Artillery: FOs Get a Very Special Laptop


May 2, 2006: Yet another system developed by SOCOM (Special Operations Command) is being adopted by the U.S. Army (and the other services as well, it seems.) This is PSS (Precision Strike Suite). It's basically a system of GPS and laser range finders developed by SOCOM to speed up getting smart bombs on the target. PSS has an artillery forward observer (FO) equipped with a laptop computer and a laser range finder linked to a military radio. The FO tells the system to get his GPS location. Then, the laser range finder is used to get the GPS location of the target. On the screen comes a 3-D image (taken from Department of Defense satellite photos and map data) showing the FO and the target. If it looks right to the FO, hit a few more keys and the distant artillery units fire a missile (GPS guided GPS rocket) or guided shell (Excalibur) at the target. The entire process takes a few minutes, and is critical for targets that are "time sensitive" (you have to hit them now, because pretty soon it will be too late).

SOCOM has a large budget for developing new gear, and a culture that encourages the troops (who tend to be bright and entrepreneurial) to just do it. The other services have learned to keep an eye on what new stuff SOCOM is developing, because this gear tends to be effective, and ready a lot sooner than the normal military development process (which can take years for the simplest stuff, and over a decade for anything else.) The PSS was first cobbled together in time for the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, for calling in air strikes. Since then, the system has been refined, and a special, ruggedized laptop (like those sold for use at construction sites or out doors) adapted for it. The PSS is now part of the effort to equip all troops with gear that can call in fire from al weapons within range.


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