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Government Computer News: Nomad system is a commander hit in Iraq

By Dawn S. Onley

GCN Staff



As troops battled during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Army brigade commanders overseeing Stryker armored vehicles faced a problem.



They wanted constant surveillance of enemy and friendly forces, and they wanted to keep a lookout on the battlefield terrain outside their vehicles.



Prairie-dogging



Until recently, that meant popping their heads out of vehicle hatches to check out the terrain, then ducking back in to view a dashboard computer showing friendly and enemy forces on a digital map compiled by the Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below battle management system.



Commanders made these checks a grueling 70 to 80 times each hour, said Bruce Westcoat, market segment manager for aerospace and defense with Microvision Inc. of Bothell, Wash.



“Physically, it was very taxing,” Westcoat said. “Mentally, it was distracting to have to go down in the vehicle and lose the terrain view.”



But now Stryker commanders use wearable technology that lets them keep their eyes on the battlefield most of the time while patrolling dangerous terrain. The technology—a Nomad helmet-mounted device developed by Microvision—provides a see-through computer display that officials say is improving safety, accuracy and efficiency.



“Commanders cannot be two places at once, both inside and out of the vehicle,” said Capt. Brian Vile, assistant operations officer for the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry, Stryker Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Lewis, Washington. “The Nomad effectively lets him do both, not losing situational awareness of either the immediate surroundings or the bigger picture.”



Vile said Nomad lets vehicle commanders view three screens of information.



The first screen, FBCB2, gives commanders and soldiers a common operational picture of enemy and friendly forces on the battlefield. The Gunners Display screen lets commanders confirm targets or direct gunners. The last screen, the Drivers Vision Enhancer, lets users see in a dark and dusty environment without relying on night vision goggles, Vile said.



Commanders use a handheld toggle switch to go from one screen to the next. For example, if a commander peering out of the hatch while wearing the device is alerted to a target by one of his gunners, the commander could switch to the gunner screen to view what the gunner is seeing.



Commanders must still lower themselves into the vehicles occasionally to perform higher-level functions on the FBCB2 system.



One hundred of the Nomad systems were fielded last fall in Iraq with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, under a $600,000 initial contract. When the division came back from Iraq, the soldiers brought suggestions to make the technology easier to use, Westcoat said. Suggestions included lengthening the cable attached to the Nomad display for more mobility or making the devices wireless, waterproofing the helmets and improving icons on the monochrome displays.



Westcoat said Microvision is incorporating the recommendations. Last month, 125 more NOMAD helmets were deployed to Iraq with the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry. The division will eventually receive a total of 310 systems, one per Stryker vehicle.



The devices are used to track terrorist groups and insurgents, Westcoat said.



“The big advantage the United States has is we’re winning the information war, so that fog of war we’ve been hearing about for so many years is beginning to clear a bit with systems like FBCB2. They’ve done a great job at digitizing the battlefield,” he added.



The Marine Corps has also purchased a handful of the devices and is evaluating them for use, Westcoat said.

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