It may not be long before infantrymen on foot can track their buddies’ positions on ruggedized smartphones. The Army’s best bet for achieving this battlefield milestone lies in its new Rifleman Radio. Units from the 75th Ranger Regiment were pleased with the performance of the handheld Joint Tactical Radio System during a recent battlefield evaluation in Afghanistan.

The Rangers spent a lot of time using the radios and “clearly had a significant level of confidence” in the system. Rangers liked the size, weight and power of the Rifleman Radio, which provided a battery life of up to ten hours and increased the units’ ability to communicate despite obstacles such as buildings and nearby terrain, according to Army officials.

The Rifleman Radio, made by General Dynamics C4 Systems, was developed as part of the Handheld, Manpack, Small Form Fit, or HMS program. HMS radios are designed around the Army’s future tactical network strategy to create secure tactical networks without the logistical nightmare of a tower-based antenna infrastructure.

This seems to tie into the Army’s recent work with with battlefield smartphones. Ranger units involved in the evaluation used the Rifleman Radio with the Android-based GD300 smartphone.

Hooking a smartphone up to the Rifleman Radio gives soldiers the ability to send and receive emails, view maps and watch icons on a digital map that represent the locations of their fellow soldiers. The concept came out of the Army’s long-gestating Land Warrior and Nett Warrior programs.

Stryker units have deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan with Land Warrior’s computerized command and control ensemble, but at 10 pounds it proved too heavy for combat. By comparison, the Rifleman Radio weighs 1.7 pounds with its battery. The GD300 weighs another 8 ounces.

The Army plans to field the Rifleman Radio sometime in 2013. The future is not as certain for the GD300, but Army officials are considering the device for fielding in 2013 as well.

So what do you think — too techy for grunts? Unnecessary on the battlefield? Before you answer that, try using an iPhone for a while and then try to go back to a regular cell phone. 

 

 

 

 

{ 60 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben February 16, 2012 at 3:04 am

And keep training without all the tech stuff, batteries run out, electronics fail.
If you dont teach soldiers to do it without all those fancy toys you're just setting up for failure.

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Uncle Willie February 16, 2012 at 5:36 am

How do you teach a soldier to use a radio without a radio?

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Trevor February 16, 2012 at 5:59 am

Ben is saying to train them in how to continue the mission in case of tech equipment failure.

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JTP709 February 16, 2012 at 6:58 am

I second this. Whole armor formations would halt in the desert during the first Gulf War and wait until the GPS satellite came back into orbit.

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straps February 16, 2012 at 8:28 am

…and the fixed artillery (or air) assets that would have pounded them if they wren't where they were supposed to be never lost THEIR GPS.

Those guys had pretty complex phase lines and movement corridors. Given the choice between having a bunch of guys killed via fratricide after the kind of error 10 miles of dead reckoning over featureless terrain induces, and halting to re-establish GPS lock, I'll take the halt.

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DBM May 23, 2014 at 8:14 pm

The GPS constellation only had 12 birds up back then plus the first Gen GPS devices took 10 minutes to get a position fix because they could only track one satellite at a time. Trying to get a position fix while moving was not an option.

Back to the Rifleman I have to ask two things 1st why the oversell? what aren't they telling us. 2nd if its so damned good why are most of the units fielded it not using it?

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Go Navy! February 16, 2012 at 3:26 am

I am amazed at how fast our technology have grown just in the past 20 years. Wish we had stuff like this back in the 90s. I am all for it if it helps our soldiers in the battlefield. Now they just need the training to ensure they use the equipment effectively while under fire.

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Travis D. February 16, 2012 at 4:25 am

I'm not totally familiar with the security features of this device, but if you can track your buddies position with this thing, and one of these units ends up in the wrong hands, won't they be able to track your buddies too?

Does it have a Facebook app? :)

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Matt February 16, 2012 at 5:23 am

I was wondering the same thing, should one of your fellow soldiers be captured you would be giving them a real-time map of all of the others positions. Sounds dangerous. Maybe they could put in a device that will automatically stop the tracking function if you are separated by a certain distance or something?

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xpoqx February 16, 2012 at 5:24 am

"Yeah, it's got facebook." So when your wondering where the guy lugging your M249 is when **** hits the fan, hes violating opsec and posting **** to facebook. Not to mention leaving your candy *ss with out that M249.

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Tyler F. February 16, 2012 at 5:28 am

Travis, many systems like the GD300 have remote lockout systems run by the main communication terminal that can prevent that from occurring.

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Uncle Willie February 16, 2012 at 5:39 am

Further, you have to choose to broadcast your location for the other unit to know where it is. So if you think you're compromised, you lock out the missing radio.

The reason that our radio tech tends to kick so much but, and be cutting edge, is that it's usually too advanced for politicians to understand it, so they don't muck about with it. I don't think Rangers poop gold and spew the word of God each time they speak, but if the 75th is okay with a piece of commo gear, that's good enough for me.

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Travis D. February 16, 2012 at 8:30 am

Interesting.

Wouldn't the turn around time be unacceptably long though for something like that? For example, Bad guys & Good guys are in a firefight. Bad guy kills good guy, gets his radio, and relays the coordinates of the rest of the Good guys to his fellow bad guys. Sure, you can lock out the radio, but if in the midst of a firefight, I assume a) there are more important things to think about than locking out radios and b) it may not be immediately apparent that a radio has been compromised until much later.

Additionally, having any sort of electronic communication feature that relays your whole team's position ultimately seems like a huge security risk. I'm sure this has all been though out, and the encryption is bad ***, but it's arguable that with enough time, money and computing power, that whatever network this system runs on, could be compromised. What more sensitive data can you think of that real-time coordinates of soldiers on the ground?

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nraddin February 16, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Just like your phone, after a minute or two of no activity he phone locks itself. You then have to know the swipe code to get back into it. Your right the radio would still work, and that could be a problem, but it's not going to point people out or anything.

BTW, if you just want to find everyone that is wearing a radio, all you need is two slow rotating directional antenna (Three if you want height), a USB D-GPS receiver, and a laptop. The antennas can be used to triangulate relative position to the laptop, and the GPS lets you use that to calculate fairly exact LatLong. (error mostly based on how far the antennas are apart and the accuracy of the D-GPS.)

SFC YOUNG February 16, 2012 at 9:31 am

I read another article saying that it has NSA approved encryption software loaded.

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jake February 16, 2012 at 5:58 am

If this is true and it really works? it's about time!.

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Mike February 16, 2012 at 6:14 am

But does it have Angry Birds?

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Gunner February 16, 2012 at 6:29 am

If you look at the lower left of the radio it appears to have a lock symbol. I guess you hit that lock the keyboard you have a brick that won't do anything.

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jrexilius February 16, 2012 at 7:09 am

JTRS has been a long time coming and I'm so glad they changed requirements for the original system and plugged and a standards-compliant android smartphone into it. Combine this with next gen wearable solar panel on the back of the plate carrier and some other adapters for harvesting power from battlefield sources and we'll have some very solid, sustainable new capabilities.

Glad this project has survived the cuts so far.

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desk_pilot February 16, 2012 at 7:36 am

You could just smash one or both units if you are in danger of being rolled up by bad guys. Having bad guys get ahold of one of these radios is not much different than them getting ahold of the current radios. There are ways to render our current radios useless to the enemy so I am sure there are ways to do it with these.

The network these systems work on is likely a seperate mobile ad hoc network not the 3G or 4G kind of thing we are used to with civilian smart phones. Having to build cell towers in theater would be kind of silly. Therefore it is my assumtion that the system is as secure if not more so than the current ad hoc radio networks we use now. The DoD hates wifi something fierce.

The smart phone in this system is probably not going to be much of a phone as much as a tiny rugidized computer. That is in effect what smart phones are (minus the rugged part for consumer models). I highly doubt the phone itself will be doing any wireless comunication on its own. They could disable that in either hardware, or in software very easily (and save battery power in the process). It seems to me that the communication between nodes would be handeled by the radios kind of like a modem and PC. But unlike the modem example, the radio should still be able to do usefull stuff like handel voice traffic without being hooked to its computer (the phone).

Also, since the platform is running on Android (a fork of the linux kernel) it should be easy for the Army to "roll their own" embeded system that does what they want it to and nothing else. Sadly I doubt very highly that Angry Birds will make it into the requirements document. But then again the elephant is a mouse designed by comittee.

If you can't tell I am pretty stoked about this development.

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Moe Sizlack February 16, 2012 at 7:52 am

If you are so stoked about this technological marvel, have you thought about the possibility of EMP knocking out the communications network these soldiers using these systems might face? What about possible anti-satellite systems being deployed against our satellites? What about solar flares cutting the range of these over priced gadget toys? I sure bet not……..

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Moe Sizlack February 16, 2012 at 7:46 am

Oh brother….not another technological advance that nails the coffin shut for our men and women defending our country…..we are way too dependent on technology to fight our wars. And our future enemies know this all too well!

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AceP February 16, 2012 at 7:58 am

We used the GD300, the AMREL DB-6, and an off the shelf HTC phone at AEWE last year. The soldiers said the HTC was by the far easiest to use – aside from having to take their gloves off every time they wanted to do anything with it. I don't think the GD300 will go anywhere – at least I hope it doesn't. I was clunky, froze up when connecting to the network, and took ages to update the "live" map. I think COTS equipment is going to become more and more prevalent as the Army has to field new capabilities much faster to keep up with technology.

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nraddin February 16, 2012 at 8:50 am

Finally the land warrior system we always wanted. I know people gave that program a bunch of crap (I can't completely blame them) but I always felt like it was at least thinking in the right direction. Not just basic upgrades to the system we already use, but totally new equipment that 20 years ago no one would have thought you could put on a individual.

I love that it plugs into an industry standardized plug (USB) and they are running an open source OS (Android) and in this case off the self hardware (Smart phone). So instead of working on inventing something to replace equipment you and I have in our pockets, they worked on replacing the cell network with a powerful digital radio capable of forming ad hoc networks on the fly and running for hours off it's internal battery.

I hope they are working on a way to charge these things in the field without dragging around gas generators or 200sq yards of solar cells.

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Lance February 16, 2012 at 10:33 am

Looks cool I like the Iphone map concept very Flashpoint like. Any way the real help it will do is for the solders.

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Whoa there February 16, 2012 at 4:08 pm

"I'll take the halt" – as long as you're fighting something as pathetic as the Iraqi military was, I agree.

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Whoa there February 16, 2012 at 4:14 pm

I think it would be better if we just air-dropped these to the taliban. We can pass it off as part of our negotiations deal/process. Then we can track them and kill them. Problemo solved, problemo staying solved…

Anyone besides me surprised Star Wars didn't have something like this?

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M.D. February 16, 2012 at 4:16 pm

No but I will flip ya' a "bird" in anger if you play game in front of me.

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Darius137 February 16, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Only 10 hours of battery life, eh?

Good thing we only do 10 hour missions. When does the 50 pound battery pack come out for it?

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ParatrooperJJ February 17, 2012 at 10:26 am

Yup, three times a day battery changes? Really?

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Earlydawn February 16, 2012 at 6:21 pm

"Hostile RPG team dug in on the hill. Totally Tweeting this."

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Slag February 16, 2012 at 8:15 pm

I remember a story in Heavy Metal magazine early `80s two starcraft armored like squads encountered one another & after the firefight, one of the surviving grunts picks up a piece of opponent gear & is aghast that it was a robots they had fought, then berating the enemy for using robots, when he receives his commands via an implant in his brain, where upon the squad regroups & moves out. This is my fear of future warfighters becoming pseudo machines.

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Ben February 16, 2012 at 11:52 pm

On target Trevor, I never said you dont need to train with fancy toys.
I always love it when we get new toys and I'm all for high tech gear.
But it's just like GPS, people forget how to use map and compass. GPS fails, oh crap where the **** am I(going)?

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Buzz February 17, 2012 at 6:19 am

OK now I have to ask "what are they not telling us". Every gee wiz peice of equipment I have ever seen has a lot of hidden problems to be fixed after fielding. Remember the IED jammers?

Rumor has it these things have a problem with harmonics interfering with other coms systems and frequencies.

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James February 17, 2012 at 7:19 am

Seems like a neat setup and I'm glad the military is starting to update their comm gear. I say this because the Amateur Radio (Ham) community has had a similar capability for years. When I was a volunteer with search and rescue we routinely connected our GPSes to our radios and were able to transmit our location to the command post where our tracks were recorded and displayed on a laptop. If your wondering about how rugged this set up is the majority of us were using radios and GPSes that were ruggedized to IPX7. My radio has been exposed to the damp and wet climate of the Pacific Northwest for 7 years now including a mission that involved 13 inches of rain in a 24 hr period and has yet to let me down. Also there I seem to remember taking to a guy who's mobile unit in his car had text capability. I haven't seen txt capability in a handheld so I'm glad to see the military is ahead of the commercial market again.

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Dan Gao February 17, 2012 at 7:39 am

Moe, with that logic, we shouldn't use computers at all. Yet our ships, aircraft, and base have been loaded with them for years.

It's simple, if the computers are knocked out, soldiers should be trained to fight the old fashioned way. But for the 95% when they're are available, there's no reason why we shouldn't use it to our advantage.

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moesizlack February 17, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Not every soldier pays attention to land nav…and depends solely on technology to makeup for ignorance…..a great example of today's technology driven military in action

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Dan Gao February 17, 2012 at 7:49 am

Don't be so dramatic. Technology gives us a huge advantage on the battlefield. Ask the Republican Guard how being technologically "independent" worked out for them.

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moesizlack February 17, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Being dramatic…I think not. Being realistic…yes. Technology is our Achilles heel…just ask those Iraqi soldiers who waited until the marvelous technology by-passed them and attacked those units who were depending on that technology while on the way to Baghdad….or those insurgents who all those lo-tech IEDs in Afgahanistan

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Ignorant civie February 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Yeah, the same insurgents who take massively large numbers of causualties in proportion to ours. If you want to go to war with wooden rifles and smoke signla communications be my guest. The fact that we have to deal with guys making homemade bombs instead of enemy fighters dropping bombs on us is a testament to how our tech gives us an advantage.

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Steve February 17, 2012 at 7:49 am

If the system works and cannot be hacked by the enemy, then this is a real step forward for command and control in unit manuvers. If this helps prevent fratricide on the battlefield then I am all for the advance in technology.

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Dan Gao February 17, 2012 at 7:50 am

I highly doubt these things will have crap like Facebook on them.

Think of it less as an Iphone and more like a little handheld FBCB2.

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Dan Gao February 17, 2012 at 7:52 am

Very true. We definately should use high tech gadgets to our advantage, so long as we are still able to fight effectively without them.

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Neal February 17, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Sooooo, when can I buy one? :D

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help 7219 February 17, 2012 at 3:50 pm

you go back to hand jesters bird sounds clickers

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joe February 18, 2012 at 10:05 am

FINALLY A RADIO THAT MAKES SENSE! WE ( US MIL) HAVE BEEN HUMPING WAAAAY TO MANY SEPERATE TYPES OF RADIOS THAT PLAIN JUST DONT WORK. THE CIVILIAN SIDE OF COMMUNICATIONS HAS FAR SURPASSED ANYTHING THE AVERAGE MARINE GRUNT/ PIG/HOG OR ARMY HUAH HAS HAD TO PUT UP WITH FOR THE LAST TEN PLUS YEARS THIS CONFLICT HAS BEEN RAGING!!!

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SGT D February 18, 2012 at 10:22 am

So seriously….you are looking at this wrong! From a commo stand point this is awesome no more 201 b's or oe's. its the first step to getting rid of all the los crap the army and its wisdom has clinched its old dying fist to. Finally we are moving to the 21st century technology granted we could do one better with it and have a heart moniter conected to it that would zero the device if seperated from its signed for owner.
Next, if you are in a fire fight you should not be far enough away from your buddies to where you could be in a positiion to be comprimised, second if you happened to be ambushed (just to add a situation where you might be far away) then the warrior ethos comes into play" i will never leave a fallen comrade." serious gentlemen and ladies soldier up and brush up on your ttps and basic soldiering skills.

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majrod February 18, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Travis – I think in ten years of war we have had very VERY few soldier or their equipment captured.

How does the enemy transmit our locations over his radio in the middle of a firefight? (he's kind of busy also)

Our troops also tend to be really sensitive about letting comrades fall into enemy hands. The likelihood that the enemy will capture a radio and be able to exploit the info quickly is pretty remote.

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D'veed Natan February 19, 2012 at 2:19 am

"hand jesters", like sock puppets? "bird sounds", the dumb s**t' bird? clikers, like an AK action makes?

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D'veed Natan February 19, 2012 at 2:23 am

There are 27 satelites in orbit. They cover the globe. It takes only 3 to set your position; normally there are 7 to recieve in most all areas (Mountains being a problem; but Iraq is flat) there is never just one!

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D'veed Natan February 19, 2012 at 2:29 am

And, YOU can track HIM. It's telling HIS position ALSO.

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Dan Gao February 19, 2012 at 7:18 am

About damn time! I hope they can put this thing into production stat. I can understand soem healthy skepticism for any new piece of gear, but some of you seem to be criticising it just for the sake of criticising. My only questions are: Will it be interoperable with vehicle FBCB2 systems? Will the radio have a headset? Does the device have a camera on it? Is this part of the revised Nett Warrior program or somethign different? And apart from the first those are just minor things.

And I agree with the guy early who posed about Land Warrior earlier. People heap too much scorn on Land Warrior, it has great concepts, but it was ahead of its time. Land Warrior was conceived when cell phones used black and white pixel displays and before flat screen PCs or smartphones. Now the technology has caught up with the dream, and with much less weight and bulk.

The only thing I would like to see them bring back for this new system from LW is some sort of head mounted display that can be flipped down to view info quickly while on the move. Or better yet, a transparent HUD so you could see data without even taking your eyes off what you are doing.

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Dan Gao February 19, 2012 at 7:23 am

If I understand correctly, isn't the JTRS Rifleman Radio planned to be given to all soldiers in a squad on an individual level? That could be a real game changer. Formations could spread out more and cover more ground, no one could be separated and lost, etc.

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Dan Gao February 19, 2012 at 7:57 am

Throwing out some ideas here:
We actually have a few bits and pieces of what was supposed to be used with Land Warrior in service now. For example, the Fusion ENVGs are working their way into the force, and I believe that a digital version is under development that can transmit images, video footage, and show text. Last year the Army ordered 13,000 wearable gunshot detectors, which was originally something that would be part of LW IIRC. There are tens of thousands of PAS-13 thermal sights in service or on order.

Maybe they can get some of these to work together as a system with the smartphone based computer as the "brain." If the gunshot detecter picks up a shot, it automatically displays the relevant data on the digital maps on nearby smartphones. Or, you can connect the PAS-13 or digital ENVGs with the device and send feed to a CO or other teammates.

Just brainstorming.

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Frank Zedar February 24, 2012 at 7:46 am

Sweet! As a platoon leader in Viet Nam in 1968, I would have preferred this to our 25 lb., analog, PRC-25's & 77's!

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Chaser March 5, 2012 at 7:40 am

Radio systems are very easy to track you don't have to be able to listen to them to track them. Encrypted radios sound like static but there louder than static its SOP for 2 specialized helicopters to listen for this hissing sound. As soon as one finds it they tell the other copter and by knowing how far apart they are a little trigonometry will tell them were the radios are broadcasting from. That's the real danger with radios is just about any competent electrical engineer can build a system that will track comm signals even sat phones can be tracked that way. These radios with there text and photo capability work in burst mode which makes them much more difficult to track. Also for the EMP comment I don't know how far down the line it goes but the major electronic military systems are radiation shielded which means and EMP wouldn't have any effect. I doubt these personal radios are shielded but they make the soldiers more effective and less likely to shoot each other. I do not believe for one second that technology is our Achilles heel but I do believe soldiers can get to dependent on it. They need to be well trained on how to work with it and how to work without it. If we ever go to war with a major power I have no doubt that the GPS satellites will be in danger so they need to know how to go without them.

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BDCooper April 6, 2012 at 6:05 pm

This radio has lots of problems with harmonics that can cause it to jam other radio systems. it also puts out a lot of electronic noise especially when in its mount.

The cell phones are a terrible idea and one of the reasons the israelis got their butts handed to them a few years ago in Lebennon. The 4 G features they want will jam the gps signals and what happens when one of these smart phones fall in the hands of the enemy?

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voodoo medic June 15, 2012 at 5:20 am

ya know, all the arguments here are good, whther its pros or cons. but heres a little thought of mine. pow-mia. if the locator is on, we know were to go to recover that troop. i think if the bad guys have this or not they are still gonna find you. they always have and weve always had to fight. but when that troop goes missing and hes got a locator, we can bring the pain and get that troop out of there. just sayin

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FosterBDAV66 October 9, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Microwave Systems Operator/Maintainer in the past. Considering the size of unit level comms gear this is definitely an improvement. Anyone who ever trained with those damned radios commonly used during the Vietnam era (I had that joy) knows how heavy the radios were and how heavy and dangerous the batteries were. We had one in basic catch on fire, what fun. That was in '83 at Fort Dix. In 93 when I got back in (I've served US Army Reserve and US Navy before that) we had SINCGARS. Still too damned heavy and bulky. This is a major improvement in every way. One major way is that there's no tale tail antenna to say, "shot me, I've got the comms gear!" which is as a bad as being a medic with the big red cross on a white field that makes people shoot at you (especially when they don't follow the rules of war).

With any comms gear in the field you are at some risk of being found by triangulation. The Chinese practice this tactic with a simple directional antenna and headphones. They do not hide this fact.

ComSec is difficult to compromise where crypto is involved. There are so many ways that the encryption can be done and if it is less than 256bit I would be surprised. Crypto today can be done by time sync with GPS, physical keys, and other methods I can imagine from my work with such gear. My question would be how often is it changed and what means used to determine if the specific set has been compromised.

Usually crypto changes are done in specific time periods. If you do not change it at the right time you are out of the loop. That gives some measure of protection. Other means of determining to cut of a specific radio are plenty. Some very simple, others so silly stupid complicated they are worthless. With voice recognition it would be easy to key each radio to its registered user. Changing that would be simple, too. Still, that leaves open just listening. So, that's my main concern. The rest is not worth noting if the 75th Ranger Btn approves of it. IMO.

Damn, I'm way out of the loop. This is new news to me: just saw it on Military.com email. LOL

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shooter May 22, 2014 at 12:51 pm

they should add flappy birds on it.. just in case

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