October 27, 2010

US Army Tech Would Bring Video To Troop Cellphones

The US Army is currently working on technology to have surveillance video images from unmanned planes streamed to soldier's cellphones within two years, a senior official with the Army announced on Tuesday.

The Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) remains the main means for propagating video images to the battlefield, a program that is still in development and is expected to be fielded in 2014, Tim Owings, deputy program manager for Army unmanned aerial systems, told Reuters.

However, technology development and rapid advances in encryption software mean smaller-scale 4G networks could also be an option for allowing troops to see video images in as little as two years, Owings told reporters at the annual Association of the U.S. Army conference.

Several companies, including Raytheon Co, Textron Inc and Sierra Nevada Corp, are working on secure 4G networks that would enable video streaming to smart phones, he said.

Many defense companies are trying to develop less-expensive weapons that will help the Pentagon save money and become more efficient.

"We're probably going to look at that. We'd be somewhat short-sighted not to," Owings said about streaming to smart phones, although he noted that the Army does not have a formal requirement for such a system.

New encryption advances also mean that such systems would allow very secure transmission of data in a very limited area, and they would be fairly inexpensive since they could be used with commercially available smartphones, said Owings.

Smaller networks could complement the larger system needed to provide communications to the entire battlefield. Testing of such systems and networks could be planned for late 2011, said Owings.

Normally, Army equipment requires extensive training for troops, but most recruits now are already familiar with smartphones, which could help reduce the high cost of training, he added.

Fred Strader, CEO of Textron Systems, a division of Textron Inc, told Reuters that such inexpensive solutions are important to the growing pressure of budgeting within the US defense and the Pentagon.

Lockheed Martin Corp executive Mark Norris, who heads the airborne, maritime and fixed (AMF) department of the software-based JTRS, said such smaller networks would likely not adversely affect the larger system.

Lockheed said on Monday that it had started integrating the new software-based radio with the AH-64D Longbow Apache helicopter, as the company prepares to deliver the first prototype to the U.S. military in January.


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