Marine Corps develops new ruggedized tablet
- By Katherine Owens
- Apr 20, 2017
Marines will be operating new personal ruggedized tablets enabling them to access and share combat relevant data in real time in a wide variety of mission scenarios, service developers said.
The first Marine Air-Ground Task Force Marine Common Handheld (MCH) devices will be deployed in
2019 to squad leaders, reports MCSC Office of Public Affairs and
“We want to work toward small, smart, cheap, and abundant systems that feed that individual marine and help him accomplish the mission,” said Col. James Jenkins, Director of Science and Technology at the Rapid Capability Office.
The MCH program is on the verge of entering the Engineering, Manufacturing, and Development Phase, following a Request for Proposals that is scheduled for the first quarter of this year, according to MCSC. Following this phase, the Marine Corps will procure the hardware for the system in the first quarter of 2018, leading up to production and deployment in the same year.
“This project is huge, because right from the start the MAGTF Common Handheld program will provide Marines with large amount of data such as maps and imagery, keeping them more agile no matter the mission,” said Maj. Kevin Shepherd, a team lead for the MCH in 2016, when the project was first announced.
When it becomes operational, the MCH software will be uploaded with the Joint Battle Command-Platform system, which, according to a previous Defense Systems report, is a new-wave system that uses open architecture and commercial industry standards to track friendly vehicles and mobile dismounted units.
A key technology supporting the Joint Battle Command-Platform, which will soon to be equipped with the MCH, is known as Nett Warrior. It is a hand-held digital display tablet that supports map and graphics data.
The MCH project is part of the greater, Pentagon-wide drive to integrate rugged hand-held devices with combat missions and readiness. The new approach focuses on developing military-specific software programs and applications to be run on adapted state-of-the-art commercial rugged devices.
“There have been a lot requests from the infantry community to use commercial smart devices for dismounted Marines for reference and tactical sharing, but until recently, it was too expensive to create custom rugged devices that work independently from the vehicles’ mounted systems. But as cells phones and tablets started becoming cheaper, we began looking at commercial devices as an option,” explained Maj. Shepard last year.
One of the software development projects is the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA) Transitive Applications (TransApps) program. The TransApps program developed a library of diverse mobile applications that addressed needs of personnel in the field.
“We wanted soldiers to drive the development of the applications so we knew the apps could evolve in real time with dynamic mission requirements,” said Doran Michels, a Program Manager at DARPA.
The first TransApp-loaded devices were deployed in the field in Afghanistan in 2012, according to DARPA.
Some of the applications that have been developed, or are currently being worked on for the program are uploaded training manuals, a radiation-level measurer, an IED detector and geo-tagger, and even a ballistics calculator for snipers, reported DARPA’s Information Innovation Office in 2014.
“Take a Marine who is out on patrol and needs to send a spot report of a suspicious activity. With a swipe of an app they will be able to send information to the central command without having to boot up a laptop,” said Lt. Col. Tamara Campbell, a Product Manager for Marine Command, Control, and Communications.
The MCH project will draw on software applications and implementation technology developed through TransApp and other programs to deliver the next generation of hand-held tablet technology to the field in 2019.
Aside from the functions these next-generation devices are required to perform, the other aspect that distinguishes military tablet technology is durability, or “ruggedness,” of the hardware itself.
Due to the environments and conditions that the U.S. military operates in, the computers and tablets issued to personnel must be able to withstand extreme temperatures, hard impacts, and constant vibrations, said the Defense Logistics Agency.
Industry developers work to maximize rugged capability by using lighter-weight materials, such as aluminum or magnesium, motherboards that are glued rather than simply soldered, and polycarbonate screens.
One problem facing tablet developers, such as Dell EMC, is the need to eliminate non-durable cool fans from the devices while still preventing over-heating, particularly in hot mission environments.
Another challenge is ensuring that not just the tablet, but the server is durable as well, as servers will increasingly be located in ships, vehicles, and aircraft as the mobility trend increases, reported Mobile Demand, a developer of rugged PCs.
Two rugged tablets that have recently come on the market are the Swedish Handheld Group’s Algiz 10x, which at 2.9 pounds is lighter than the DT311, and the Dell Latitude T12 Rugged Extreme tablet, which a Dell press release described as featuring sealable USB ports.
“It [the tablet] is…for military, for field police, fire…anywhere that there is a rugged environment,” said Mary Catherine Wilson, Senior Director of Marketing at Dell.
The Pentagon has not yet announced the acquisition plans for rugged tablets like these, however the MCH program hardware procurement phase is scheduled for the first quarter of 2018.
Katherine Owens is a freelance reporter for Defense Systems