Army debuts slimmer Nett Warrior 'phone'

Soldier system trimmed down to phone size

The Army’s Nett Warrior program might soon be equipping soldiers with smart phones -- as much as that's possible for military use. At an Oct. 6 Pentagon press briefing, the service unveiled the latest version of its long-gestating program, which radically cuts the size and weight of the battlefield communications and situational awareness system for dismounted soldiers.

Nett Warrior is the desendent of the Army’s Land Warrior program, which sought to provide soldiers with digital maps connected to a tactical data network and managed by a small computer. Over the years, the system under went a variety of changes, with the latest version weighing between eight to 10 pounds. The version unveiled at the press briefing weighs three pounds and consists of a monocle to project battlefield maps and unit location data to the user, and what the service calls an End User Device connected to a Joint Tactical Radio System Rifleman Radio.

This radical redesign was the result of an Army decision in August to trim many of the old features from the system. What remained was the heads-up display, the processing device, the input system and the navigation capability. The program is looking at commercial devices to add into the system. The heart of the system is now named the End User Device.

“We took about 70 percent of the weight off,” said Bill Brower, deputy project manager for the Army's Soldier Warrior directorate at Program Executive Office Soldier (PEO Soldier).

Although Army officials cite soldier feedback as one of their key sources for the decision, the other factor was the service’s continuing drive to equip soldiers with smart phones. The goal was to develop a device that falls somewhere between a large smart phone or a small tablet computer; the End User Device can be worn attached to a soldier’s body armor or strapped on the wrist.

PEO Soldier is considering using the Andriod operating system for the End User Device, but the exact shape of the final device is still being determined. Soldier feedback will determine the final form of the End User Device for a specific echelon and type of unit leader, and whether it resembles a smart phone or a tablet computer, Brower said.

However, program officials maintained that the End User Device is not a part of the Army’s smart phone efforts. Even if the final device resembles a smart phone in functionality, it will connect to the Rifleman Radio to reach Army networks. “We are not implementing 3G wireless telephone at this point in time on this device,” Brower said.

About the Author

Henry Kenyon is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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