Jan 17 2013

UC Arrives on the Battlefield and Beyond

Whether military apps for warfighters or educational projects at NASA, mobility takes unified communications to another level.

The Army plans to take mobile unified communications to warfighters in the field this spring with a smartphone-based system that will let squad leaders send messages about what they see on the battlefield and share location information with commanding officers.

The new Nett Warrior system is part of the Army’s Capability Set 13 (CS 13), a communications system that the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y., will deploy in Afghanistan. As U.S. forces and infrastructure wind down in Afghanistan, it’s become more important than ever for the remaining forces to have superior mobile communications. 

Lt. Col. Lawrence Karl, management branch chief for the network integration division of the Brigade Modernization Command at Fort Bliss, Texas, says CS 13 is the culmination of extensive testing, both on and off the battlefield.

Karl says over the past several years, the Army tested smartphones in the field and initially found that the smartphones manufactured roughly two years ago did not stand up well. In addition, setting up cell towers in the field was too cumbersome for personnel.

For the Nett Warrior system, the Army took out the native RF radios in the smartphones and equipped each device with a Rifleman Radio that runs over the Army’s tactical network. Each smartphone is also tethered with a cable to a scanning pad that lets soldiers transmit biometric data for identification purposes.

“If soldiers are in a village suspected of harboring a terrorist, they can take pictures and pull up our databases,” Karl says. “If the picture matches up in our system with a known person of interest, our soldier can take action.”

The percentage of U.S. workers who became remote or mobile by the end of 2012

SOURCE: UCStrategies

CS 13 also includes the Warfighter Information Network–Increment 2. For this system, satellite dishes mounted on standard Army trucks deliver the communications backbone needed for commanders at the company level to use notebooks equipped with softphones. The commanders use the softphones to communicate to a tactical operations center or make voice calls to soldiers in the field.

The Army’s efforts to bring unified communications to the battlefield follow a trend among agencies, including NASA, to extend UC technology to mobile devices.

“Smartphones with specialized features can provide UC applications to mobile individuals, including soldiers, enabling them to send and access voice, visual and data communications when needed, from any location, even the battlefield,” says Blair Pleasant, co-founder of UCStrategies.

UC for Education

Caryn Smith Long, lead education specialist and manager of NASA’s Digital Learning Network (DLN), based at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., says NASA subject matter experts and educators use mobile UC in the field to give classes.

In one instance, a NASA subject matter expert took an Apple iPhone into the desert to communicate with a middle school class via the DLN. The expert conducted a 30-minute session in which he explained tests NASA was running. The desert tests were part of NASA’s Research and Technology Studies, in which NASA scientists evaluate technology for use on future missions.

“Our people run tests in the desert because with the intense heat, it is a good example of an extreme environment with very few resources,” Long says. “Students can ask questions and view some of the simulated experiments.”

Long says that although it’s possible for students or teachers to view the webcast on a tablet, for now most transmissions run over the DLN into a classroom and are viewed on a large screen with a projector.