Military plans new vehicle routers and networking capabilities to help soldiers communicate more securely and effectively in combat situations.

Elizabeth Montalbano, Contributor

November 7, 2011

3 Min Read

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The U.S. military is bolstering its use of technology on the battlefield with new devices and capabilities aimed at improving how soldiers communicate.

New rugged routers for military vehicles and satellite- and radio-based networking technologies the Department of Defense plans to deploy will give soldiers new tools to transmit data and voice communications more efficiently and securely, according to the military.

The DOD has made a series of strategic investments of late in technology to improve battlefield communications, ranging from new networking capabilities to mobile devices soldiers carry with them in battle. That investment shows no signs of slowing, even as federal agencies and departments face budget constraints and must prioritize where they spend their technology dollars.

On the device front, GE Intelligent Platforms and Juniper Networks are collaborating to create a series of secure routing and security appliances for use on military vehicles--particularly in harsh environments where traditional technology could falter, according to the companies.

[ Learn more about the military's tech plans. Read Pentagon CIO's Tech Revamp: 4 Priorities. ]

The first of the new rugged devices, which GE Intelligent Platforms will sell, is a network router called RTF8GE that is rugged enough to withstand the type of battering military vehicles, aircraft, and operating bases may encounter in combat, according to the companies. The companies plan to create more routers and security appliances along the same lines over time.

New networking technologies the Army is developing also will ensure soldiers can communicate securely and without interruption in the field. The Army will conduct the first field test of a new phase of a satellite-based communications network this month, with plans to deploy the system--called the Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, or WIN-T--next fall.

Like the rugged vehicle devices in development, the new satellite system is designed to support on-the-move communications even under rugged conditions, according to the Army. WIN-T--an upgrade to an existing tactical network backbone--will allow for seamless communication through voice, data, images, and video even when soldiers traverse rough terrain.

"The Army's not static," said Heidi Shyu, the acting assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, in a statement. "Our soldiers have to be on the move, and what WIN-T Increment 2 is going to enable us to do is to have better communications while on the move."

Currently, WIN-T allows for communications to about 90% of the active Army at the battalion level and above. The latest test will extend the network down to the company level with technology for connecting to even lower echelon radio nets the Army uses, according to the military arm. This will allow even dismounted soldiers to communicate via the satellite network.

Dismounted soldiers also are getting a technological boost from an enhancement to the Army's first networking waveform radio. The Army awarded a $66 million contract to Harris Corp. to procure radios for the existing network that can cover eight brigade combat teams, according to the military.

The Army will use the new equipment to modernize tactical communications for infantry combat teams to send them "critical information … when they need it most," said Lt. Col. Troy Crosby, a product manager for the team that manages the radios.

"It provides the dismounted Soldier with a means to relay information from the battlefield to a command post, in real-time," he said in a statement.

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