Army Channels Google for Revamped Nett Warrior Program
The service may purchase as many as 23,000 “smartphone-like” devices for less than $1,500 each for its mercurial Nett Warrior program. The Army could open it up to bids on the revamped program in January and make a production decision by February 2013, according to a new request for information.
The Army has been on a 20-year quest to provide ground troops with a wearable ensemble that gives them views of the battlefield that are usually reserved for those in planes, tanks and control centers. It has had several iterations. The program was called Land Warrior before it became Nett Warrior.
The latest concepts calls for end user devices to take the form of commercially available smartphones running on Google’s Android operating system, but they could also be tablet computers, officials from Program Executive Office Soldier told reporters Oct. 6 at the Pentagon.
This new approach does away with the cumbersome wearable computer concept that was designed to allow team leaders to track themselves, other soldiers and the enemy on a hands-free device.
The last version of the program would have featured a full-color, hands-free viewing monitor attached to an eyepiece that gave the soldier the illusion of looking at a 17-inch screen. It would have included a computer, navigation system, control unit, radio, microphone and headphones. A protective vest would have hidden the wiring for the system.
But these devices together could have weighed more than 13 pounds, and soldiers complained about the load of the prototypes built and tested last year, said Bill Brower, deputy project manager for Soldier Warrior, a PEO Soldier office.
The new concept requires only a smartphone or another similar handheld device plugged into a radio, specifically the Joint Tactical Radio System. The Army doesn’t want any combinations weighing more than 3 pounds.
This way soldiers can mount them on their chests, arms or wrists, Brower said. Additionally, the Army is going to let soldiers decide on whether the program ultimately provides them with phones or tablets, he said.
The proposed devices “will provide the soldier with enhanced mission planning, monitoring, communication and situational awareness” through use of a camera, GPS, compass and other applications, the RFI said. “It cannot be overstated that the government is looking for a low-cost solution.”
Brower estimated that using commercially available devices instead of the previous heads-up display gear could cut production costs in half.
Engineers at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts have been rushing to transfer all of the Nett Warrior capabilities onto smartphones in time for the Army to test them at the Network Integration Evaluation this fall.
Officials this week also unveiled two products that soldiers could use to recharge batteries for Nett Warrior. One is a lightweight 10-watt solar blanket. The other can steal power from any source to charge another device.
“If I come across an old car battery, I can plug this in,” Brower said. “I can take all of the voltage out of that battery. It will suck it dry.”