10th Mountain trains to deploy with smartphone-compatible radios

10th Mountain soldiers train on a suite of new mobile equipment that allows them to maintain their communications network on the move and in combat.

FORT POLK, La. — The U.S. Army is poised to send the first wave of soldiers to Afghanistan with a suite of new communications gear designed to boost mobile connectivity on the battlefield.

Some 1,600 soldiers with the 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, will be the first to use the set of smartphone-compatible radios, networking systems and software in the combat zone. The troops are receiving accelerated training with the technology at Fort Polk, Louisiana, in preparation of their upcoming deployment, said Paul Mehney, a spokesman for the service.

Military.com is traveling to the installation, located about 130 miles south of Shreveport, on March 24 to spend a day with the soldiers as they get acclimated to the new equipment, which includes products made by General Dynamics Corp. and Harris Corp.

“These guys are actually taking this stuff to go use it in Afghanistan,” Mehney said in an interview. “This is their last stop prior to deployment.”

The mission comes as the White House is pressing for a faster withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. President Barack Obama last month during his State of the Union address said the number of American troops in the country will be cut by half, to about 34,000, in a year. The war, he said, “will be over” by late 2014. The question of how many troops will remain there is still a matter of debate.

In response to the evolving mission and budget uncertainty, the Army has decreased the number of brigades set to receive the communications gear to four brigades and two division headquarters — down from eight brigades, Mehney said. The soldiers will be tasked with advising and assisting Afghan security forces rather than fighting insurgents, he said.

Sending troops to Afghanistan with the latest radios and networking equipment still makes sense because units will be losing access to fixed communications infrastructure, Mehney said.

“You’re not in a FOB anymore,” he said, referring to the military term for forward operating base, a protected position used to back combat operations. “It’s a completely different mission. It’s a lot more mobile.”

The military has struggled for more than a decade to provide mobile connectivity to troops in austere environments. One of its capstone programs to deliver such a service, called the Joint Tactical Radio System, known as JTRS and pronounced “jitters,” has been plagued with cost overruns, delays and malfunctioning prototypes.

The Defense Department in 2011 canceled the part of the system developing radios for tanks and trucks, known as Ground Mobile Radio and headed by Boeing Co. Last year, it downsized a similar effort for ships and other systems, known as Airborne and Maritime/Fixed Station and led by Lockheed Martin Corp., the world’s largest defense contractor.

However, the Pentagon last year also backed a piece of the system developing handheld and portable radios for troops, known as Handheld, Manpack and Small Form Fit and headed by General Dynamics. It authorized the Army to buy a total of more than 19,000 so-called Rifleman Radios from the company — about 10 percent of the program’s planned quantity — while holding a competition for the next phase of production.

Harris and Exelis Inc. are among the companies that plan to compete for the next round of production.

A separate Army program, called Nett Warrior, connects smartphones and tablets running Google Inc.’s Android software to the Rifleman Radio to transmit secure text messages and data.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.

    Well, I think versatility is key here. Just make an app that can be loaded onto a person’s iphone or Android. Then, have several satellites that will fire signals off to each phone. They can act as a sort of relay station. Though personally, I don’t know of any Otterbox or Life Proof case that can take a bullet.

    • top dog

      Well thats not very smart!….for obvious reasons…Ohhh!, let me give you a thumbs down for that one.

  • Prodozul

    I just don’t feel that smartphones have any place in the field no matter how simple they make communications :/

    • John Deere

      Don’t think of them as “smartphones”, think of them as “Killcomms”. There, feel better?

      • Alder

        Killing Taliban? Yep. There’s an APP for that.

  • bobs1951

    Although I think the troops need the best possible forms of communication, I also worry that we are becoming way too dependent on technology. Will these things really stand up to battlefield conditions or will they fail when needed most? Maybe I’m just old fashioned.

    • Musson

      I talked to a fellow over the weekend who was 95. He quit the US Army when they took away his horse and mechanised his unit. (Yep. He was genuine HORSE CAVALRY!)

      I guess he also felt that the service was too dependent on technology.

    • citanon

      All sorts of things have failed soldiers when they needed them the most:

      Jeeps, trucks, guns tanks, fire control radars, water canteens. Doesn’t mean the unit as a whole does not benefit from their deployment.

      Also, electronics does not equal unreliable. When a smart phone crashes, you can reboot it in about 30 seconds. Try doing that next time you LATV breaks down.

      On balance I think we’ll have to see if the new gizmos are worth their weight. This is essentially the FCS Network, except now I guess it actually works….

      • MAK

        This is NOT FCS, the radios are essentially wireless IP transport, but the traffic over the network is mostly VMF, not SOSCOE.

  • Lee

    The safest form of communication was the WWII Navaho Code Talkers. The enemy could tap the line , and still have nothing. If you want something done right, get the Marines to do it.

    • blight_

      That relies on the enemy not being creative and having a shortage of Navajo interpreters, along with Navajo language materials.

      I imagine Enigma would have been extremely effective if there no German speakers in the UK or the US.

    • top dog

      Yeah, but it wasn’t too safe for the code talkers.

  • Muttling

    Is it me or does it seem like 10th Mountain always get first dibs on the new gizmos.

    • Musson

      That is because the 10th Mountain is the most deployed unit in the army.

  • 2433FO

    Awesome!!! more “goochy” cool gear to carry and keep Soldiers attention on something besides the mission.

  • jack

    Hope this system work well and weights much less than current commo equipment.

  • Jimbo
  • TEB
  • TEB

    I’ve been using this stuff for a few months now and its garbage. The phone is alright, but like any smartphone, battery life sucks and when charged off your radio, sucks the life out of that too. The rifleman radio is complete garbage. You have to have a laptop to fill it, it has no screen and takes 3-5 MINUTES to change channels. You drop fill and you are screwed. You can’t just grab an SKL and refill it. You can’t do anything with it. And the lack of screen means you have to hit a button (or you accidentley hit the button) and listen to it tell you battery life and what preset. Loudly. It’s garbage. I’d rather just get a n MBITR that isn’t 10 years old. Not to mention we don’t need every joe in the platoon to have a radio…

  • TEB
  • Woody

    If the battery life can be extended for say a week of use, then it could be good. Figure out a small solar charger and you lighten a grunts load immnesly. All the troops could carry one but not all use it so you always have a few always charged when its needed or if the leaders runs out of charge….it could work…

  • top dog

    Whatever give the Soldiers an edge….

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