Procurement: Combat Ready PCs

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June 17, 2006: The U.S. Army is buying $400 million worth of ruggedized PCs, mainly for use in vehicles, to run it's Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below (FBCB2) system. One part of this system, Blue Force Tracker (BFT), was used during the 2003 Iraq invasion. The Big success with BFT made a big impression. BFT, using satellite communications, told army commanders where all BFT equipped army vehicles, aircraft and units are at all times. BFT was largely run off laptops in 2003. Now the army wants to incorporate a lot of other FBCB2 functions (database, planning and other managerial type stuff), and it wants the users to have more reliable computers.

The ruggedized PCs look like a compact desktop system, using a 12.1 inch (800x600) flat, touch screen, display, and a green paint job. But these PCs are built to take rough treatment. The 18 pound processor unit is shock protected, like many laptops. The 7.3 pound display and 2.2 pound keyboard can also handle greater extremes of temperature (below freezing, and over 100 degrees Fahrenheit). They can handle dirt and sand, which are a major problem for PCs in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. The USB keyboard can be unplugged, and a new one plugged in, without having to turn off the PC. These FBCB2 machines are slower (about 1 GHz CPUs) than the most current commercial ones, and have less RAM (half a gigabyte) and less hard drive storage (they use ten gigabyte removable hard drives). They also cost more than five times as much as comparable off-the-shelf PCs. But these rugged computers are ready to be quickly mounted on dozens of different military vehicles, and run off vehicle power systems. Over the next few years, most U.S. Army combat vehicles, and many non-combat ones, will feature one of these PCs.

 


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