Home / Technology / AI & IT / Militaries adopting rugged 5G enabled Notebooks, tablets and smart phones into tactical operations, however their vulnerability requires secure solutions

Militaries adopting rugged 5G enabled Notebooks, tablets and smart phones into tactical operations, however their vulnerability requires secure solutions

Military is increasingly looking to commercial ICT devices like Smartphones and tablets and they are rapidly making their way into military operations. Mobility continues to transform how the Department of Defense (DoD) operates, connects, and supports its stakeholders – most significantly, through the use of commercial mobile solutions to provide mission-essential tools to our warfighters. DoD users are becoming increasingly empowered with the latest commercial smartphones, tablets, and apps. Modern ICT devices can provide  “information superiority” to military by providing information with  greater timeliness, relevance, accuracy, and comprehensiveness than to an adversary.


The US DOD driven by vision of ” A highly mobile workforce equipped with secure access to information and computing power anywhere at anytime for greater mission effectiveness,” , it’s mobile device strategy has identified IT goals and objectives for maximizing the use of mobile devices and apps in the DOD information enterprise. It has focused on three areas critical to mobility: enhance wireless infrastructure to support the secure access and sharing of information; establish mobile device policies and standards to secure access and interoperability; and promote the development and use of DOD mobile and web enabled applications.


U.S. Army Special Operations Command reportedly has started using iPhone 6S as the end-user device for the Tactical Assault Kit – special-operations-forces version Army’s Nett Warrior battlefield situational awareness tool, according to an Army source. Nett Warrior as well as the iTAC basically consist of a smartphone that’s connected to a networked radio. They allow small unit leaders to keep track of their location and the locations of their soldiers with icons on a digital map.


Military operations rely on efficient and effective management to oversee transportation, tactical logistics and vehicle maintenance to ensure that vehicles are ready to be deployed and are communicating with their line of command. Mobile computing  devices allow ground forces to track and communicate with vehicles on the frontline. In cases of medical emergencies, mobile solutions allow medical forces to access patient histories and forward casualty resuscitation information.


Marines is using off-the-shelf smartphones to call for fire support from the air, ground and sea making calling  easier, quicker and more accurate. An upgrade to the Marines’ current Target Handoff System, will load key elements of the system onto the compact tablets, cutting the system’s weight in half, from 20 to 10 pounds, and cutting the cost in half as well, according to a news release from Marine Corps Systems Command. The phones will work in coordination with a laser range finder, video downlink receiver and combat net radio to enable Marines to call for fire support. “With the new version, Marines will obtain a lightweight device equipped to provide immediate situational awareness on where friendly and enemy locations are, and the ability to hand off target data to fire support to get quick effects on the battlefield,” said Capt. Jesse Hume, project officer for the system.


Internet Company Boingo is bringing Wireless Tech to the Military. Boingo’s wifi technology is helping people in the military connect to secure internet while on the go. The Boingo network has grown rapidly on military bases over the past three years. Hagen says Boingo is close to 50 percent penetration at the bases, and plans to increase over the next year.


Military grade rugged devices requirements

Laptops used by everyday consumers rest in relatively benign environments, indoors at room temperature, and are rarely, if ever exposed to harsh weather like rain or snow. Military laptop users face much more extreme environments than the average desktop user and need a laptop that can perform in harsh conditions. Warfighters also need mobile computing that can work basically in the middle of nowhere, that maintain connectivity in remote locations. Some of the key features for military-grade tablet  include compliance with military standards, IP Rating, environmental compatibility, sunlight readability, and connectivity.


A rugged, or ruggedized computer is a computer explicitly designed to operate reliably in harsh environments. These computers are designed to combat conditions such as strong vibrations, extreme temperatures, and wet and dust. Their rough use design is not just in the external housing but in the internal components and cooling arrangements too. In general, ruggedized and hardened computers share the same design robustness, and frequently these terms are interchangeable.


A rugged tablet is different from a rugged computer in two primary ways. First rugged tablets do not have a built-in keyboard and instead have a touch-screen display for input. Second, rugged tablets do not have a built-in media drive such as a floppy, CD, or DVD drive. They are designed to be lightweight and carried in one hand, making them easier to use and handle.


These are just a few distinguishing features that military ruggedized devices have over consumer and industrial-grade solutions. While military rugged systems may cost more, their robust, highly reliable designs and features guarantees longer a life-time for the product, which results in a lower total cost of ownership (TCO).



MIL-STD compliance

Rugged tablets for military applications must endure falls of several feet, water exposure, and glaring sunlight while maintaining performance. There are various military specifications these must meet to ensure end users they can survive in these environments. Make sure that the devices have been tested according to MIL-STD 810-G requirements against extreme environmental conditions – temperature, shock, vibration, and humidity. One more standard to follow is MIL-STD 461F to ensure that the product meets the requirements for the control of electromagnetic interference (EMI). Ask your vendor which method were used to test the device, then after you receive a test report from the manufacturer do not forget to do your own testing.


IP rating

Ingress Protection (IP) rating or IEC standard 60529 is an essential part of any rugged device, measuring the device’s level of protection against particles and liquid. Generally, the higher the score, the better the protection. If a device claimed to be military-grade it should have IP protection. The choice of whether IP65 or IP67 is depending on the needs of your application.


Compatibility with existing military environments

The MIL-STD-38999 type circular connectors, also called military standard connectors that withstand the extreme shock, exposure, and vibration are commonplace in defense and commercial applications are typically used in harsh military and aerospace environments. For smooth integration into existing military environments rugged military grade tablets should have military-qualified MIL-STD-38999 connectors with exceptional versatility for LAN/ USB 2.0, RS-232/ RS-422 and DC power input to enable effortless connection to military equipment.


Sunlight readability

Military mobile devices typically will be used outdoors where bright sunlight is a fact of life. There are a few technologies that increase the quality of the LCD panel, making it more sunlight readable. The first one is an anti-glare solution on tablet glass that helps diffuse the glaring light, reducing its intensity. This makes it easier for the observer to see the correct image and provide perfect readability at extreme viewing angles. Another sunlight readability feature to look for when choosing a touch-screen computer is optical bonding. The screen with optical bonding technology usually results in higher brightness, better clarity, and resistance to scratches.


4G/5G based wireless

Real-time data access to the right information is critical for mission-critical and battlefield operations. Having strong wireless connectivity onboard military-grade rugged tablets enables the warfighter to take advantage of fast and accurate GPS with outstanding horizontal position accuracy. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth,  4G LTE and 5G connectivity also enable the user to have robust communications anytime and anywhere.


Military adopted 4G LTE-enabled telecom environment

The U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development Engineering Center or CERDEC for short, has issued a request for information inviting fourth-generation, Long Term Evolution cellular technology vendors or 4G LTE for evaluation of their systems. The 4G LTE can provide soldiers at the tactical edge with extended secure wireless communications across the battlefield and enhanced Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.


It allows for the dissemination of mission command data, imagery, streaming video and voice between dismounted Soldiers and fixed command posts through a mounted/hand-held computing environment. It has potential to provide quick, efficient deployment of secure, reliable wireless broadband networks during critical situations and in the most remote and demanding environments.


“The driver for 4G LTE comes down to bandwidth,” said Thomas Sepka, Jr., chief of the Army Commercial Technology Evaluation & Integration Branch, within the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC)’s Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate. “It’s about bringing more bandwidth down to the soldier so they have access to more information.”


U.S. Navy has also conducted sea trials of 4G LTE wireless network aboard some of its ships. The network achieved an aggregate throughput of 300Mb while working up to distances of 20 nautical miles. This is useful for connecting a naval task force, a Marine expeditionary team, or an aircraft carrier battle group. It can complement Navy’s satellite communication, while freeing up scarce satellite bandwidth.


Under Jolted Tactics program, Ford F-250 and Pilatus PC-12 aircraft were converted to act as 4G LTE mobile cell tower to establish secure cellular network independent of the civilian cellular system. The system was tested in Bold Quest, an annual NATO multifaceted capability assessment program.


4G LTE shall also be useful for security and disaster response applications by supporting command, control, and field efforts during emergencies, access to central databases (e.g. fingerprints, facial databases, digital maps), automatic vehicle location, video cameras in emergency vehicles and mobile voice over IP networks (Mobile VoiP).


One of the most profound challenges may be described as structural, arising from the very nature of cellular networks. In the commercial world a wireless network is architecturally fixed: towers placed at points. But the military is highly mobile and decentralized a structure that would seem to be at odds with more conventional arrangements. The real challenge for commercial systems is to be able to operate in a challenging radio-frequency environment of the battlefield and also secured by providing information assurance and policy-based security.


DOD moving towards 5G  Implementation

5G is important to DoD because it offers higher performance and additional capabilities, particularly for data driven applications and for machine-to-machine communication. These capabilities will become the foundation for a new networked way of war that brings together sensors and machines that will revolutionize the battlespace and the logistics and support functions behind the front lines.


DoD will adapt 5G and next  generation technologies to “operate through” contested and constrained spectrum and compromised networks to ensure maximum readiness, lethality, and partnering among allies. Transformational innovations expected to be implemented across the Joint Force include wireless, ubiquitous connectivity across humans, machines, and the Internet of Things. DoD will be an early adopter of disruptive 5G capabilities such as:
o Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) – higher quality and rich content services provided to multiple users with full mobility;
o Ultra-reliability and Low Latency (dramatically reduced latency) – supporting delivery of critical communications assured by ultra-reliable and low latency networks; and
o Massive Machine-to-Machine Communications – massive scale automation delivered through widespread sensor networks and multiple connected devices; sensor data from the Internet of Things (IoT) is widely considered as a primary driver for 5G.


The use cases for 5G apply across multiple industry segments, several which are relevant in the Defense context. 5G has the potential to become the communication fabric that supports new efforts in cloud-based AI enhanced distributed sensing. For example, a Smart Port or Smart Flight Line might include sensors (Internet of Things), edge computing, mobile/tablet handsets, augmented reality devices for maintenance, and automated vehicles (machine-to-machine communications).


Todd Wieser, chief technology officer of the US Air Force’s Special Operations Command, has said 5G tech will enhance his forces’ mobile communications and geospatial functionality. The development of 5G-powered connected military bases has the potential to both enhance operations and drive new levels of combat readiness — all while streamlining costs.

5G networks will also underpin advanced mobile applications in and around the cockpit. Flight line operations and maintenance teams can leverage secure tablets within a secure 5G environment to view real-time inventory and schematics, better utilize spare parts, manage aircraft diagnostics solutions and more. Air Force could advance projects around Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs) and Electronic Knee Boards (EKB) to minimize or eliminate paper use in cockpits and bring down fuel costs. The safety and cost benefits of these types of mobile solutions add up: “For every pound of weight removed from the aircraft, you save a certain amount of fuel on a given sortie. For instance, if you remove 120 pounds of paper from every single sortie, we calculated the command would save about $780,000 per year in fuel cost within the mobility air forces,” outlined Richard Quidgeon, AMC electronic flight bag requirements manager, in a 2017 release.

Shift towards Commercial Products provides many advantages but introduce vulnerabilities

The COTS products allow military to reap the benefits of commercial R&D, cost reduction due to economies of scale in manufacturing of COTS and take advantage of the large-scale support and logistics available. Additionally, the ability to adopt COTS technology to conform to international interoperability standards enables the military to communicate between different services, and also with coalition and alliance partners, writes Charlie Kawasaki.


The shift toward commercial products is a newer approach for NSA. In the past the agency maintained a tight grip on the hardware and software it deployed for various communications applications, NSA’s Andrea Roddy noted. “However, if you could build a secure network, one that troops could actually use in the most remote stretches of wilderness and the most war torn cities, even the simplest of smartphone functions would be tremendous tools not only for communicating but also for other simple tasks that are quickly complicated in battlefield scenarios”, said Doran.


The ability to view and manipulate maps in real time, for instance, is clearly a step up from the existing paper-and-pencil approach on which many soldiers currently rely. And yes, of course, smartphones would also be great communication tools, especially compared to the old brick-sized radios soldiers now use.


However the Army fears that its massive electronic footprint is becoming a major vulnerability that could leave troops more exposed and open to detection. Electronic signals emitted by U.S. forces make it easier for tech-savvy enemies to keep tabs on units’ locations and movements. The spying tools are relatively cheap and ubiquitous: iPhones, Goggle maps, commercial tracking software. “It’s an unbounded battle space,” said Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley Jr., Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence.


Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley worries that the “ubiquitous nature of information technology” could have stark implications for the Army. “Today, almost anywhere on the surface of the earth you have access to iPhones, to information technology of high quality, imagery, communications, you can get real time data on the location of people, equipment, formations,” Milley said. “I would argue that we’re at a point where almost anything militarily can be seen, especially large formations.” Military analyst Michael O’Hanlon, of The Brookings Institution. “Battles will be fought in complex environments where the enemy will have a lot of information technology,” he said in an interview.


After the 5G network, platform, or system is deployed, additional security testing should be conducted to ensure that local configurations have not introduced any new vulnerabilities. This process should continue through each patch, update and/or upgrade of the environment or infrastructure throughout its lifespan.



However, COTS hardware has multiple security threats ranging from the reverse-engineering of systems lost on the battlefield to the accidental introduction of counterfeit components on the factory floor. In response, Militaries  are introducing secure and rugged  versions of  phones and tablets  with anti-tamper (AT) and cybersecurity or information assurance (IA) capabilities. Manufacturers of the systems highlight a range of priorities that are driving technological development, as defence customers demand devices that combine the accessibility of commercial products with the robustness and security levels required for military operators


DISA has shown great foresight in recognizing that mobile apps are critical for the Department of Defense (DOD) to drive greater mission effectiveness. DISA’s top priority pertaining to secure mobile technology is producing enterprise capabilities that the entire DoD, as well as other federal agencies, can leverage. The DoD Mobility Program Management Office (PMO) provides enterprise-level classified and secure unclassified mobile communications services that ensure interoperability, increased security, access to information, and reliable service to the warfighter anywhere at anytime.


These service offerings are composed of a secure networking infrastructure and gateway that provides and extends enterprise Unified Capabilities (UC) [integration of voice, video, and/or data services] to mobile devices; an enterprise Mobile Device Management (MDM) system that provides application layer confidentiality, integrity, and authenticity; and an enterprise Mobile Application Storefront (MAS) that will host government-approved apps.


DISA has identified many challenges: Joint Information Environment (JIE) Cloud deployment challenges like supporting PKI management and synchronization across various clouds, the challenges of providing better control of network access, and increased trust in mobile applications and improved information access by ensuring the device integrity and employing hardware-based security controls and other means.


Cybersecurity and ZERO-TRUST

The scale, complexity, and decentralized design of 5G architectures make it infeasible to depend upon perimeter security, which assumes that only trusted devices have been allowed inside the network. DoD will instead develop and validate a zero-trust model for 5G. The zero-trust approach will allow DoD to manage risk, while operating within untrusted network environments by utilizing encryption and fine-grained management of authorities and information access.

The zero-trust paradigm is ideally suited for the emerging 5G network infrastructure. A fundamental assumption of the DoD approach is that underlying equipment and software is not trusted and that some elements are intentionally disruptive to DoD communications. The 5G equipment and network operational practices will be under the control of telecommunications providers throughout the world, with a range of trustworthiness. Network equipment may be exfiltrating data without the expressed knowledge of the network operator. Network equipment or network operational practices may result in failures along communication paths used by DoD traffic, elements of the network and elements within transmission range may attempt to jam parts of the spectrum, and intentionally invalid control messages may be generated at any level of the 5G network.



Typical environments for rugged laptops, tablet PCs, and PDAs are public safety, field sales, field service, manufacturing, retail, healthcare, transportation/distribution, and the military.


There are numerous manufacturers of rugged devices for armed forces, some of them well known from the commercial world. For example, Panasonic develops the Toughbook range, which includes notebooks, tablets, ‘2-in-1s’ (a rugged laptop with a detachable screen that functions as a tablet), and handheld devices. The systems have a number of customers in the armed forces, said Peter Thomas, business manager – defence and central government, Panasonic System Communications Europe.


While there are many common demands across various business sectors, armed forces have a number of particular requirements, Thomas said. He pointed to a demand for low failure rates, which Panasonic aims to support through keeping its manufacturing process in-house and enabling full traceability if a fault occurs. He also noted a need for long battery life, as well as the benefit of offering hot-swappable batteries that can be replaced during use.


Additionally, Thomas said there is a need in screens for specialist LCD technology that is readable in sunlight so defence users can access data in the field. The screens of the company’s products also have rain and glove modes, he said, enabling them to differentiate between a tap from a finger or a drop of rain or a pen, for instance.


Customers in commercial sectors tend to use the devices in a fixed environment, said Jackson White, sales director for the UK, Ireland, and Nordics at Getac, a specialist manufacturer of rugged devices, including notebooks, tablets, handhelds, and laptops. In the defence sector, by contrast, “users traverse across the battlespace and they can meet a number of diverse and extreme environments, which our devices must perform in”. For example, a small mobile tablet may need to be worn on the soldier’s person, before being carried onto rotary-wing platforms, or used by personnel standing beside armoured fighting vehicles equipped with electronic countermeasures, meaning “the RF robustness on the devices must be at the highest level”.


PacStar wins USMC classified mobile device contract: May 2019

The infantry community has long wanted to use wireless commercial devices for dismounted Marines for reference and tactical sharing. The Marine Common Handheld program will provide the Marine Air Ground Task Force secure mobile computing at the tactical edge enabling tactical combat, combat support and combat service support commanders, leaders and key command and control nodes by using digital communications. The Marine Corps selected several companies in  bid on task orders that will allow warfighters to transmit secure on-the-move command-and-control and situational awareness data, including sending classified information through commercial smartphones and tablets.


PacStar of Portland, OR announced on May 2019 that U.S. Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC) has selected components from PacStar Secure Wireless Command Post (SWCP) for network infrastructure, encryption and cybersecurity for the Marine Common Handheld (MCH) program.


The requirement is for a modular, man-portable equipment suite that allows the warfighter to quickly acquire targets in day, night, and near all-weather visibility conditions; and control close air support (CAS) as well as artillery and Naval surface fire support missions. The MCH system will further serve as a digital information processing and display system that provides integrated, on-the-move secure, timely, and relevant Command and Control/Situational Awareness (C2/SA) to tactical combat, combat support and combat service support commanders, leaders, and key C2 nodes using digital communications.


PacStar SWCP delivers CSfC capabilities with extensively certified components – making classified communications possible over commercial technologies – in tactical and expeditionary operations. The solution includes PacStar IQ-Core Crypto Manager, speeding set-up and configuration and reducing monitoring challenges, making fielding CSfC in tactical settings practical for the first time. “PacStar SWCP small form factor enables U.S. Marine Corps to leverage the power of smart mobile devices at the very edge of the network, for mission critical warfighting operations,” said Peggy Miller, chief executive officer, PacStar. “This new program selection helps us deliver on PacStar’s mission to deliver secure wireless everywhere.”


IDF launched new secure smartphone in 2017 for soldiers, Hamas plot to lure soldiers with phony dating apps

The Israeli army has launched its first smartphone, developed in collaboration with Motorola. The  phone supports both 4G and military networks and enables soldiers to securely send classified visuals and footage from the field, the video said. The IDF said at the time that the smartphones would include a touchscreen, GPS and an eight-megapixel camera, and allow soldiers to send secure text messages, images and emails.


The Defense Ministry said at the signing of the contract that the phones would also be waterproof and dirt-resistant, and will have a battery that can last for up to 400 minutes of talk time and 500 minutes on standby. The upgraded phones are meant to replace the “Mountain Rose” phone system used by the IDF — also developed by Motorola Solutions.


In 2018, the IDF launched a campaign  to educate soldiers on the rules of safe conduct to avoid cybersecurity threats posed by the Hamas terror organization and other hostile organizations, a day after it announced it had uncovered a plot by the group to dupe soldiers by using fake dating apps to spy on them. Hamas attempted to deceive the soldiers using fake messages sent by phony female profiles. The “girls” then attempted to convinced the troops to download malicious applications.


Check Point Software Technologies’ vice president Nitzan Ziv explained the dangers of downloading the pernicious spy applications. “The minute the spy software is installed on a smartphone the attackers can hear everything that is going on in the room, have access to each file downloaded on the phone, activate the phone’s camera and get the specific location of the phone,” Ziv explained. “Eavesdropping to a classified conversation and access to classified data can also be achieved (by this method),” he added.

Security Features

Cyber and data protection is a crucial concern for military operators. While this is often not a direct focus for equipment manufacturers, they often partner with specialists in the area who can provide such systems and applications for the devices.


Peter Thomas, business manager – defence and central government, Panasonic System Communications Europe  said this could be either in terms of software- or hardware-based encryption (which is embedded into the disk drive itself), adding that while Panasonic “are experts in the encryption that [the UK MoD] uses and are fully aware of what those encryption products look like, the reality is that we don’t manufacture or design our own encryption products”. From a hardware perspective, the company’s products are compatible with systems like Eclypt from Viasat, while it also works with organisations like cyber security specialist Becrypt on the software side.


Robert Ashley suggested that security features of military weapons, command-and-control, and communications systems like “low probability of detection” and “low probability of intercept,” needs to be adapted for the new environment, Ashley suggested. The proliferation of technology and how the Army will respond is part of a broad review of strategy and doctrine that is now under way. “We need forces to be ready and resilient” to fight in future conflicts, Ashley said.


The scale, complexity, and decentralized design of 5G architectures make it infeasible to depend upon perimeter security, which assumes that only trusted devices have been allowed inside the network. DoD will instead develop and validate a zero-trust model for 5G. The zero-trust approach will allow DoD to manage risk, while operating within untrusted network environments by utilizing encryption and fine-grained management of authorities and information access.

Militarized Smartphones  for Canadian Army

General Dynamics Mission Systems-Canada of Ottawa believes that the Army should embrace militarized smartphones and a portable secure Internet network to support lighter weight and more capable future soldier systems. The concept is designed to get away from military radio-based technology and instead use militarized civilian smartphone technology for providing communications and navigation systems for future soldiers.


Fawcett said the firm will now focus on developing a portable military cell network that can be set up in remote areas and on improving how smart phones can interface with older Army radio technology still in use. General Dynamics will also improve security protocols to prevent militarized smartphones from being jammed by enemy forces.


Fawcett said the use of such technology would not totally eliminate the need for military radios, but it would provide a less expensive, lighter and easier to use system, adding that most soldiers have their own cell or smartphones. GD Mission Systems–Canada already provided its tactical LTE technology for Colt Canada’s Sniper Weapon & Observer Reconnaissance Devices (SWORD) system. SWORD integrates weapon-mounted surveillance and targeting devices with ruggedized smartphone-like technology.


Colt also linked a small UAV to its weapons, again part of SWORD. That allows soldiers with smartphones to not only view what others are seeing on the battlefield but also what the cameras on the pilotless aircraft are monitoring.

Rockwell Collins to provide Canadian Army’s DACAS system with joint-fires solution

The Canadian Army has chosen Rockwell Collins to deliver its Android-based joint-fires solution for the service’s digitally-assisted close air support (DACAS) system. The joint-fires system will be provided to digitally connect airborne platforms and ground-based joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) using a smartphone.


Under the terms of the deal, Rockwell Collins will develop and service 100 joint-fires applications with the potential for follow-on options. The wearable Android-based system offers a lightweight and user-friendly solution to the Canadian Army, in addition to maintaining complete digital interoperability with a wide range of coalition aircraft and artillery systems.


DISA rolls out new classified smartphone system

DISA’s Defense Mobile Classified Capability-Secret (DMCC-S) is fully operational after an expansive pilot program test-driving the offering. Developed by the Defense Information Systems Agency and the National Security Agency, it uses commercial smartphones with enhanced security added and security-risk features such as camera, GPS receiver and Bluetooth turned off.


“The operational mobile classified capability brings us one step closer to the Joint Information Environment vision, where our warfighters and national level leaders can access a secure infrastructure and applications from any device, anytime, anywhere,” Kim Rice, DISA’s mobility portfolio manager, said in a news release.


One of the key benefits of the commercial-based device DMCC-S offers is that it allows DISA to deliver secure mobile capabilities faster than ever before, according to Kimberly Rice. That’s one of the overarching goals of NSA’s Commercial Solutions for Classified (CSfC) program, under which DISA’s devices – and those in many other DoD and intelligence community organizations – are vetted and made available.


DISA had earlier announced a new high-level device, the DOD Enterprise Classified Travel Kit Gateway (DECTK-GW), that will provide classified voice, data and, sometimes, video, depending on the configuration. It comes in three configurations that range in weight from 12 to 19 pounds.


Unclassified DISA MDM users include DISA personnel; the Army; the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, Air Combat Command, Air National Guard and Air Force Global Strike Command; the Defense Threat Reduction Agency; and some combatant commands. By the end of the fiscal year, another 30,000 to 40,000 users are projected to be operating under the unclassified MDM program. On the classified side, secret users are undergoing a limited deployment with a 2.0 release that “is significant because it does two things for the department: It gets a new secret device introduced, and it introduces MDM into the secret architecture,” said Kimberly Rice, DISA DoD mobility program manager.


The challenges like security and ruggedization are also being overcome. The DISA Mobile Application Store (MAS) is the foundation of the Department of Defense’s ability to go mobile and be secure.  Only devices managed by DOD can access the MAS, which creates a robust foundation for security. They use special secure software, ruggedized cases to withstand water, impact, and environmental extremes and interfaces to radios – since they operate in places where you can’t count on a cell tower being functional (or there at all). The systems also can use a variety of batteries, and can charge these on-the-move from solar panels, trucks, or even the motion of walking.

Department of Defense to start issuing tablets for classified documents

The Defense Information Systems Agency has initiated a pilot program to allow senior officials to access classified documents on specially secured tablets. Secured tablets with 8-inch screens have been issued to senior officials. They include features like the United Video Dissemination System that allows full-motion video from intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sources.


The program expands on a previous effort allowing access to documents on smartphones and falls under the Department of Defense Mobility Classified Capability – Secret Program. “We’re bringing the mobile device from something you use mostly to consume information from to being able to actually do work on the device,” Pentagon Mobility Portfolio manager Jake Marcellus said in a press release.


Marines Use Tablet Technology to Advance Warfighting Technology

According to the release, the version allows Marines on the ground to rapidly pinpoint the location of a target, then send that data to supporting arms elements–either air, artillery or naval fire support. A map application on the smartphone receives target coordinates automatically generated by the system, dispensing with manual inputs and limiting the margin for error. The digitized information is then send to the relevant fire support coordination center, which determines how to make the attack.


The Marine Corps has been using tablets for several years now and select units like the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force – Crisis Response and 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit have already implemented its use operationally.


There are different applications on the tablets allowing Marines a wide range of capabilities. One in particular is KILSWITCH, Kinetic Integrated Low-cost Software Integrated Tactical Combat Handheld, that gives Marines in the air and ground real-time situational awareness by using a map similar to Google maps but without having to be connected to a server.


Using commercial off-the-shelf encrypted wireless technology and linking it to the radios enables Marines within Wi-Fi distance to talk wirelessly through the tablets like instant messaging. “Using the tablets allows us to better respond to crises,” said Foley. “We’re leveraging the technology to allow us to have better situational awareness on a much broader scale.”


In the future, if satellite communication systems were to go down, the tablets would help Marines create small networks throughout the battlefield, which would allow them to maintain situational awareness and the ability to talk amongst each other potentially saving lives and creating a more lethal rifle squad.



Iris ID Tech Adopted for Military Communications

The company has announced that its iris recognition technology has been incorporated into Ultra Electronics’ military-focused product portfolio, with integrations into the latest Combat Apps Tactical System (CATS) tablets. The tablets are designed to offer encrypted, high-speed communications between troops in the field and administrators at headquarters, and will now use Iris ID’s R-100 camera and Iris Accelerator matching software to authenticate soldiers’ identities, matching their iris biometrics against databases stored at military bases.


Iris ID business development and sales VP Mohammed Murad suggested that the technology’s track record points to military applications, asserting that “Iris ID technology has been proven effective worldwide in remote locations and during extreme weather conditions for national ID and other programs.


Smart AI enabled

Dell has merged its Rugged Mobility and Precision Workstation divisions into one group, partly to place a greater collective emphasis on developing more intelligent systems, Patel added, including areas like augmented reality (AR), where real-world objects or scenarios are overlaid with digital information. Additionally, Patel said militaries and other customers of rugged products are placing a far greater emphasis on the development of machine learning and advanced artificial intelligence (AI) systems, “to the extent that we see on the horizon systems that can auto-detect failures and self-heal and course correct in the field on the fly”. Much of this technology is being embedded into the hardware itself, with SSDs capable of detecting read/write failures and quarantining the error to prevent data loss.


“These very smart, almost neural networks [a key element in machine learning] are being developed, and we’re seeing applications that span everything from basic system reliability all the way to monitoring the environment and collecting data and providing intelligent analytics to the person sitting behind the terminal looking for patterns,” he said.


Patel expects this to be a defining trend in rugged systems over the next decade. As systems become more capable and more connected, more intelligence will be automated and analysed on the fly, with decisions being made at a machine level “even before an operator has a chance to reconcile what’s going on”.


Thomas said there is likely to be an even greater emphasis on mobility, moving beyond tablet technology into an increasing focus on wearable systems that can be mounted on front-line soldiers “to give them access to critical data when they need it, without weighing them down with a notebook- or tablet-style device”.


Information from Thomasnet.com, owler.com, and company websites.

Top rugged manufacturers USA

Advantech manufactures handheld mobile and rugged tablet computers. They are headquartered in Milpitas, California, and also distribute and custom manufacture different types of computers and tablets.

Schweitzer Engineering Laboratory is headquartered in Pullman, California, and was founded in 1984. The company manufactures electrical and protection systems with products such as rugged computers.

Mercury Systems, Inc. was founded in 1983. Based in Andover, Massachusetts, they manufacture digital signal and image processing systems, including ruggedized computers.

ADLINK Technology, Inc. manufactures fanless embedded ruggedized computers that are suitable for automatic fare collection, CCTV and passenger information system applications. The company is headquartered in San Jose, California, and was founded in 1995.

AAEON Electronics, Inc. is a manufacturer of fault-tolerant, industrial, rack mount, and ruggedized computers and tablets. They are based in Hazlet, New Jersey, and were founded in 1992.

Data Device Corporation is based in Bohemia, New York. Founded in 1964, they are a manufacturer of ruggedized avionics interface computer systems for military and industrial applications.

Getac Technology Corporation is based in Irvine, California. The company manufactures rugged tablet computers in varying types, features and dimensions. Founded in 1994, they also manufacture notebook computers.

Xplore Technologies is headquartered in Austin, Texas, and was founded in 1996. The company manufactures rugged computers for the natural resources, manufacturing, government, utilities, transportation, distribution, public safety, and telecommunications sectors.

Beijer Electronics, Inc. was founded in 1983. Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, the company designs and manufactures rugged human-machine interface terminals. Their ruggedized computer terminals are available in a variety of customizable configurations.

Contec Americas, Inc. was founded in 1975. They manufacture rugged tablet computers for manufacturing, agriculture, construction, logistics, automotive, transportation, energy, education, medical and healthcare industries, and are based in Melbourne, Florida.

Estone Technology manufactures tablet computers in a variety of configurations. They are based in Toledo, Ohio, and also design and manufacturer and design rugged tablet PCs, industrial PCs, and embedded computer systems.

MobileDemand, LLC manufactures rugged tablet computers along with accessories such as cases, mounts, docks, hand straps, easels, briefcase holders, styluses, and power supplies. The company is based in Hiawatha, Iowa, and was founded in 2003.

Global American, Inc. is based in Hudson, New Hampshire. Founded in 1989, the company both designs and installs embedded computing devices and related equipment such as tablet computers, for retail, harsh environment, and industrial applications.

North Atlantic Industries, Inc. manufactures adaptable rugged Single Board Computers (SBCs) designed for harsh environments in a range of demanding, embedded computing applications for the defense, industrial, and commercial industries. The company was founded in 1955 and is based in Bohemia, New York.

RTC was founded in 1950. The company is a designer, manufacturer, and installer of retail fixtures and related products, such as rugged computer tablets. They are based in Rolling Meadows, Illinois.




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