The war in Iraq is getting the issue of personal radios for infantrymen the kind of attention theyve never had before. The United States is shipping several new systems to Iraq and Afghanistan, to let the troops decide which works best. Without a war going on, personal radios for the infantry would have low priority, mainly because most senior generals have not been infantry platoon leaders for over twenty years, and have lost touch with just how important personal radios are.
Commandoes have used personal radios for several decades, but this sort of gear was considered too expensive and complex for regular infantry. That attitude has slowly changed, mainly because so many nations have volunteer troops who are much better trained than the conscripts that had been so common as infantry for the past century. The British, American and Canadian infantry have received thousands of these radios in the past few years. Current technology provides a 3-4 pound radio, costing under a thousand dollars, that has a max range of 500 meters in the open, or three floors inside a building. But thats the major limitation; short range inside buildings. The current solution for that is to enable the radios to automatically network with each other. Sort of like wi-fi systems do with PCs. At the same time, the next generation of personal infantry radios will introduce frequency hopping, a technique that constantly changes the frequency. The user doesnt notice this, but the constant frequency change makes it very difficult for the enemy to jam these radios, or eavesdrop on them. These next generation radios enable most troops fighting in a built up area to stay in touch with each other via their radios. But theres a cost. The new radios weigh twice as much as the current ones, and cost several times as much. But the various models being tested by the troops may reveal one that is so useful that the users wont mind the extra weight.