How does the military use rugged tablet computers?

Tablets have become an increasingly popular device for consumers in recent years as they offer a number of benefits over traditional computing solutions. This popularity has also increased for the military, which has looked to adopt ruggedised tablet computers over larger and more power-hungry servers and computers. In this blog, we explore the tablets that militaries use and what applications they are suited for.

Tablet computers have been around for over a decade now, and their popularity has increased significantly over that time. That popularity is not surprising, as a tablet device offers users a great middle-ground between smaller smartphone devices and larger laptops and computers that usually require more space and power. With a touchscreen display and a simple interface, a tablet is also much easier to use for a variety of applications.

A tablet’s ease of use and portability hasn’t escaped the attention of the military, which has also increased its adoption of tablets for a variety of uses and mission requirements. These use cases include interfaces for battlefield sensors such as advanced cameras and radars, and displays for command, control, computers, communications, and intelligence (C4I) applications, including battlefield management systems that allow forces to track positions of friendly and enemy forces.

Of course, these military-grade tablets are significantly different from the tablet computers we buy to watch our favourite streaming service, or shop online!

Manufacturers such as GRiD ensure that tablet computers are fully ruggedised to meet strict military testing standards – including MIL-STD-810 – which means that the devices can withstand extreme operating environments and continue to perform when they are needed most. These tablets are also customisable, with customers able to specify the types of connectors and form factor they require to ease integration into their wider systems.

Read more: Why an IP67 rating is vital for military computers

Sensor Interfaces

Today’s military forces use a variety of sensors on the battlefield, including radars, electro-optical infra-red (EO/IR) cameras and electronic warfare (EW) equipment.

Traditionally, these sensors have required large workstations to display the data that is being collected and for analysis to aid operational decision-making. Take for example a radar operator, who sits behind a workstation and monitors their screen for both friendly and enemy air movements; these workstations are often bulky and need a large platform such as a truck, ship or aircraft for installation.

This has changed with the introduction of smaller and more portable computer devices such as military spec tablets, meaning personnel can access sensor data without the need for large workstations and associated computing infrastructure. This is especially useful for frontline units with deployable sensors such as ground-based surveillance radars and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) fitted with EO/IR sensors, which provide vital intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.

As it can be carried by a dismounted soldier or installed on a small platform, such as a 4×4 vehicle or rigid inflatable boat, a portable tablet ensures that more personnel can access vital data from sensor nodes on the battlefield, and ensures greater situational awareness for all deployed forces. As we shall see below, the modern networked battlefield means that this sensor data can also be transmitted to other formations and command levels to achieve overall information advantage.

Communications

As well as deploying more advanced sensors on the battlefield, today’s militaries are now more connected and networked than ever. Secure networking underpins most modern western military doctrines and concepts, which sees deployed forces sharing a wide range of information and data across the battlespace using encrypted communications systems and GPS installed on vehicles, aircraft, vessels, and carried by dismounted forces.

Each sensor, vehicle or soldier becomes a node in the connected battlefield and can generate data that can then be accessed by a commander to inform future actions.

Tablets play a pivotal role in these network-centric operations and are a key display interface for modern communications systems including software-defined radios, which are able to transmit both encrypted voice communications and data such as video. Rugged tablets can display an operational picture that ensures sufficient command and control (C2) for commanders, including the location of friendly and enemy forces (known as blue-force tracking) and what assets are available to them. Indirect fire teams can be equipped with tablets and are able to use them to call in artillery or air strikes against enemy positions and formations.

In the future, autonomous systems such as aircraft or ground vehicles are likely to be operated by personnel using just a tablet. These robotic systems will be directed to a location using a digital map and C2 system loaded onto the tablet, but the actual navigation and operation of the vehicle will be handled by the system itself. This has already been demonstrated on several occasions and promises to be a key force multiplier in the future as humans and robots continue to work closer together.

Test Equipment

Rugged tablets also make a fantastic solution as part of test and measurement equipment, which is used to ensure that the capabilities fielded by militaries are performing as they should. Tablets such as the 10” GRiDCASE 2530 have a fully customisable rear connector panel that allows it to be used with a range of hardware and software (and we supply the cables as well). Importantly, it includes three MiniPCIe expansion slots for interfaces such as 1553, ARINC-429, multiple-Ethernet and Serial ports meaning the tablet can plug directly into a range of test systems without the need for extra accessories or peripherals.

This is what we call our “single box solution”, and it allows GRiD’s ruggedised tablets to be used as part of databus test equipment, health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS) for vehicles, aircraft or vessels, and data analysis tools.  That is good news for personnel, who no longer have to carry and use bulky computers to test equipment, which is the traditional way of carrying out this important job.

You can read here how the GRiDCASE 2507 – a fully rugged 7” tablet – carries out built-in test and performs system configuration checks for the UK Ministry of Defence’s Lightweight Multiple Launcher to ensure the advanced weapon system is running at full operational capacity. One of the reasons the GRiDCASE 2507 was chosen for the project was a requirement to fit into the existing system without the need for any changes, which we are able to achieve with our modular and customisable design approach.

As this blog shows, the possibilities and applications for ruggedised tablet computers for the military continues to grow in a number of areas. GRiD’s long experience in developing highly-ruggedised laptop and tablet solutions for our defence customers means that we have developed products that can not only withstand the extreme environments that militaries face, but are also highly optimised for use within legacy and new military systems.

If you are interested in learning more about Military Tablets and the benefits this brings to the user, give our team a call on +44 (0)1628 810 230 or drop an email to sales@griduk.com

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