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From brick to chip: the objective of providing the individual dismounted soldier with integrated computing solutions is to generate a hub through which other electronic systems and information are managed, keyed and exploited from a single point on the man platform. This is easier said than done.

Full integration, however, is still some way off, as militaries get to grips with the issue via a number of first-generation soldier modernisation programmes. For these systems, the need to access off-board intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance feeds, control drone and robots as well as locale-specific equipment for peacekeeping will mean that such modernisation programmes will remain integrating rather than integrated for some time to come.

Modernisation Plans

While the introduction of wearable computing systems for the soldier is an admirable goal, such systems have yet to reach mainstream fielding, and in many cases decisions on a solution are months or even years away. Nonetheless, the limited introduction into service of sub-systems and initial prototypess are providing insight into the shape of things to come.

With a number of Germany's Infanterist der Zukunft (IdZ) systems having been deployed in prototype and initial capability form to Kosovo and Afghanistan, the Eads led solution for the Bundeswehr offers perhaps the first step forward for similar programmes worldwide. The IdZ's situational awareness display is located on a personal digital assistant called the Navipad. The unit, carried on the left breast, is linked to other systems via both cabling and Bluetooth wireless connections; including access to the main Thales UHF Solar radio used for external communications. The touch-screen Navipad, developed by Eads for IdZ, is a ruggedised iPaq PDA with weather and dust proofing. Local mapping is updated via separate solid-state memory cards rather than a hard disc and operates an energy efficient situational awareness solution for navigation and orientation, which is compatible with the battalion-level Faust battle management system.

For the Land Warrior--Stryker Interoperable (LW-SI) programme a wearable computing solution has been adopted which uses a number of high capability components, including a 733 MHz XScale Processor, 128 to 256 Mb SDram and a 2.0 GB hard drive that utilities compact flash solid state memory. All LW-SI units will use an SVGA colour heads-up helmet-mounted display with an 800 x 600-pixel resolution. This work has been subcontracted to Kaiser Electro-Optics, with Pemstar responsible for overall helmet integration. In addition, LW-SI leaders will also be equipped with a further module to allow them to undertake mission planning and other functions via a 'dumb' hand-held tablet display that can plug into the system as an alternative to its helmet-mounted cousin. The 'mouse' for the LW-SI is the soldier control unit. This is mounted on each soldier's chest and operated by button control. Critical functions, such as keying radio, switching talk groups, moving from maps on the helmet-mounted display to the daylight video or night sight on the weapon, are duplicated on the weapon user interface, allowing each soldier to control vital computer functions without having to take his or her hands off the weapon.

This LW-SI ensemble is rechargeable from the Stryker Vehicle although in the initial Spiral of LW-SI users are unable to download information once tethered to the vehicle. This additional functionality is planned for the next iteration of the ensemble. Software power management is being employed to suspend functions that are in standby, such as displays, although General Dynamics has admitted that there are challenges in ensuring that they can switch on again quickly.

While the US Land Warrior system is still a little way off being operationally deployed, the Army remains committed to fielding prototypes such as the Dismounted Battle Command System (DBCS). This will be fielded in 2005 or 2006 as a slimmed down version of the LW ensemble for squad leaders, and it swaps the helmet display for a tablet computer. The DBCS combines the Raytheon MicroLight radio with General Dynamics' Commander's Digital Assistant. This is the second version of the digital assistant, which has a larger 8.4-inch screen. The size of the display is deemed necessary to provide adequate screen shots for the FBCB2 battlefield management system, one capability the iPAQ-sized screen of its predecessor was lacking.

DRS Tactical Systems is among a number of companies competing for future business in this class. DRS is aiming to introduce a new class of device; 6inch, 8-inch and 10-inch leader tablets for platoon and squad leaders. The tablet will have an aluminium chassis, which is ruggedised to meet the US V3 Common Hardware System standards for a fully sealed unit. It will incorporate an embedded GPS Saasm chip and weigh in at less than two kilos. It will use a Centrino M class processor that also offers limited 3D performance without the need for a graphics card.

In France SMP experimentation for the Felin (Fantassin a equipements et liaisons integrees) in the Ecad (Equipement du Combattant Debarque) demonstration stage looked at a tablet-sized Thompade at squad leader level, which was found to be too big for that role. Sagem, subsequently selected as the prime contractor, has opted for a wired PDA-type display for each soldier with a leader tablet-type radio available to commanders at higher echelons.

Thales has announced a significant number of the equipment they want to use for the V2 trial for the Fist. However, they are still undecided on the selection of a computing system for this stage of development.

One competitor for this and later procurements for the first fielded version of the Fist is EDO MBM. The Brighton-based company is developing the LT100 Soldier Digital Assistant for the Fist and other programmes. This wearable computing system is designed to provide a scalable solution with options for basic combat infantrymen as well as section and platoon commanders via the use of a hot swappable, 2.8-inch QVGA sunlight readable screen and a 6.4-inch high brightness screen respectively. Both displays are connected to a processor box equipped with an Arm 200 MHz chip. The device is worn in the small of the back to protect it from most battlefield conditions. At less than 800 grams, overall the system is a lightweight solution. As an alternative to the wearable distributed solution EDO MBM is proposing that the smaller screen could be attached directly to the processor box to create a flip down PDA-type solution.

One option for the LT100, which has a consumption of less than two watts, is to be powered by four AA batteries. This would be sufficient for three hours of operation. To reduce power demand a Linux operating system has been used.

Thales has also developed a wearable harness that includes cabling and computing, the initial customer for which was Norway for its Normans modernisation programme.

Larimart is providing a tablet based computing solution for Italy's Soldato Futuro programme. This is based on a central computer or processing hub, being delivered by Selenia communications, which also contains applications and further equipment such as GPS.

In support of Canada's Integrated Soldier System Platform (ISSP) programme a rugged central computer consisting of a 500 MHz processor, 256 MB ram, a 5 GB hard drive and 8 MB SDram has been used. In addition a Tripod Data Systems' Recon PDA and a Larissa daylight readable display have been used for experimentation. A commercial and privately funded venture, the Oerlikon Contraves IC4U (Interconnected Command Control Communications Computer Unit) has, as its name suggests, a wearable computer unit at its core. The 15.8 x 10.9 x 3-cm enclosure uses a 400 MHz processor and 128 MB of flash memory with a range of data and video outputs and provides co-ordination functions for the programme.

While battle management functionality is at the core of ruggedised computing, room for less lethal roles has also been found. Versions of the Oerlikon Contraves IC4U can use a Tyco medical management solution for individual soldier health monitoring, while in America ultra-low-power flash memory dog tags have been developed to carry medical information for each soldier. The tags can operate for years at a time.

Ruggedised PDA

A personal digital assistant (PDA) provides perhaps the minimum level of computing capability necessary for a soldier. Lightweight and cheap, most militarised 'pocket-PCs' are based on the ubiquitous HP iPaq, allowing the military to piggyback on to commercial development in the future.

Acquisitions have already been made to deliver capability to the field today. The US Marine Corps for instance has selected Tadiran Communications' Rugged Personal Digital Assistant (RPDA) to provide a first-generation personal portable computing solution for the Corps, in a contract valued at approximately $15 million. The RPDA has also been selected for Israel's Anog soldier modernisation programme. This solution, a version of the Hewlett Packard iPaq, is offered in three versions, weighs as little as 380 grams and at just 300 cubic cm is relatively compact. It is sufficiently rugged and capable of operating from between -20[degrees]C and +55[degrees] and stored at 35[degrees]C to +65[degrees]C, it is protected in up to one metre of water with environmental proofing meeting Mil-STD-810E.

The RPDA has a number of options for transmitting and receiving information via 115 kbps serial and infrared ports, USB connections and an embedded Bluetooth option.

There has been an explosion in the development and use of personal digital assistants. One of Europe's offerings is the Intel Xscale 400 MHz DA04M/BobM produced by Roda Computer, which is certified for Mil-STD-810-F and IP 67 environmental protection.

A key distinguishing factor of the DA04M from a number of other products is the integration of an embedded battery, allowing operations to run whilst avoiding the need to reboot when replacing the Li-Ion Battery. This capacity makes the system hot swappable, which gives it an operating time of more than ten hours with a standby capacity of 100 hours. The charging time, using an AC adapter, is less than two hours. A key design feature of the DA04M is in its default setting, where the backlight is off even when the system is switched on, greatly aiding concealment.

Singapore's CET Technologies is also competing in the digital assistant market. Its Ceteon 320 is equipped with an Arm 920T 200 MHz Rise processor and a 320 x 640-pixel, 3.5-inch diagonal display within a 300 gram package. Powered by either an onboard lithium-ion battery or separate DC supply it also includes a GPS card and antenna with external communications via an RS232, infrared or USB port.

Non-combat Roles

While combat will be the ultimate test, rugged computing must also be placed into the hands of the same soldiers in peacekeeping missions. As is already the case with other systems, expensive warfighting equipment will quickly be removed and replaced with systems that are cheap, easy to maintain and geared to the demands of local garrison operations or homeland security roles rather than manoeuvre-based warfighting.

A product such as Italdata's Patrol Support System (PSS) provides police and paramilitary forces with the capability to input fingerprint data via an iterated Cmos sensor either as part of biometric identification solution or to compare with a database held at a central server. The 220 x 95 x 55 mm system is also equipped with a 640 x 480-pixel camera capable of still or video images at up to two metres in the dark. The system uses civil rather than military network GSM or GPRS with the latter capable of speeds of up to 85.6 Kbps. The PSS uses an embedded civil GPS and a solid-state memory of up to 1 GB.

Linking ruggedised computers to commercial networks is a growing feature for applications such as military support to civil power structures. Roles such as homeland security and long-term peacekeeping operations need cellular highgrade encryption, and the services provided by the commercial sector are deemed sufficient and certainly cheaper than providing and maintaining warfighting equipment for the same role. CET Technologies' Ceteon 320 Ruggedised GPRS Enabled PDA is one solution now on the market, but it may be better described as 'smart phone' rather than a PDA.

UV Ground Stations

Each modernisation programme will integrate carried equipment with transmitted information. An increasingly common feature of these projects is the stove-piped addition of equipment to receive intelligence information from unmanned ground and aerial vehicles as well as the means, in some cases, to control them. Today organic solutions are issued at the platoon level, but this capability will soon spread to lower echelons with the advent of micro drones. A clear example of this is Sagem's work for the second version of the Felin, planned for 2015, which will see the integration of a Hobot robot as two operational parts of a collective whole.

For the platoon-level Skylark drone, now in service with the Israel Defence Force, prime contractor Elbit Systems selected the Panasonic Toughbook CF18 as an off-the-shelf solution. The company has integrated it into a specific frame to enable the monitoring of the Skylark and to control its flight. The two parts are entirely interchangeable, allowing either element of the system to be quickly replaced if damaged or if an upgrade is needed.

A more compact receive-only solution is offered by the V-Rambo solution developed by Tadiran Spectralink and launched earlier this year. The V-Rambo receives ground and air intelligence input over S or C band datalinks to a wrist-worn 3.5-inch display. The company is now close to evolving the system with a new display, which the company says will provide a tenfold improvement in daylight performance for a very marginal increase in power consumption.

On the ground, Exponent has developed the M7 Wearable Robot Controller and situational awareness system to meet robot requirements, including that of the iRobot, as well as provide a limited C2 capability.

Based on its work on Land Warrior, Exponent developed the M7 in less than forty days for use in Afghanistan. Weighing less than 4.5 kg, the system is based on a wearable computer with three serial ports providing USB inputs for a joystick or pointing device. The M7 operates on Windows 2000 with a 1 GB compact flash main storage supported by a 1 GB IBM microdrive secondary storage card. Information and imagery is presented to the user via a Kaiser Electro-Optics helmet-mounted 800 x 600 VGA 24-bit colour display. The M7 uses a standard and readily available BA5590 battery as used on sincgars and other battlefield systems.

Dismountable Systems

Programmes like the American Mounted Warrior and Air Warrior will provide an upgrade to ground and air vehicle crewmembers. Their systems can be disconnected to run on secondary battery power for extra-vehicle reconnaissance or meetings between vehicle commanders, relying on wireless connections for integration within the base platform's vetronics.

One such product is the Oceana Integrated Technologies CDU134 hand-held terminal.

The CDU 134 is based around a 540 x 480-pixel, 16-bit, 6.4-inch active matrix colour display, a Geode 300 MHz processor and 14 user-defined keys. The ten GB hard drive and 128 MB ram are both upgradeable minimums. The system uses the vehicle's power while connected and dismounts using a 10.8-volt internal battery. For ruggedisation, Oceana has introduced significant protection, meeting Mil-STD-810E for shock and vibration as well as dust and CBRN protection. The CDU 134 is salt resistant and watertight down to three metres with an option to increase this to a 100-metre dive proof specification.

Raytheon is providing the touch screen Electronic Data Manager (EDM) to meet the mission planning requirements of rotary wing aircrew. The EDM acquired through Product Manager Air Warrior displays VMF messaging, checklists and overlay controls. Commercially designated the 'Digital Kneeboard', the EDM is designed to permit integration with a number of off-road information sources. These are accessed through a platform communication suite such as Blue Force Tracking to support combat ID without having to reprogram the mission computer. The rotary hard drive is limited to 20,000 ft, not a great limit for today's rotary wing aircraft, and weights just over one kg.

The US Air Force is also exploring using wearable computing for ground operations. It is contracting General Dynamics to integrate night vision goggle-compatible Itronix GoBook computers, based on an all-metal frame and Medis Technologies' fuel cells, to support Battlefield Air Operations such as Close Air Support.

Commercially developed competitors include the Secure Rugged Portable Systems Air Warrior hand-held workstation. The device uses a Transmeta Crusoe 5800 processor, which runs at 1 GHz, and incorporates a 6.4-inch LCD touch screen. Internal ultra-small 1.8-inch low power drives offer a 30 GB storage capacity. Keyboard inputs in to the workstation can be made via an optional elastomer keyboard which folds over the front of the display The Mil-STD-810E provides protection against ground, mobile and airborne environments within an all aluminium cast chassis with added protection via rubber 'bumpers'.

Integrating dismounted soldiers into the network-enabled infrastructure is not limited to the infantry--a fact illustrated by the DRS Tactical Systems solution chosen for Australia's Land 19 requirement for networking V-shorad teams. The solution was based on the company's HTU-M for the US CHGS programme. It is in three configurations based around a common core of an HTU-M that has an 8.4-inch display that equips the Manpads team leader. For each individual fire team an HTU-M is issued together with an additional external display to save on user fatigue, which would otherwise result from carrying the complete computer. For HQ users a larger 15-inch screen and external keyboard can be added for static use while still being able to disconnect to use the core HTU-M outside the command shelter.

Screens and Displays

Situational awareness information sent to the soldier will be accessed through either sight or sound and, while voice communications are an absolute necessity, electronic displays will provide the vast majority of information. The liquid crystal display of digital assistants, tablets and other conventional solutions provide an effective baseline, but the United States, having explored the use of conventional computing in earlier trials, has selected helmet-mounted displays for Land Warrior and other initiatives.

Today's helmet displays have already seen service in support of robot controllers and other visualisation functions beginning in Afghanistan and now in Iraq.

The Kaiser Electro-Optics SO35 is based around a 146-gram display and mount, which can clip on to a standard Mich helmet. It is designed to operate between -32[degrees] degrees to +55[degrees] C with 95 per cent relative humidity. The system is powered by a central body-worn power source and linked to the control unit by cable--in US service--although a wireless option is available. In terms of cost, the SO35's list price is put at $10,500, a significant portion of any soldier modernisation programme overall unit cost.

General Dynamics has selected the Microvision Nomad ND 2500 Systems for the first phase of its Mounted Warrior programme; equipping crewmen for the first Land Warrior Stryker Interoperable brigade. In the meantime, as a separate acquisition, the Nomad has been deployed in Iraq since 2004 with Stryker Brigade Combat Teams. A $1.2 million contract for 165 systems for Mounted Warrior was announced in early May 2005. The Nomad consists of a system that weighs less than 200 grams fitted onto the night vision attachment of the helmet. The system has been ruggedised to sustain a twelve-metre drop onto concrete and three-gram shock and still remain operational without interrupting service.

These solutions are given here as typical examples. However, eMagin, for instance, has supplied the flip-down helmet mounted SVGA screen for Israel-based company NI-OR's Advanced Integrated Soldier System project, eMagin also supplied similar devices in support of Saab Tech's Soldier Head-Mounted Device in 2004.

Soldier integration with these, and other, new applications will not happen overnight. The large range of technology and power issues is further complicated by a reticence to commit to a high cost 'next generation' solution until such approaches are proven.
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Title Annotation:Information management
Author:Baddeley, Adam
Publication:Armada International
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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