It may not be long before infantrymen on foot can track their buddies' positions on ruggedized smartphones. The Army's best bet for achieving this battlefield milestone lies in its new Rifleman Radio. Units from the 75th Ranger Regiment were pleased with the performance of the handheld Joint Tactical Radio System during a recent battlefield evaluation in Afghanistan.
The Rangers spent a lot of time using the radios and "clearly had a significant level of confidence" in the system. Rangers liked the size, weight and power of the Rifleman Radio, which provided a battery life of up to ten hours and increased the units' ability to communicate despite obstacles such as buildings and nearby terrain, according to Army officials.
The Rifleman Radio, made by General Dynamics C4 Systems, was developed as part of the Handheld, Manpack, Small Form Fit, or HMS program. HMS radios are designed around the Army's future tactical network strategy to create secure tactical networks without the logistical nightmare of a tower-based antenna infrastructure.
This seems to tie into the Army's recent work with with battlefield smartphones. Ranger units involved in the evaluation used the Rifleman Radio with the Android-based GD300 smartphone.
Hooking a smartphone up to the Rifleman Radio gives soldiers the ability to send and receive emails, view maps and watch icons on a digital map that represent the locations of their fellow soldiers. The concept came out of the Army's long-gestating Land Warrior and Nett Warrior programs.
Stryker units have deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan with Land Warrior's computerized command and control ensemble, but at 10 pounds it proved too heavy for combat. By comparison, the Rifleman Radio weighs 1.7 pounds with its battery. The GD300 weighs another 8 ounces.
The Army plans to field the Rifleman Radio sometime in 2013. The future is not as certain for the GD300, but Army officials are considering the device for fielding in 2013 as well.
So what do you think -- too techy for grunts? Unnecessary on the battlefield? Before you answer that, try using an iPhone for a while and then try to go back to a regular cell phone.