House panel OKs funds for DOD mobile technology

A House Defense Appropriations subcommittee has set aside $14 million to extend the Defense Department's research and testing of battlefield situational awareness and power source technology through the next year, a subcommittee official said yesterday.

Half of the money would go toward procurement of the Dismounted Intelligence Situation Mapboard project, which integrates situational awareness software developed by Trident Technology of Fairfax, Va., and rugged portable PCs sold by Itronix of Spokane, Wash., said Rep. George R. Nethercutt Jr., R-Wash.

Another $3 million would go toward further research and development of DISM, and another $3 million would pay for special operations integration, Nethercutt said during a press conference to announce the funding.

An additional $3 million would be allotted to the Direct Liquid Ethanol Delivery System, a project to develop fuel cell alternatives to battery power in the battlefield. Itronix and General Dynamics Corp. are partnering on that project.

The ethanol fuel cell technology could produce up to 10 times the electrical power that batteries can for significantly less weight, said Chris Marzilli, vice president and general manager for commercial hardware systems for General Dynamics C4 Systems Inc., a business unit of General Dynamics Corp.

The total funding is still pending approval from the Senate, but Nethercutt said he expected approval.

'We're going to fight like the dickens to keep that $14 million,' Nethercutt said. 'We've worked very much with the Senate and its Defense Appropriations Committee staff, and we have no expectations that there will be any resistance in the development of this kind of technology.'

He argued that a DISM-enabled laptop could have helped find Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was captured in the early days of the war on Iraq. 'She would have been easily found by others who were also connected to the system,' he said. 'This is not lost on Congress.'

But the DISM prototype is still a work in progress, according to a recent Marine Corps Combat Development Command action report updated this spring. It asked the Marine Corp Systems Command to evaluate DISM's ability to improve the source of position locator information and provide more tracking information for soldiers.

'Final decision on whether to pursue DISM will be made pending the results of further evaluation,' the report read. 'DISM has not completed testing and evaluation.'

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