COTS in a box to mark Army Applique computer program

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. — TRW Systems & Information Technology Group, the U.S. Army`s prime contractor on the Applique program for battlefield digitization, will open a competition this month to procure 1,200 more Applique computers for the low-rate initial production phase of the program, says B. K. Richard, the company`s program manager for the effort.

By John Rhea

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. — TRW Systems & Information Technology Group, the U.S. Army`s prime contractor on the Applique program for battlefield digitization, will open a competition this month to procure 1,200 more Applique computers for the low-rate initial production phase of the program, says B. K. Richard, the company`s program manager for the effort.

Applique, formally known as the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade-and-Below, or FBCB2, program, envisions tying together all the Army`s combat vehicles into a secure Internet-type network down to palmtop computers in the possession of individual soldiers. Richard, who is based in TRW`s Tactical Systems office in Carson, Calif., estimates the Army will need 4,000 to 5,000 Applique computers over the next three years.

When the program moves into full rate production, the competition will be reopened for a prime contractor. TRW has held that position since 1995, and Richard estimates the Army has invested $300 million in the program to date and will spend $50 million to $100 million annually for the next eight years. The Army had earlier tentatively approved 1,000 more computers, but recently gave TRW the green light to increase the buy based on greater support for the Applique program, according to Richard.

The competition for the next buy of computers is open to all, and Richard says nine companies have responded to TRW`s request for information. He would not name them, but three are expected to be the companies already supplying computers under the current limited user test phase of FBCB2: Phoenix Group Inc. in Hauppauge, N.Y.; Litton Systems Data Systems Division in San Diego; and Computing Devices Canada in Ottawa, Ontario.

The Applique computers are essentially functional personal computers with 200 MHz Pentium microprocessors and 3 to 4 gigabytes of hard disk — all on standard boards — and a back-lighted 12-inch touch-screen display linked with military connectors into what Richard calls "COTS [commercial off-the-shelf] components in a big ugly green box." In fact, COTS is essential to the program, he adds. Without COTS they would cost at least $100,000 each; with it he expects them to run "a few tens of thousands of dollars."

The Applique/FBCB2 computers use the Solaris operating system, but the Army is emphasizing VX Works for its next tests and also wants Windows NT and Linux. They must all be interoperable for what Richards calls "seamless digitization."

The Army has tested more than 1,000 Applique systems in advanced warfighting experiments at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Calif., with a variety of platforms, including Hunter unmanned aerial vehicles, and limited user tests with the Army`s Fourth Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.

The FBCB2 team, which includes the Raytheon Systems Co. Communications Systems division in Fullerton, Calif., has also demonstrated the system for the U.S. Marine Corps and the British army.

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