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By Adam Baddeley, Deputy Editor, BATTLESPACE

The need for ruggedised systems is ever growing on order to meet the requirements of forces deploying to Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). In parallel to the accelerating demand for numbers of displays, hard drives, keyboards, processors and batteries resistant to environmental and electro-magnetic factors, there is a pressure from the user to increase their performance too. All this has to be achieved without increasing their size, weight and power consumption indeed; reductions in each area are also demanded. In turn, the proliferation of these devices across the Battlespace, whether they are carried, mounted, or worn, is presenting new difficulties. Each soldier carries with them, in ever-expanding hard disc drives (HDD), details of blue and red force dispositions and other intelligence – adding an acute information protection dimension to the ruggedised computing challenge.

Dismounted options

Giving soldiers patrolling on unfamiliar street corners the right information, whether it is situational awareness or language and translation skills, is a critical and ongoing need for US armed forces deployed in OIF/OEF.

GDC4S’ Commanders Digital Assistant was using during the initial combat phase in Iraq in 2003 and the device has gone on to be become a workhorse for bringing situational awareness to the squad throughout SW Asia. Limitations have emerged with its standard sized screen. While it is, perfectly adequate for its COTS role as a personal organiser the size has caused problems when more complex applications such as Force XXI FBCB2 require a physically larger screen. These difficulties have led GDC4S to migrate to a tablet sized solution.

Sometimes good solutions are also cheap. Boosting situational awareness in Iraq has also drawn contracts for other areas, such as Homeland Security Technology who received a modest $34,000 award from the USMC in July for software containing Iraqi street maps. These were to be pre-loaded on a Garmin GPS system – understood to be from its Rino range. For just a few dollars, the US has been able to use ProtecT Computer Products keyboard covers to protect C4I products from the ubiquitous sand in Iraq. Other peripherals have also received the ruggedising treatment. ITAC Systems NEMA 4 / IP66-compliant HAND-TRAK is highly resistant to environmental factors but is specifically for use in high vibration or high G-force environments where its design prevents the cursor from wandering from its placement.

With the early deployment of the UK’s Bowman solution to Southern Iraq in April, the communication system’s Personal User Data Terminal (PUDT) has followed. The contract covering the acquisition of roughly 18,000 PUDTs was inked with its manufacturer L-3 in 2001. Since then, the Army is looking for something smaller and lighter than the 1.2kg solution, used to display Bowman Situational Awareness Module information to users and want to taking advantage of newer technology to do so. The MoD has issued instructions that its requirement for the current generation system will end at 11,000. It is now examining options on how to obtain the remaining systems. L-3 is working on a next generation solution for this requirement and the MoD is likely to return to the company for the balance of the order via a contract modification as this is likely to the most affordable route avoiding both schedule delays while a competition is run and the financial penalties that would ensue by cancelling the contract.

The transition from warfighting to national building has seen a wider demand for ruggedisation. ‘Bean-counters’ can also undertake double-entry bookkeeping closer to the front line thanks to ruggedisation under the DOD’s Battle Ready Contingency Contracting System. Under the initiative, SensCom, Inc. were recently awarded a three year contract to support

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