PCs that go into battle will be tougher, lighter, Army says

BEDFORD, Mass.—The Army plans to field a leaner, more cost-effective computer for
the digitized battlefield of the 21st century.


The Army will save a lot of money by equipping the service’s first digital
division with PCs running Microsoft Windows NT instead of expensive, high-end workstations
running Unix, Brig. Gen. Steven Boutelle, the Army’s program executive officer for
command, control and communications systems, said at the Militray Communications ’98
conference late last month.


High-end workstations can cost up to $50,000 each, Boutelle said. But ruggedized PCs
running NT cost less than half of that, he said.


Switching to PCs will not only cut costs but will also ease the load for the
Army’s tactical operations centers, Boutelle said. When the service fields the
digitized 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, in fiscal 2000, it will be 18 tons
lighter using the PC equipment, he said.


Changing over to PCs running NT also will reduce the 4th Infantry Division’s power
consumption requirements, Boutelle said. Consequently, the division won’t need as
many generators in the field, he said.


The Army gave TRW Inc. a five-year, $282 million Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and
Below contract in 1995 to provide the service with ruggedized computers for the digitized
battlefield. FBCB2 computers provide brigade, battalion and company commanders with
situational awareness of friendly and enemy forces.


The Army over the next five years is planning to buy about 59,000 rugged 200-MHz PCs
running NT from TRW, Boutelle said. The ruggedized PCs, called appliques, are currently
powered by a 32-bit computer chip from Intel Corp. But the Army plans to install
Intel’s 64-bit Merced chip in the appliques when it becomes available, he said.


The Army in August completed a limited users test that included an evaluation of
ruggedized computers designed to operate in combat vehicles. The 4th Infantry
Division’s 1st Brigade tested computers from TRW’s subcontractors—Litton
Data Systems of San Diego and Phoenix Group Inc. of Hauppauge, N.Y.—mounted in
Humvees, Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.


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+ has a sunlight-readable, touch screen
display. During the March 1997 Advanced Warfighting Experiment at Fort Irwin, Calif.,
soldiers had difficulty reading information on their computer screens because of the
sun’s glare.


Applique computers, running TRW’s FBCB2 software, were installed in 1,000 vehicles
at last year’s AWE. The machines displayed the locations of soldiers, units and
commands by transmitting via the Tactical Internet to Tactical Operations Centers.

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