Handhelds and portable PCs provide fast battle info

Troops on the ground in Iraq are using ruggedized portable PCs and personal digital assistants to support operational and logistical applications.

Equipped with a Global Positioning System receiver and a tactical military modem, and coupled with a laser range finder, PCs and PDAs can be used to transmit firing coordinates to artillery on the ground or to aircraft overhead. They supply maps and personnel information for medical evacuations and carry maintenance manuals for military vehicles.

One of the smallest full-featured computers meeting military standards for full ruggedization is the Tacter-31A from Tallahassee Technologies Inc. of Tallahassee, Fla. It is a 7-pound, 500-MHz Pentium III PC with a 4G hard drive, a 6.4-inch touch screen, foldout keyboard and 10 hours of battery life running Microsoft Windows 95 or NT with Pen Services.

Rapidly gaining in popularity in the field is the Tacter Ruggedized PDA running Microsoft PocketPC with much of the same functionality.

'It's basically a Compaq iPaq on steroids,' Tallahassee spokesman Jim English said. 'It's becoming the platform of choice because of the convenience.'

The ruggedized PDA can fit in the cargo pocket of a military uniform and has nearly twice the battery life of the larger 31A, without any boot-up or shutdown time.

The Tacter RPDA has been adopted for the Army's Commander's Digital Assistant and the Pocket Forward Entry Device for fire control.

Orders for $14 million worth of Tallahassee's ruggedized computers have been placed by General Dynamics Corp. for use by the Army and Marine Corps. The orders, to be delivered over the last half of this year, include $3 million worth of the PDAs and $11 million worth of the PCs.

English said the PDA sale was already in the pipeline before the war began in Iraq, but the deal for the Tacter-31A was accelerated because of the war.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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