Marines test handheld computers for battle

CAMP PENDLETON Calif. - The Marine Corps put some leading-edge technology through its paces during the last two weeks as part of a high-profile battle exercise conducted in the desert of Southern California.

As part of the Advanced Warfighter Experiment "Hunter Warrior " the Marines deployed a number of leading-edge or prototype products including handheld computers and advanced 3-D visualization planning tools. The Global Positioning System which provides satellite-generated positioning information played a major role in these and other applications.

The Marines conducted Hunter Warrior as a way to measure the potential impact of information technology in the battlefield with advanced technology playing a role in nearly every aspect of the operation. The exercise was staged at the Twentynine Palms Marine base in California on the edge of the Mohave Desert with command and control functions managed 150 miles away at Camp Pendleton and on the USS Coronado offshore (see story Page 25).

Notable Newton.

Apple Computer Inc.'s Newton Personal Digital Assistant was a linchpin in the battlefield with three units carried by every eight-man Marine squad in the field. The Newton used in conjunction with an Ericsson handheld computer enabled the Marines to transmit GPS-based positioning information and other reports directly into the Joint Maritime Command Information System (JMCIS) the Navy and Marines' command and control system..

The Marines carried the Newton in a pack worn on the front of their belts. The handheld computer comes with a suite of applications around a pen-driven graphical user interface that enables the Marines to generate or transmit information very quickly..

For example to provide positioning information on enemy troops a Marine simply selects the appropriate menu item to pull up a blank screen touches a point on the screen to establish his squad's own location and another point to show the enemy's location relative to the Marines. Under fire Marines can do the equivalent of a 911 call by selecting an exclamation point-shaped icon. In less-pressing situations Marines can request specific fire support by clicking on tank aircraft or other appropriate icons. These and other Newton applications automatically provide positioning information about the user..

Virtually Strategic.

Back at the Experimental Combat Operations Center at Camp Pendleton the Marines experimented with the Virtual Reality Responsive Workbench a 3-D interactive system for battle planning. Developed by the Naval Research Laboratory the workbench allows Marine commanders wearing stereoscopic glasses to get a bird's-eye view of a computer-generated battlefield while running simulated battle exercises..

In addition to battlefield terrain the workbench can include information from JMCIS including GPS positioning information satellite imagery computer-generated weather conditions and the physical presence of information sources such as sensors radar and radio communications that might affect action on the battlefield..

The workbench is expected to play a role in the next Advanced Warfighter Experiment Urban Warrior the Marines said..

Marine officials emphasized that the exercise was not designed to test specific products but to test various concepts of operations such as information to the warfighter. But in the process the Marines did experiment with a number of products that could play a role in future operations sources said..

- John Stein Monroe

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