As he maneuvered his squad across the desert, securing objectives in villages along the way, Staff Sgt. Jesus Vasquez tracked his squad’s movements not with a note pad or map, but with a U.S. Army-issued handheld device.
Flipping open the smartphone-like device worn on the front of his uniform, Vasquez tapped the screen to record what he saw — information that quickly traveled over the Army network to the rest of his platoon.
“We can plot anything from enemy positions to friendly positions to IEDs [improvised explosive devices],” Vasquez said. “It’s just like a phone — everybody these days has a smartphone, so it’s really easy to use.”
The Nett Warrior devices used by Soldiers like Vasquez during the Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) 12.2 held in May in White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, aim to empower lower-echelon Soldier-leaders with unprecedented communications and situational awareness. Connected to the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), Rifleman Radio and running the Army’s next-generation blue force tracking software, known as Joint Battle Command-Platform (JBC-P), Nett Warrior provides dismounted leaders with the kind of digital information that today is only available inside vehicles or command posts.
The Android-based devices can connect to the U.S. Army’s larger tactical communications network through both the JTRS radio waveforms and the Blue Force Tracking 2 satellite network, leveraging a “gateway” in vehicles equipped with JBC-P. The Nett Warrior system aims to eliminate the time delay and human error associated with radio communications, instead giving Soldiers networked handheld devices to exchange messages and digitally track one another’s locations.
“If you’re on a radio, you have to listen, you have to write, you have to confirm — there’s a time delay process,” said Mark Frye, a retired first sergeant who is now Nett Warrior team lead at NIE. “If it is a published message on a handheld, we know how fast kids can text messages back and forth. It’s the same concept, but you’re doing it from Soldier to Soldier.”
Along with the ability to track and plot friendly forces, enemies and obstacles, the JBC-P software for Nett Warrior handhelds also provides Soldiers with various “apps” for everything from an address book to route planning to dropping a “chem light” icon on a cleared building. The chem light application evolved from units’ use of the real thing to designate areas as safe or dangerous, Frye said.
The handhelds also allow Soldiers to take photos using an app for Tactical Ground Reporting, known as TIGR, which creates a historical database of people, places and events on the battlefield. Once sent through the network, the photos are available in the TIGR database to the rest of the brigade.