Army orders up a rugged notebook

Rugged Unix notebook computers now figure in the Army's $2 billion, 10-year follow-on Common Hardware/Software III contract for tactical command, control and communications. Army officials said the rugged notebooks will run fire support applications, many written in open source code.

Under CHCS II, the Army spent almost $20 million for more than 700 rugged SPARCbook systems, which are still to be deployed for the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System, a joint Army and Marine Corps program.

Under CHCS III, awarded in June to a unit of General Dynamics Corp., service officials said they expect the SPARCbooks to serve beyond AFATDS.

'Unix notebooks are going to be extremely popular as users out there see what they can do for them,' said Lt. Col. Gale Harrington, product manager for common hardware systems in the program executive office at Fort Monmouth, N.J.

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The Marine Corps also is evaluating the notebooks, built by Tadpole Computer Inc. of Cupertino, Calif., and ruggedized by General Dynamics.

The Army wanted a portable computer that's free of proprietary software licensing and less of a burden than heavy rugged workstations.

'You can have [rugged] PCs,' said Tadpole president Mark Johnston, 'but they don't run Solaris in native mode, so they can't support applications that the Army has developed.'

The SPARCbooks, which run Sun Solaris 9 and weigh 14 pounds with protective shells, let officers wirelessly operate fire control systems and, with the help of scanned maps, see battlefields. The systems each have 650-MHz processors, 4G of RAM, up to 160G hard drives, two removable drives and three Ethernet ports. General Dynamics is making mounting kits for about 240 Army Humvees and new Stryker infantry vehicles.

Soldiers with lighter hardware 'will be more nimble, more agile, more lethal,' said Chris Marzilli, vice president and general manager for commercial hardware at General Dynamics C4 Systems Inc.

Sealing the SPARCbook in high-strength aluminum and internal parts in plastic molding let the commercial notebook meet Version 2 of the Army's environmental and emissions specifications'a tactical hybrid of requirements for climate, electromagnetic interference and electromagnetic pulse resistance.

The companies managed to more than double the Unix notebook's battery life to two hours, but Army officials said they expect it to run longer, said Ashok Jain, the PEO's technical adviser for common hardware systems.

'Even if they've got a lot more than they used to have, they still want more,' Jain said.

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