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Wireless Systems Lighten Warfighter Load

February 4, 2011
By Beverly Schaeffer

An "Army of One" may have been the Army's motto at one time, but now, new wireless technology under development could enable individual soldiers to carry a tactical operations center compactly on their backs. It will be muddy boots connectivity in motion, linking battlefield warriors and squad leaders alike. The Soldier Planning Interfaces and Networked Electronics (SPINE)  objective is one Army effort to continually modernize C4ISR. Improved situational awareness (SA) with less bulk will give the dismounted warfighter increased mobility, reducing by 30 percent the weight of  the electronics system,  while upping power availability by 50 percent for a 24-hour period In this month's issue of  SIGNAL Magazine, George I. Seffers discusses the Army's efforts to strengthen the  backbone of its SA in his article, "Army Develops One-Man Tactical Operations Center." SPINE Technical Lead Stephen Kim says the system will use a wireless personal area network for soldiers, platoon and squad leaders. Its antijam, high-bandwidth, frequency-agile waveform will enable SPINE to work in the most challenging combat situations, with a low possibility of detection or interception, according to Kim:

SPINE is what we like to call the magic backpack.

SPINE is a team player, designed for integration into current and future radio technologies such as the Enhanced Position Location Reporting System, Soldier Radio Waveform and Joint Tactical Radio System. SPINE, to be certified by the National Security Agency, will include manned/unmanned interoperability features to provide lower-level soldiers with data from unmanned aircraft or unmanned ground vehicles-all without cumbersome tethers. James Megliola, a strategic outreach representative at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, under the Army's Research, Development and Engineering Command, says the cables now connecting the helmet, body-worn components and rifle components are targeted for elimination in the final product:

Wires are awful. Nobody wants to deal with that, especially a guy who jumps out of a helicopter, or airplane or armored vehicle. We want as few wires as possible. SPINE is a tactical operations center that you wear on your back. We call it SPINE for a reason.

Neat features include a helmet with a head-up computer display, night vision, thermal sensors and enhanced hearing technologies, reducing the number of devices a soldier must carry. To improve soldier lethality, Natick is developing a mouse built into the rifle's forward handle. Integrating the mouse into the weapon allows a soldier to control data without putting down the weapon. A conformal rechargeable battery will push useable time to 72 hours. SPINE may be integrated into Nett Warrior, which uses and improves on components of Land Warrior. SPINE and other increment 2 technologies could be fielded by 2013, according to Kim, and likely will be fielded over  a three- to four-year time frame. Soldiers may also benefit from the Soldier Power Regeneration Kit (SPaRK), a combat-boot-mounted power generator prototype that produces electricity as the soldier moves. One version is just under three pounds, with the goal of reducing it to one pound. SPaRK is not part of the SPINE program and not officially part of the overall Army modernization effort, but the plan is to develop the technology to where it could be integrated soon into an advanced technology objective, according to SPaRK Project Engineer Greg Kanagaki, who says the system can generate between 2.5 watts and 9.2 watts per leg, depending on the operating mode:

SPaRK power output depends on operating mode, speed and user weight. It has two operating modes: regular gait and standing knee bends. [It] is designed to be worn on each leg, and power generated increases with increasing user speed and weight.

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