June 8, 2012: The U.S. Marine Corps has successfully tested new, lightweight laser rangefinders and designators (to "illuminate" a target for a laser guided missile), as well as a hand-held radio that operates like a smart phone to display aircraft overhead with smart bombs and missiles, as well as one or more targets the user has identified and designated with GPS coordinates. While all this tech is not ready for the rigors of battlefield use, it does demonstrate that the hardware and software are available to make the job of an air controller (who calls in air strikes) easier. This means faster response time, fewer errors, and less time needed to train the controllers.
The marines are also testing the air controller software on tablet computers. There are a wide variety of Android smart phones and tablets to choose from and the military prefers some of the larger smart phones (or smaller tablets) for combat use.
The marines are also experimenting with tablets, strapped to the pilot's leg, as an easier way to communicate with the air controller on the ground during these operations. The pilots prefer tablets and smart phones as well and cockpits are just starting to get a lot of this touch screen technology. The air controllers and pilots would both prefer to do most of their communicating digitally because that means less risk of hearing something incorrectly (because of combat noise) or inputting something incorrectly. Moreover, digital communication, via touch screen devices, would also be faster. In combat speed is a major asset.
The marines will continue the field testing over the next few months, while hardware manufacturers ready new touchscreen devices that are rugged enough for combat.