‘Smartphones’ empower soldier-leaders with better commo 

 
A soldier from 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, demonstrates a smartphone-like mission command system. (Photo Credit: Claire Heininger Schwerin)

Claire Heininger Schwerin

U.S. Army

As he maneuvered his squad across the desert, securing objectives in villages along the way, Staff Sgt. Jesus Vasquez tracked his squad’s movements not with a note pad or map, but with an Army-issued handheld device.

Flipping open the smartphone-like device worn on the front of his uniform, Vasquez tapped the screen to record what he saw – information that quickly traveled over the Army network to the rest of his platoon.

"We can plot anything from enemy positions to friendly positions to IEDs [improvised explosive devices]," Vasquez said.

Adding, "It’s just like a phone – everybody these days has a smartphone, so it’s really easy to use."

The Nett Warrior devices used by soldiers like Vasquez during last month’s Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, 12.2, aim to empower lower-echelon soldier-leaders with unprecedented communications and situational awareness.

Connected to the Joint Tactical Radio System, known as JTRS, Rifleman Radio, and running the Army’s next-generation blue force tracking software, known as Joint Battle Command-Platform, or JBC-P, Nett Warrior provides dismounted leaders with the kind of digital information that today is only available inside vehicles or command posts.

The android-based devices can connect to the Army’s larger tactical communications network through both the JTRS radio waveforms and the Blue Force Tracking 2 satellite network, leveraging a "gateway" in vehicles equipped with the command platform.

The Nett Warrior system aims to eliminate the time delay and human error associated with radio communications, instead giving soldiers networked handheld devices to exchange messages and digitally track one another’s locations.

"If you’re on a radio, you have to listen, you have to write, you have to confirm – there’s a time delay process," Mark Frye, a retired first sergeant who is now Nett Warrior team lead at NIE, said.

"If it is a published message on a handheld, we know how fast kids can text messages back and forth. It’s the same concept, but you’re doing it from soldier to soldier," he added.

During NIE 12.2, soldiers evaluated Nett Warrior during a vigorous operational scenario at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., that required the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, to combat conventional enemy forces, insurgents, criminal elements and electronic warfare, stretching the brigade and the network across more than 100 miles of rugged terrain.

With the formal operational tests for both Nett Warrior and JBC-P scheduled to take place at NIE 13.1 this fall, NIE 12.2 served to reduce risk by familiarizing soldiers with the equipment and integrating it into the larger tactical communications network.

The up-front integration leverages the six-month NIE cycle and follows a pattern set by Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T, Increment 2, that was integrated into tactical formations at NIE 12.1 to provide an early operational look at the system prior to its Initial Operational Test and Evaluation, known as an IOT&E.