Marines delay test dates for rugged handheld PCs

Marines delay test dates for rugged handheld PCs

By Bill Murray
GCN Staff

Software development delays have held up the Marine Corps Systems Command's fielding of rugged handheld PCs running Microsoft Windows 95 applications.

Corps officials have not set a date for operational tests of PCs for the Rugged Handheld Computer (RHC) program. They are still integrating the software and approving new systems, said Capt. Daniel J. Bradley, RHC project officer at Quantico, Va.

The Army 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade at Fort Hood, Texas, chose rugged systems running SunSoft Solaris for the Force XXI initiative to digitize the battlefield.

The Marine Corps, however, called a halt to its Unix development because it was more expensive than Windows development, said Maj. Jean Reese, digital automated communications terminal (DACT) project officer at Quantico.

The Corps has bought about 200 ruggedized units from Engineering and Professional Services Inc. of Tinton Falls, N.J., which won the RHC indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract in 1997, Bradley said.

The $11,000 pen systems have 75-MHz processors, 32M of dynamic RAM, 340M hard drives with SCSI interfaces, TCP/IP communications stacks and Type II/III PC Card slots. If a system's pen breaks or gets lost, a sharp fingernail or stick can substitute, Bradley said.

RHC computers can connect to LANs or to two radios at a time through Combat Network Radio communications protocols. The handhelds have internal Global Positioning System receivers and protective field cases.Bradley said he could not estimate how many units the Marines will order. The RHC contract has a $52 million ceiling.

RHC computers can run in stealth mode with low light to avoid detection. In initial tests, soldiers found the displays viewable in direct sunlight and the battery life adequate, Bradley said.

Any weather

The units can operate in temperatures from minus 26 degrees to roughly 150 degrees. They meet military standards for resistance to dust, humidity, rain, sand and vehicle vibration, EPS officials said.

Other than Windows, Linux was the only viable operating system that the Marines could evaluate for handheld systems, said Reese, who is overseeing the RHC software integration.

'We want the same types of systems for garrison and tactical use,' she said. Marine users are familiar with Win95 but, depending on Microsoft's plans, the Corps might port RHC to Windows 98, she said.

Corps officials also are installing Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 and Exchange 5.5 to replace the Vines network operating system and StreetTalk 8.5 messaging system from Banyan Systems Inc. of Westborough, Mass.

DACT software will work with the Command and Control PC (C2PC) system under Win95. C2PC has mapping, messaging and common tactical features, Reese said.

The Air Force Standard Systems Group recently awarded three blanket purchasing agreements for rugged portables, and the Army has included them in the Portable-3 IDIQ contract.

The Navy's Tactical Advanced Computer Workstation BPA with Control Concepts Inc. of Fairfax, Va., offers portables from RDI Computer Corp. of San Diego running SunSoft Solaris and Hewlett-Packard HP-UX.

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