Unix Notebooks Headed To Military In Iraq - InformationWeek

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Hardware & Infrastructure

Unix Notebooks Headed To Military In Iraq

Army will use computers from Tadpole and General Dynamics to replace much heavier devices.

The U.S. Armed Forces in the Middle East can look forward to reinforcements by the end of the year. IT reinforcements, that is. General Dynamics Corp. plans to ship about 500 of its V2 64-bit Unix-based portable computers to troops in Afghanistan and Iraq during the next few months, replacing heavier, less-mobile field technology.

General Dynamics' V2 computers are essentially 15-pound laptops with 15-inch monitors that run on Sun Microsystems' Solaris operating system and UltraSparc processor. Tadpole Computer Inc. supplies General Dynamics with the electrical components, and General Dynamics engineers encase them in a rugged casing that the military can quickly set up and move as battlefield situations dictate.

The V2 computers, still in preproduction testing, will initially be used by the Army to run its Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System and All Source Analysis System applications. The Army uses the artillery-system app to precisely home in on enemy targets. The analysis-system app is used for collecting and analyzing intelligence data. The Army currently uses Data General Compact Computer Units, but they weigh 55 pounds and are much less mobile than the V2.

In addition to being lighter than the Compact Computer Units, the V2 has Wi-Fi connectivity or can be cabled to a field radio and communicate over very-high-frequency radio waves. The latter is more secure than Wi-Fi today, says Chris Marzilli, VP and general manager of commercial hardware systems for General Dynamics C4 Systems, a division of the company that customizes computers and communications devices for the military and some commercial clients.

With battlefields as spread out as they are in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military is demanding laptop computers, Marzilli says. "When you save on weight and size, you save on logistics costs."

With the V2, General Dynamics has taken Tadpole's core computing components and placed them in the smallest shell possible, in this case a milled aluminum chassis, and replaced commercial disk drives, displays, keyboards, and power supplies with ones that can handle extremes of temperature, altitude, and humidity, Marzilli says. Any laptop used by the military has to be able to withstand the equivalent of being placed in a paint shaker and be protected against electromagnetic pulses, which an enemy can use to shut down U.S. electronics devices, he adds.

General Dynamics has a 10-year, $2 billion Defense Department contract to supply computers, network hardware equipment, power subsystems, peripheral devices, and commercial software. Tadpole estimates that as much as $90 million of this contact, called Common Hardware/Software III, will be used to purchase its Sparcbook laptops, which General Dynamics converts to V2 systems. Barbara Payne, Tadpole's VP of public sector sales, says that unlike European armed forces, which use Intel-based machines running Windows, the U.S. military prefers the reliability of Unix.

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