From targeting to mobility, mobile devices combine technology and tactics

For ground observers calling in fire on a target, the observer has historically worked with a radio and a pair of binoculars, or a massive laser guidance system to get the job done. But systems have become more accurate and portable over the decades.

The Army and Marines aren’t entirely dependent on devices smaller than smartphones; They are akin to booster binoculars or tablet-level devices. For its part, the Armed Forces selected Northrop Grumman’s Next Generation Portable Targeting System, or NGHTS, earlier this year with a $252 million contract to supply the Marines with a handheld targeting device.

In late April, SemiConductor Devices announced that it would provide infrared capabilities for Northrop’s targeting system. The main feature is the component cooling method for powering the infrared laser, which allows designers to build smaller devices.

The NGHTS device can quickly acquire targets in addition to using laser terminal guidance and laser raster imaging. NGHTS contains high definition infrared sensors for network capability and accuracy at extended ranges, and users have a high definition color screen to distinguish targets.

This single piece of gear replaces at least three outdated targeting devices that the Marines had to carry to access all of their firing platforms. Among them were a lightweight portable rangefinder, laser target designator, and thermal laser spot imager.

The binocular-like device has options for both wide and narrow fields of view for day and night. A day and night celestial compass has also been built in for better route identification and navigation.

Targeting is not tied to one type of shooter. The neutral device of the platform provides the troops with ways to hit targets from airborne platforms, loitering munitions, ships, conventional and missile artillery.

Far from simple targeting, devices such as the Handheld Combined Maritime Task Force allow users to determine friendly and enemy positions through real-time mapping on the battlefield. And like any smart device, Marines can share this information and transmit messages and locations to other users on the network.

The handheld device uses less bandwidth than previous communication platforms, which means lower power consumption. It also “talks” with other intelligent equipment, such as the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System, the Command and Control PC, and the Army’s Joint Battle Command platform, according to the Marine Corps version.

An upgraded version of the handheld device was released in late 2019.

The Army sent its own device in early 2018 called the JETS, or Joint Effects Targeting System, made by Leonardo DRS under a $340 million contract. Army officials said the hand-held Observation, Location and Appointment system is effective during the day, at night, and in all weather conditions.

The three-part system uses the target positioning unit, the laser marking unit and the precise azimuth vertical angle unit for positioning.

This last unit allows the system to operate in non-GPS or degraded environments.

Soldiers testing the device in its former field told the Army Times that previous setup, target acquisition, and fires could take up to 20 minutes. The new device shortens that to just a few minutes.

The handheld part weighs less than 6 lbs. The overall system comes in at just under 17 pounds, according to Army data. Users can set targets up to 2.5 kilometers (1.6 mi) in daylight and 1 km (0.6 mi) at night.

On a smaller scale, the Army has used the Android Team Awareness Kit. It is an Android smartphone used as a single soldier tactical hub. The device assists with precise targeting, navigation, and data sharing through a range of applications.

The Army is now experimenting with offering those same features in a durable smartwatch, officials with the Executive Office Program, Soldier, recently told Military Times.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government, and the military for several publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer Finalist for a joint project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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