8197, by mail at Acqis Technology, 1621 W. El Camino Real, Mountain View, Calif. 94040, by email at [email protected], or on the World Wide Web at http://www.acqis.com.

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