Another communications system developed for the military that testifies to the potency of commercial technology is a wearable computer/radio, called TM-7, built by Exponent in Menlo Park, Calif. Rick Kremer, director of the Exponent's technology development practice, used commercially available technologies to build the TM-7 with an 800 MHz Transmeta Crusoe processor and 256Mb of RAM. The device provides mapping, global positioning system (GPS), and communications in a 10-pound package. With the help of a USB joystick and helmet-mounted VGA display, soldiers used the TM-7s to control robots, dispatching these robo-soldiers into buildings and caves rather than risking human lives.
The communications technology star of the war, GPS guided everything from troops on dangerous missions to smart munitions. But interestingly, GPS has advanced because of civilian, not military use, says Richard Langley, professor of geodesy and precision navigation at University of New Brunswick, in Fredericton, New Brunswick. "Given the huge civil GPS user base, many if not most advances in GPS and its use can be credited to the civil sector," he said.
In a direct application of commercial technology for military purposes, both the U.S. military and the British took advantage of Iridium. The commercial voice and data system employs a phone manufactured by Motorola and promises mobile, pole-to-pole coverage through its constellation of 66 satellites. The American military added a level of security, including its own gateway, to transmit both voice and data for tactical purposes, says Armstrong of GDDS. The British military employed Iridium to help boost morale, letting soldiers talk to families via handsets, he said.
To tap securely into the commercial GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) wireless network while in the Middle East, GDDS offered the military the Sectéra Secure Wireless Phone for GSM. The phone includes a clip-in security module that implements NSA-certified, US Government Type 1 cryptography, as well as the AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) algorithm approved by the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST). The commercial version, TalkSECURE, implements AES but isn't configured for environments requiring US Government Type 1 cryptography, according to the company.
Communications tools have also played a role in the post-war environment. Soldiers in Iraq have come closer to bridging a communications gap with local citizens courtesy of a WinCE handheld device dubbed the Phraselator.
Users, be they Army MPs or Britain's Royal Marine medics, speak English phrases into the battery-operated device. Based on phonetic recognition of the phrase, the one-way translator provides a translation, in the voice of a native speaker, into such languages as Kurdish, Arabic, and Pashto.
The translator, which was also used in Afghanistan, was co-developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and multiple contractors. As part of the three-year project Babylon, DARPA and its contractors aim to develop a two-way device that can translate responses as well as ask questions.
VoxTec, a marketing division for Annapolis, Md.-based Marine Acoustics, one of the contractors, plans to release commercial versions of the Phraselator later this year, priced at around $2,000. The devices should appeal to police and fire departments, emergency workers, customs inspectors, as well as medical professionals and travel industry workers, says Ace Sarich, vice president of VoxTec division at Marine Acoustics.
In the end, the most important lesson of the Iraq war for enterprise IT may not be about individual communications devices, but rather the way in which they worked together, concludes AMS’s Hillen. "The applications era is going to take a back seat to the era of enterprise architecture and system integration. That’s what the military found in this Gulf War."
(View other stories from our special report on Battle-tested Tech, including reports on communications, security and data mining, supply chain and logistics, and robotics and automation.)