Information Warfare: August 14, 2003

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While the FBCB2 "Blue Force Tracker" computer systems were a great success in Iraq, they could only be used in a headquarters or in a vehicle. The light infantry units (82nd and 101st Airborne divisions, 173rd Airborne brigade and Special Forces) had many of their troops on foot most of the time. These people could not carry an FBCB2 (which was a laptop computer, a large antenna and access to regular power). Even before the Iraq campaign, development work was done on modifying commercial equipment for use by light infantry to perform some of the FBCB2 functions. What they came up with was an iPaq 3970 Pocket PC with Wi-Fi networking, 256 megabytes of memory and voice (telephone) capability. Attached to the iPaq were GPS and modem as well as a camcorder battery (that lasted 12 hours). The entire unit weighs 2.5 pounds and was renamed the Commanders Digital Assistant. The CDA functions like FBCB2, but only locally (within the network of CDAs that are within Wi-Fi range, about 300 meters, of each other.) But because each CDA has GPS, the effect is the same as FBCB2. Senior commanders had Panasonic Toughbook CF-34 laptops. These 3.8 pound units are waterproof and built for use in harsh environments. They have the same commo capabilities as the CDAs, but an 8.4 inch screen, a 4.3 gigabyte hard drive and CD drive. Some paratroopers took CDAs with them when sent to Kuwait, trained with them for six weeks and then took them into combat in Iraq. The troops didn't have to use the equipment in combat, as they were just testing it when they shipped out But using it a lot showed that it made a difference in the field. The army plans to use more powerful handheld computers to create a CDA that has nearly all of the FBCB2 capabilities. Special Forces are interested in this as well, as they often travel light. While the Special Forces also take light vehicles with them on many missions, and thus could carry a laptop based FBCB2 unit, there are times when they need something even lighter. 

 


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