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War Is Hand-Held on Battlefield of the Future
In the valleys of FT. IRWIN, Calif.--For nearly a century, the essential gear for the front-line infantry soldier has been a rifle, boots, canteen and helmet. Soon, it may also include a hand-held computer linked to satellites. U.S. military officials believe the system, developed by engineers at TRW Inc.'s research laboratory in Carson, could alter the way wars are fought by giving soldiers unprecedented access to battlefield information. It marks a significant step toward the Pentagon's goal of using information technology to defeat enemies before they have a chance to threaten American lives. Last week, in the first major demonstration of the revolutionary concept, about 950 U.S. Army tanks and armored personnel carriers fought a mock battle here, 31 miles north of Barstow, outfitted with 10-inch computer monitors that told them instantly where they were, where they should go and where the enemy might be.
Aided by orbiting spy satellites, each crew was able to view a digital map of the landscape, including three-dimensional contours, that gave it a better overview of the skirmish than any general ever had. Moreover, the commander in the operations center miles from the front line was able to monitor each vehicle, know its precise location and determine whether it needed a new supply of ammunition. The commander was then able to quickly come up with a battle plan before relaying orders to the crew's computer monitor. Eventually, Pentagon officials plan to outfit infantrymen with hand-held personal computer devices like the Palm, giving each soldier similar capabilities as the tank crew. The hand-held devices tap the video-game skills of young soldiers, enabling them to instantly pinpoint their position, find enemies and aim weapons.
The infantry traditionally has ranked low on the Pentagon's list of technology priorities. The Army receives only about 14% of the Pentagon's annual $38-...