Army finishes tests on two combat notebooks

The Army last month completed a test of ruggedized notebook computers for combat
vehicles.


The 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade at Fort Hood, Texas, evaluated computers
from Litton Data Systems of San Diego, Calif., and Phoenix Group Inc. of Hauppauge, N.Y.
The Army used the notebooks on about 230 vehicles, including Humvees, M-1 Abrams tanks and
Bradley Fighting Vehicles.


Arthur Money, the senior civilian official in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of
Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence, and Lt. Gen. William
Campbell, the Army’s director of information systems for command, control,
communications and computers, were at Fort Hood Aug. 21 to observe the test.


Army officials tested about 190 notebooks from PGI, including 150 with touch screens.
PGI’s Condor Applique+ is a rugged, dual 200-MHz Pentium Pro notebook with 64M of
RAM, expandable to 512M, and a 2.4G hard drive, in a removable, shock-resistant cartridge.
The Condor has a detachable keyboard and a 10.4- or 12.1-inch touch-screen display that
can be viewed in full sunlight.


Army technicians also tested 40 ruggedized Litton V2 PCs. The 200-MHz Pentium notebook
has 16M of RAM, expandable to 256M RAM, and a 500M to 2G removable hard drive. But its
display—either a 10.4-inch, 256-color active-matrix LCD panel or a 9.4-inch
monochrome LCD with 16 shades of gray—is not a touch screen and does not include
sunlight-readable technology.


“The Condor Applique+ performed great at the limited users test, and we were very
happy with it,” said Neil Siegel, vice president and general manager for tactical
systems at TRW Inc., the Army’s prime contractor for developing battlefield notebook
systems. “I don’t anticipate that Litton’s V2 computer, per se, is part of
our long-term plans.”


Litton and PGI are subcontractors to TRW, which in 1995 won a five-year, $282 million
contract to develop and test Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) hardware
and software. The Army wants the FBCB2 computers, called Appliques, to let brigade,
battalion and company commanders identify the location and activities of their own
soldiers and enemy forces.


During the March 1997 Advanced Warfighting Experiment at Fort Irwin, Calif., soldiers
reported difficulty reading information on their computer screens because of sun glare.
The Army tested four kinds of computers at the AWE, including a 75-MHz notebook computer
from Compaq Computer Corp. But commercial PCs couldn’t withstand the wear and tear of
the Mojave desert, Army officials said.


Both the Litton and PGI computers comply with military standards for operations in
extreme heat, humidity and freezing temperatures as well as vibration, shock, sand, dust
and rain. But only PGI’s Condor Applique+ had a display readable in sunlight,
officials said.


The Army plans to run the FBCB2 initial operational test and evaluation in October
1999. The service wants to equip the first digitized division by the end of 2000 with
notebook computers that are close in design to the Condor Applique+, Siegel said.


But the purpose of the limited user test was not to select a computer, said Linda
Javier, public relations manager for TRW systems and information technology group in
Redondo Beach, Calif.


“It was to show the new capabilities of the Army’s Tactical Internet and the
FBCB2 software,” she said.


TRW installed the notebooks, running FBCB2 software, on 1,000 vehicles for last
year’s AWE. They provided the whereabouts of soldiers, units and commands by
transmitting data across the service’s Tactical Internet to tactical operations
centers.


Systems at the centers then integrated the data with Army command and control
applications and made the data available via a client-server network so commanders could
share intelligence and logistics information.


“FBCB2 Applique provided leap-ahead capabilities to the fighting units in terms of
position location, but it performed less well in transferring graphics and orders,”
the Army Digitization Office concluded in a June report to Congress. “Further, it was
often difficult to provide continuous updates of the enemy situation through
applique.”


The Army designed the command and control portion of the Tactical Internet to be as
like the commercial Internet as possible, including standard routing protocols such as
TCP/IP. But the C2 architecture did not work well in the tactical environment at last
year’s AWE, and software problems created routing loops, service officials said.


“TCP/IP worked fine at the AWE but the Open Shortest Path First, a routing
protocol, didn’t work so well over the low-bandwidth tactical radios,” Siegel
said. “Its use was constrained for the purposes of this test to the portions of the
Tactical Internet where we felt it would work better.”


The focus of this month’s FBCB2 test was to verify improvements to the Tactical
Internet architecture, including better throughput, he said.


TRW made changes suggested by Army technicians, Siegel said. In a recent test, “we
were way above the quantitative thresholds that the Army established,” he said.


At the March 1997 AWE, the Tactical Internet only enjoyed about a 25 percent message
delivery rate for certain kinds of C2 messages, Siegel said. The Army established a 50
percent message delivery rate for this month’s test but achieved a 90 percent
delivery rate, he said.

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