Ongoing Army network modernization efforts are offering soldiers and team leaders unprecedented communication and situational awareness capabilities.

As the Army works through its network modernization efforts, improvements are coming to the individual’s soldier kit.

These include a two-channel radio that allows soldiers on the ground to switch frequencies if one is being jammed by adversaries. Improvements also include what the Army calls the “end-user device,” an Android tablet mounted to a soldier’s chest, providing geolocation and mapping services.

Ultimately, the kit empowers the soldiers to take control of their environment, which is a critical attribute for future operations as the Army prepares troops to operate on sophisticated and evolving battlefields.

For platoon leaders, such a kit replaces the need for a radio telephone operator, someone at the side of the platoon commander who handles the radio communications.

“You can talk to your commander, and you can talk to your platoon at the same time,” Lt. Tim Inman, a platoon leader under 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, told C4ISRNET during a January battalion event at Camp Atterbury, Indiana.

Inman added that the biggest benefit may be the end-user device.

“What the [end-user device] really does is [it] gives you situational awareness. That’s really the benefit of it,” he said. “You can see your little icon on the display of where you’re at, where your platoon’s at, where your battalion is at. That makes it a whole lot easier.”

In addition, soldiers can use the device for land navigation, setting waypoints on the GPS much like the interface of a tablet or smartphone. This is an improvement over the multistep process of terrain analysis and grid plotting.

When the battalion used the kit during a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center in fall 2017, Inman said they moved 8 or 9 kilometers at a time without ever breaking out a map, which is a major departure from the norm.

Other soldiers told C4ISRNET that the battalion “destroyed” the opposing force at the center because a screen showed where their fellow soldiers were, and they were able to communicate on the fly with the device mounted on the chest.

Inman said that during his unit’s rotation he knew exactly when his platoon needed to push forward because he was watching his end-user device.

“As soon as they cleared one building and went to the next, I was like, ‘OK, go!’ and my other squads took off and it was all synchronized,” he said.

At the end of the rotation, with a limited kit and leveraging 4G LTE, “our ability to communicate, our ability to develop a plan, communicate the plan and then synchronize the plan was much, much faster in a decentralized operating space,” Maj. John Intile, executive officer for 1-508th, told C4ISRNET at Camp Atterbury.

“We were also during execution capable of dynamically re-tasking ourselves incredibly quickly because we could go from the point of identifying the problem to putting the problem up for decision or finding resolution and then communicating that decision or resolution to the entire force almost instantaneously,” he added.”

Intile said he would confidently deploy with the kit the way it is configured now, describing it as the most developed part of the integrated tactical network.

However, the ease the end-user device provides can be problematic in some cases. Inman said sometimes the deliberate planning process is skipped because the device makes certain activities more convenient.

Learn more about the Army’s progress improving current network offerings in our eBook “Understanding the Army’s Integrated Tactical Network.”

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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