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An app for artillery: Handheld program set to be fielded in 2016

Nov. 2, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
An app that would allow forward observers to call for artillery on a target could replace the Pocket-sized Forward Entry Device, above.
An app that would allow forward observers to call for artillery on a target could replace the Pocket-sized Forward Entry Device, above. (Army)
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The Army is developing one of its first apps for its mobile hand-held device, the Nett Warrior, forging a potential model for how the service will purchase and field specialized mobile applications. The app would let forward observers call for artillery on a target.

The software would replace a purpose-built tablet computer that connects to a Rifleman radio, the Pocket-sized Forward Entry Device, said Col. Jonas Vogelhut, the project manager for Mission Command. His program office covers logistics and fire support command and control.

The nascent app, which will serve as the next generation of the capability, is expected to be fielded in 2016, he said.

A separate acquisition office, Program Manager Soldier Warrior, is procuring the mobile device, made by Samsung, under the Nett Warrior program. That device is being fielded on a limited basis and is in operational testing.

Nett Warrior comes with its own computing environment, one of six in the Army.

“I think you’ll find more communities that will embrace the idea of letting Soldier Warrior develop the hardware, and let the experts develop the application on the top,” Vogelhut said. “I would do it for our expertise — fires and logistics — and the medical community would do it for a medical app. The engineer or geospatial community could do it on the map side.”

This is not the only app the Army is developing. For example, in August, Army Research, Development and Engineering Command hosted soldiers using Nett Warrior to test a variety of apps for infantrymen. The apps let soldiers share targets within their squad, disseminate relevant position-location information or control the flight path of a small unmanned aerial vehicle.

Vogelhut’s program office is awaiting a materiel development decision for the fires application from the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology. A related product is being demonstrated in the science and technology development phase, and it is expected to be transferred eventually to PM Mission Command as a program of record for formal testing.

The app will have to access imagery quickly and use it to call for precision munitions, an improvement over the PFED, generally used for an area call for fires. The app could also include a safeguard against firing on friendly positions or assets, Vogelhut said.

The app would not send the artillery directly, and calls for fire would be routed through a command post as is traditionally done.

One of the unanswered questions is how the app would be secured to prevent an adversary from using it to call for fires. Vogelhut said the software could be password-protected, and developers would have to balance security with the ability to call for fires quickly.

It’s also unclear whether the app would be fielded through an Army app store, similar to the commercial model, how updates would be disseminated and how the pricing model would work.

“We’re flexible to whatever the Army decides corporately,” Vogelhut said. “I won’t expect the transmission systems will allow a soldier on a handheld to pull from the first floor of the Pentagon, so we’ll need to have some staging forward.”

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