In the next ground war, U.S. soldiers in close contact with enemy forces will
be able to use ordinary hand-held radios to talk to each other without giving
away their positions.
Until now, combat soldiers engaging hostile forces often have had to rely upon
voice commands or visual signals to communicate with each other. But this can
be difficult-if not impossible-to accomplish in the dark, in rough terrain or
while trying to conceal your position, an Army spokesman said.
To make battlefield communication easier, the Army Soldier Systems Center,
Natick, Mass., has put together an intercom package that allows soldiers to
talk to each other from up to 700 meters without compromising their positions.
The new system is called the Soldier Intercom (SI). Each unit-which weighs
less than 20 ounces-includes a receiver/transmitter, rechargeable AA battery
pack and headset with boom microphone. The speaker rests just over the left
ear, and the volume is adjustable, so that a person standing even a few feet
away cannot hear it, according to an Army spokesman. The microphone is a noise-canceling
type and allows for whispering.
The radio does not beep, click or squelch when activated, the Army claims,
and it is stored in an olive-drab nylon case, which prevents any light emissions
that might alert nearby enemy troops.
The new system is part of the project for improving communications among soldiers
in the field, established in 1995 under the Soldier Enhancement Program (SEP).
The SEP is an acquisition process established by Congress in 1989 for evaluating
commercial, off-the-shelf items and getting them in the hands of soldiers in
three years or less.
The Soldier Intercom was tested by U.S. infantry in Panama in 1997 and has
been used in the 75th Ranger Regiment and the 82nd Airborne Division since November
1998. The intercoms are being issued, starting this year, to specific ranger,
airborne, air assault, light infantry and mechanized infantry units. The Army
has ordered 22,000 intercoms from the manufacturer, ICOM America, of Bellevue,
Wash. ICOM America is a division of ICOM Inc., of Osaka, Japan. Headsets were
provided by Telex Communications Inc., Minneapolis.
The intercoms are meant to facilitate communications among soldiers in the
field-at the squad level-not for communicating up and down the chain of command.
The squad has a separate radio for communicating with the chain of command.
"In situations where it is dark, or the terrain includes obstructions,
or the squad has to spread out, the Soldier Intercom can tie the squad together
to improve their coordination and reduce reaction time, possibly saving lives
in the process," said David L. Nelson, deputy product manager for enhanced
The Army encourages the purchase of off-the-shelf products, such as the intercom,
to save money. The plan is to "push-issue" the equipment to the field
through purchases from priority lists approved by the Department of the Army
and the General Services Administration schedule. That means the individual
unit incurs no cost. Maintenance of the SI will be the responsibility of the
individual units. The contractor will warranty the unit for up to two years.