Army Buying Phones As Fast As They Can Throw Phones Out

Do you prefer an Android operating system to iOS? Do you have a Motorola Atrix smartphone in your pocket?

If so, you have something in common with the soldiers of the 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division currently serving in Afghanistan.

This summer, hundreds of soldiers deployed with the wrist-mounted Nett Warrior system, an encrypted smart phone that can take, send, and receive pictures and video, as well as share location information and intelligence between the dismounted soldier and the battalion headquarters.

Nett Warrior was born of another in a long line of expensive mistakes made by the Army in recent years called Land Warrior, a 23-lb. wearable computer and networking system that soldiers roundly rejected almost as soon as they strapped it on. The Army went back to the drawing board and started buying smart phones to replace the computer system, and spent millions more testing it at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico over the past several years.

The system saw a successful deployment to Afghanistan with the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan in 2012, and now 2,700 phones have been distributed to the grunts.

Once those Atrix phones come back from Afghanistan however, they’ll promptly be scrapped in favor of the 3,700 Samsung Galaxy Note II phones that the Army recently purchased for the next group of soldiers to receive Nett Warrior.

After buying the phones “off the shelf,” the service wipes the device clean and disables the cellular function before installing custom software and applications.

“We are beholden to the commercial industry,” Jason Regnier who works for the project manager Nett Warrior, told an Army publication recently. “We have to keep up with them. So when the Note IIs are gone, they’re gone. So then we’ll have to be ready to buy Note IIIs or whatever it’s going to be.”

In November, the Army awarded a contract to General Dynamics C4 Systems for low-rate initial production and delivery of a 2-pound radio for Nett Warrior. The production order for 2,052 radios could be worth up to $11 million if all options are exercised.

Overall, the Army had budgeted to spend around $150 million on Nett Warrior components in fiscal 2013.

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Paul McLeary

McLeary covers national security policies at the White House, Pentagon, the Hill, and State Department.
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