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Army seeks Nett Warrior Handheld Device 

Want secure battlefield connectivity?  There’s an Army app for that… and soon. 

Whether it’s because funding coffers are empty, because traditional military-driven solutions are too costly/faulty/heavy, or just because today’s I-Phone-totting soldiers have made any other path untenable, the Army’s long-suffering, schedule-slipping, budget-busting effort to equip its dismounted troops with a ready link to the battlefield network have finally seen the light.   

The Army last month announced that its Nett Warrior (NW) system will not be the long-envisioned, vest-mounted IT/comms/nav ensemble, but rather (simply) a low-cost, commercially-derived Android smartphone- or tablet-based device coupled with the JTRS Rifleman Radio.  The new systems are to operate not on commercial networks (for now), but rather on secure military tactical radio networks. 

To this end, the Army Program Executive Office Soldier (PEO Soldier) recently tapped industry for its best ideas for a Nett Warrior Handheld End User Device (NW-HEUD) via a Request for Information (RFI). While the NW-HEUD requirements are still in pencil, the Army seeks to procure some 23,000 units of a small (one pound) device for less than $1,500 each. 

Coupled with the Rifleman radio, the total system weight is expected to be less than three pounds – at least ten pounds and tens of thousands of dollars -- less than was anticipated previously. 
 

The exact HEUD wants and needs are under fast and furious consideration by Army leadership, but Service officials have been clear that it is soldier input that will ultimately define the HEUD requirement.  Indeed, soldiers are currently operating and evaluating multiple HEUD prototypes in the context of the Service’s ongoing Network Integration Evaluation (NIE 12.1) at White Sands Missile Range.  These NIE findings, and Army review and assessment of what is said to be a “robust industry response to the RFI” will form the basis for the formal NW HEUD solicitation expected in early 2012. 


Industry Interest 

While the prospect of selling thousands – and perhaps ultimately tens of thousands – of smartphones to the Army has widened the eyes of a host of non-traditional (i.e., commercial) suppliers, the smart money for NW-HUED may still be on the “usual suspects” – those U.S. companies with strong customer bona-fides.   DSJ had an opportunity to speak with a number of those who responded to the Army’s RFI and who expect to show strong when the competition is launched early next year. 

DRS Tactical Systems

DRS Tactical Systems is at the presumptive head of the class for the NW-HEUD competition. Bill Guyan, DRS Tactical Systems’ VP Programs & Strategy, tells DSJ that the company is proud to have bested some twenty competitors for one of two contracts under the Joint Battle Command – Platform (JBC-P) handheld program (the other went to GD C4 Systems) and that DRS Tactical Systems is poised to leverage this success – and considerable DRS internal investment to date -- in the HEUD competition.   

Mr. Guyan notes that forty of DRS’s JBC-P handheld devices are among more than 200 different DRS systems currently being tested and evaluated in the context of the Army’s Network Integration Exercise (NIE 12.1) at White Sands Missile Range.   

DRS notes that its JBC-P handheld – the company isn’t ready to release its name, rank or serial number – will be the company’s offering for the HEUD program, assuming it fits the bill.  The ruggedized handheld, which Mr. Guyan characterizes as being at TRL 7, features a dual core processor, battery life of greater than eight hours, and a cost of less than $2,000.   

Mr. Guyan knows that the Nett Warrior program is watching closely the NIE events and will draw significant conclusions relative to its HEUD plans based on how it sees the JBC-P handhelds perform.  While not pre-supposing the outcome of the NIE, Mr. Guyan questions why the Army wouldn’t seek to “piggyback” or “collapse their requirements around a single system.  As to the company’s position for the HEUD, he offers: “We believe that our solution meets the requirement, offers a high TRL, and is a good value for money.” 

General Dynamics C4 Systems

General Dynamics C4 Systems’ GD300, right, is an essentially COTS handheld tapped by the Army in early 2010 for user evaluation under the Joint Battle Command – Platform (JBC-P) program.   Based on this fact, and its already-demonstrated coupling with the Rifleman’s Radio, GD C4 Systems’ offering is viewed by many observers as the system to beat for the HEUD contract. 

Mark Showah, Director of Integrated Systems for the company, notes that GD has provided some 40 GD300 systems under the JBC-P program and these handhelds are currently under evaluation in the Army’s Network Interoperability Experiment (NIE).   

This fact, Showah suggests, positions the company well for the future: “Today the GD300 is a TRL 9 device that has been recently fielded in theater.  It is designed for a tactical environment; it is able to run the army’s battle command software and it” is connecting soldiers to the tactical network.” 

Showah notes that his company responded to the HEUD RFI and certainly expects to respond to the formal solicitation when it is eventually released.  He cautions however, that the GD300 “was designed a while ago” and it may or may not be our solution, it really depends on the customer’s final requirements.” 

Nor is the company’s GD400 its ticket, as Showah notes that this is “a commercial device.”
 

While the company cites competitive concerns in keeping its HEUD offering – not even divulging its name -- close to the vest, Showah says that General Dynamics has the capacity to provide everything that the Army is looking for in the HEUD.  Further, he suggests that experience in the Army’s Land Warrior and Nett Warrior developments positions it well to understand and address the Service’s needs. 

As to the notional capabilities of the company’s HEUD offering, Showah notes that these will depend on the requirement that emerges.  GD300 features including its ability to be used by gloved soldiers and its ruggedization against temperature, shock, humidity will find their way to the HEUD.  He also suggests, however, that, unlike the GD300, explicitly designed to protect against 3G-4G hacking, the HEUD offering may offer secure WiFi access, again, it depends on the customer’s requirements.   

ITT

With a splashy debut at the recent Association of the U.S. Army’s annual symposium and exhibition, ITT has made it known that the company throw its hat in the ring for the HEUD competition with its new Ghostrider “crypto” or secure smart phone overlay. 

According to ITT’s Richard Takahashi, Ghostrider -- capable of providing NSA-certified secure battlefield radio communications via any most any COTS smart phone it might be coupled with – is the result of years of internal investment by ITT.   

The Ghostrider handheld emerged thirteen months ago.  In February 2011, ITT provided proof-of-concept models to the Army's Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) for a series of test-fix-test ad-hoc evaluations.  Ghostrider was also evaluated at Fort Gordon via the Advanced Wireless Networking – Tactical (AWN-T) system and on a variety of commercial WiFi networks. 

To date, close to 100 units of the handheld and a tablet program have been produced. 
 Mr. Takahashi notes that the Ghostrider is now at TRL 7 and ITT plans to have a production-ready iteration by March-April 2012.  He adds that ITT has several products in the ongoing NIE (Rifleman radio, Sidehat, Nomad) and anticipates having Ghostrider in the NIE12.2 May 2012 event. 

As for ITT’s NW HEUD offering, Mr. Takahashi says that the Ghostrider’s size and form factor may vary based on the platform it adopts.  At present, Ghostrider “rides” on the Dell VENUE -- which weighs but six ounces.  He anticipates that ITT will be able to meet the Army’s $1500 target bogey for HEUD and he sees considerable market for variants of the system – including federal Government users such as the FBI, Homeland Security Department, Secret Service, etc. -- beyond the Army’s need. 

VT Miltope

Another company expected to make a strong play for the Net Warrior Handheld End User Device (HEUD) is VT Miltope.  

Danny Mayfield, a business development director at VT Miltope who headed the company’s response to the Army’s HEUD RFI, tells DSJ that the company’s HEUD offering – a prototype that the company internally calls “Predator” -- should not be confused with the in-production RPDA-1. 

While the new handheld leverages the RPDA’s heritage, as to the performance, “it’s not even close.”
 Mayfield notes that the 1.1 lb. Predator prototype, now at TRL 7, should be ready for production in the March 2012 timeframe as required by the Army.  He says that the system leverages the company’s experience in fielding some 60,000 ruggedized systems to the Department of Defense (DoD) and will force the Army to change its view of what is possible with the new handheld. 

Says Mayfield: “we fully anticipate that our offering will meet the HEUD requirement and more. In fact, we believe it will 'raise the bar' for the Army in terms of modularity, mission flexibility and open architecture.”