Handheld fires 'app' lightens the load for forward observers
December 20, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (January 10, 2013) -- The Army's next generation of "call for fires" technology will combine a lightweight handheld device with a powerful fires application, making the forward observer an even greater asset to ensure the right weapon strikes the right target at the right time.
The forward observer's mission is to spot the target, obtain an accurate target location or grid coordinates, and then send that information up the chain for fire support -- requiring a fire support capability that is both lightweight and high-tech.
"We are excited to develop the next generation call for fires capability, which provides a fire support web application hosted on a mobile handheld device," said Col. Jonas Vogelhut, Project Manager for Mission Command (PM MC). "This capability will allow the Soldier moving forward on the battlefield to carry just one, streamlined product for fires support."
The Mobile Handheld Fires Application (MHFA) developed by PM MC will reside on the Nett Warrior End User Device. Nett Warrior, developed by Project Manager Soldier Warrior (PM SWAR), is a smartphone-like device used by dismounted leaders to transmit information such as text messages, photos and Global Positioning System (GPS) locations, as well as to access various mission applications.
The Army plans to field this enhanced fires capability in Fiscal Year (FY) 16.
The current standard forward observer tool, the Pocket-sized Forward Entry Device (PFED), recently received the Army's Full Materiel Release (FMR) designation, which authorizes the use of PFED for all units across the force. This FMR supersedes PFED's Urgent Materiel Release, which the Army granted in 2002 to support Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
PFED, with its integrated military GPS capability, utilizes both a laser range finder and a precision fire imagery application to generate a grid coordinate that moves up the fire chain to the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System (AFATDS). AFATDS is the Army's comprehensive fires planning system that acts as the central hub for the commander's fire support tactical decision making.
"With more calls for fires occurring in heavily populated areas than ever before, PFED's precision fire capabilities have been crucial to increasing civilian safety," said Lt. Col. Larry Glidewell, Product Director for Fire Support Command and Control (FSC2). "Now that PFED has been approved for use across the entire Army, more Soldiers will have access to a mobile forward observer capability as a precursor to the MHFA."
Forward observers equipped with the MHFA will gain "sensor-to-shooter" capability, meaning they will receive real-time geospatial intelligence on their intended target. They will also receive unclassified imagery compatible with the Nett Warrior device and the ability to process a digital call for fire.
A prototype of of the MHFA, developed by the U. S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC), has participated in multiple exercises, including live fires at the Army Maneuver Center of Excellence (AMCE), Fort Benning, Ga., the Combined Endeavor integration exercise for coalition forces in Grafenwoehr, Germany, and at the recent Network Integration Evaluation (NIE 14.1) at Ft. Bliss, Texas. The MHFA is scheduled to participate at next May's NIE 14.2 to determine its operational suitability and to support entry into formal developmental and operational testing.
Sgt. 1st Class Justin Rotti, assigned to Fire Support Specialist (13F) Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Capabilities Manager (TCM) Fires Cell, Fort Sill, Okla., is working with software developers to shape requirements for the MHFA effort.
"Soldiers wearing the Nett Warrior device are visible to one another, making it easier to identify friendly troops," said Rotti, who also has 10 years of experience as a forward observer. "Now with the MHFA, we will have a greater ability to capture an enhanced picture of the battlefield."
In addition to the reduced weight load and increased fire support capabilities, testers appreciate MHFA's ease of use because all are familiar with web technology.
"Since the device is basically an Android smartphone loaded with web applications, the training burden is greatly reduced," Rotti said. "Smartphone technology is extremely intuitive to my generation and younger."
Both PM MC and PM SWAR provide technologies that enhance overall maneuver operations. PM MC, assigned to the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), provides applications and infrastructure capabilities to help commanders collaborate, decide and lead on the battlefield. PM SWAR builds integrated Soldier systems designed to increase Soldier situational awareness while decreasing their combat load, and is assigned to Program Executive Office Soldier (PEO Soldier). In addition, PEO C3T's Project Manager Tactical Radios (PM TR) is also enabling tactical communications for handheld applications, including MHFA, by providing the radios that connect handheld devices to the tactical network.
"By forging partnerships, we bring together the 'best of class' in device and application capabilities to produce both synergy and cost savings for this entire development effort," Vogelhut said.
The ability to integrate capabilities across programs is one of the primary advantages of the Army's new Common Operating Environment (COE). The COE establishes a commercially-based set of standards to enable rapid, secure and interoperable application development and execution across several Computer Environments, or CEs, including the Command Post Computing Environment for PM MC and the Mobile Handheld Computing Environment for PM SWAR.
"Simplifying systems within the COE is the driving force of where we are going," Vogelhut said. "The COE allows us to seamlessly share information between environments, and the integrated fires app is just one exciting example of how the Army is closing the gap between commercial and military computing technologies."