Battle Phone: Mobile Phone Technology for Platoon Communicators.
Many pieces of military equipment still use very old and outdated technology. Walkie-Talkies that can be brought in Radio-Shack are superior to issue items like the AN/PRC-126.
The past ten years have seen revolutionary advances in communication devices, notably cellular (mobile) phones and Satellite phones. Radios based on such proven technology would revolutionalize platoon communication.
I'm proposing that Soldiers use mobile phones, but compact radios based on the technology and design features. Mobile phones have widely been used by enemy irregular forces, both for communication and to trigger planted bombs so it would be prudent if the "Battle Phone" operates on a different bandwidth to prevent it being jammed by friendly EW activity. If the Battle Phone retained capability to work with local cellular networks this would prove very useful during SASO and Humanitarian Aid operations.
A Battle Phone would be small enough and cheap enough to be issued to every fire team, if not every soldier. Vehicle or RATELO carried radio sets can act as relays or signal boosters.
Useful features would include:-
- Intra-platoon "chat net"
- Burst transmission. This would operate on a "What I tell you three times is true" protocol. The same message would be transmitted three times and if a character in one version differs the one in majority is accepted. If all three differ a resquest to resend is sent and the three alternate versions displayed to the receiver.
- Capability to act as a Satellite phone.
- Pre-programmed dialling to connect with higher echelons or the co-ordinators of fire and air support or medivac.
- Silent communication by "Texting". My Nokia 6820 includes a foldout QWERTY keyboard, which makes typing a lot easier and quicker. It also contains pre-stored message templates which would be useful for some applications such as fire support -just fill in the blanks with grid references and target type.
- "Hands-free" kit in the form of a throat mike.
- Distress beacon mode.
- Use as a "cordless" handset for the platoon radio. The Platoon commander and RATELO do not need to be in close proximity.
- A generic frequency to contact all armoured vehicles within the local area. This is used in the same way as the infantry phones on the rear of some vehicles but does not require the user to approach the vehicle.
- Handsets may also incorporate electronic compasses or GPS. The latter would be an obvious capability if the handset is also a satellite phone. The calculator mode of some models could store ballistic data.
Since this article was first written I've come across reports that British Troops have been using Mobile phones for communication because their issue radios are so poor. There are also reports that IDF units in Bethlehem are carrying mobile phones, although mainly for personal use to keep in contact with their families.
Given the presence of mobile phones on future battlefields it only makes sense that future military signalling equipment be compatible with these devices.
Terrorists and other irregular enemies are already making use of mobile phones, so capability to jam such devices should be expanded, especially since mobile phones and pagers have been used to trigger bombs. For this reason it would be prudent if a military communication device based on mobile phone technology work on a different frequency to civilian phones.
Since I first wrote this page mobile phones incorporating cameras have become available.
These offer numerous capabilities for the Soldier:-
- "Is this one the guy wanted for questioning?"
- "RV by the rock structure that looks like this"
- "What does this sign say, please translate"
Phones that can capture images will have obvious applications for Close Tactical Reconnaissance (CTR) missions.
Since I updated this page mobile phones that can transmit video images have become available. One idea that occurs to me is that compact cameras linked to such a phone could be used for perimeter defence. Connection would probably be by fibre-optic cable to reduce interference and the chance of the pickups being detected. Such cameras would be combined with motion detectors and Claymore mines.
Another complaint made about modern military communication gear is about the weight of the batteries that need to be carried to keep them working. Modern American infantry tactics rely heavily on being able to call upon mortars, artillery and airpower for support. Obviously this is not possible without working communication systems. During World War Two many radios were powered by hand-crank generators, resembling a pair of bicycle pedals mounted on a tripod. Although it is easy to mock such a device it makes a lot more sense than a far greater weight of radio batteries that would be need to be carried should such a device not be available.
Muscle powered electrical generator systems have advanced somewhat since World War Two with devices such as the Baylis Clockwork Radio receiver. The IST Sidewinder is a charger for mobile phones that gives 6 minutes airtime or 30 mins standby for 2 mins of charging. It weighs only 70gm and includes an LED light that gives 5 mins of light for 30sec charging. Possibly the hand-crank unit could be built into the Battle phone.
For motorized or mechanised units each vehicle would carry a charging rack for spare batteries.
While a human-powered generator will not eliminate the need for batteries used intelligently it can greatly reduce the weight of batteries that need to be carried. If a unit is equipped with bicycles or hand carts a generator linked to the wheels could be designed so that spare batteries could be charged up as the unit moves. Placed on a stable mount such as a machine gun tripod a bike fitted with such a generator could be used to power a radio while it is in use.