FORT BELVOIR, Va. (Army News Service) -- The Army has awarded a $339-million contract for a new handheld device that puts the power of precision bombs, missiles and artillery in the hands of dismounted infantry Soldiers.

Project Executive Office Soldier, or PEO-Soldier, based at Fort Belvoir, announced Wednesday that the Army has awarded the contract to DRS Network and Imaging Systems, of Melbourne, Florida, to manufacture the Joint Effects Targeting System.

The JETS system provides precision target locations and can use a laser to mark or designate a target for precision munitions, said Maj. Rob Heatherly, the assistant product manager for JETS for Product Manager Soldier Precision Targeting Devices, which is part of PEO Soldier.

The Army currently has a system called the Lightweight Laser Designator Rangefinder, or LLDR, which can perform these functions, but it is larger and heavier than the JETS. It weighs approximately 35 pounds and is considered a crew-served system, though it is operated by a single Soldier.

The JETS target locater module weighs less than 5.5 pounds, while the entire system weighs less than half of the LLDR. While the systems are similar, the LLDR has longer range and is considered ideal for static overwatch positions.

"The JETS will be in the hands of that forward observer with the maneuver element and closer to the fight," Heatherly said. "They don't need the great range as much as they need precision targeting and quick response."

While light weight and smaller size are important, the JETS provides significant other capabilities to Soldiers, Heatherly said. The JETS' precision targeting expedites the sometimes time-consuming "mensuration" data check procedure.

"Mensuration is a system of targeting checks and balances to make sure the targeting is accurate," Heatherly said, noting that the high level of accuracy achieved by the JETS allows for faster response to requests for artillery or other support. "It will give such an accurate location, that it can cut a lot of that out of the loop. If your unit is under duress and needs to use a precision munition, it can go ahead."

Several features allow the JETS to provide this precision targeting under all weather conditions. Its thermal imager allows its user to see targets day or night, through fog, haze, dust or smoke. The locator contains a military GPS, which is enhanced to precision targeting levels by a built-in celestial compass that takes readings from the sun during the day and stars during the night.

If the skies are too overcast, or the Soldier is operating inside a building or under a dense rainforest canopy, the JETS has a module called the Precision Azimuth and Vertical Angle Module, or PAVAM, to maintain precision targeting capability. The PAVAM uses the spin of the earth to help the JETS provide accurate targeting information.

An additional feature that will make the JETS useful to forward observers is its modular design. "The forward observer can plan his mission," Heatherly said. "If the weather is going to be good, or you don't need laser designation or marking, you can just take the targeting module which weighs less than 5.5 pounds."

Another advantage of the JETS is its color camera day camera which makes identifying targets much easier.

Several features are designed to reduce the chance of error during calls for fire. The C-Spot shows exactly what the laser is striking when the JETS user is trying to mark or designate a target.

"Sometimes a laser may strike a branch or some small item between the observer and the target," Heatherly said. "When you use the JETS, the C-Spot shows you a picture within the viewfinder of exactly what the laser is striking, so you know if it is actually hitting what you are aiming at." This leads to fewer errors.

The JETS is also designed to use the Portable Forward Entry Device, or PFED, which forwards target data directly to fire support units and limits the opportunity for errors in data entry or transmission via voice radio.

When fielding begins, the first JETS should go to Special Operations Command units and global response units in late FY 2018. After that they will go to brigade combat teams. Each infantry company will eventually receive four JETS (one per maneuver platoon and one for the fire support team).