* Several U.S companies working on solutions
* Encryption technology improving security
* Inexpensive way to augment larger system
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army could be
streaming surveillance video images from unmanned planes to
solders' cellphones in about two years, a senior Army official
The Army remains committed to the Joint Tactical Radio
System (JTRS) as the main means for disseminating video images
to the battlefield, a big program that is still under
development and should be fielded in 2014, said Tim Owings,
deputy program manager for Army unmanned aerial systems.
But technology developments and rapid advances in
encryption software mean smaller-scale self-contained 4G
networks could also be an option for allowing troops to see
video images in about two years, Owings told reporters at the
annual Association of the U.S. Army conference.
A number of companies, including Textron Inc ,
Raytheon Co, L-3 Communications Holdings Inc
and Sierra Nevada Corp, are already working on secure 4G
network systems that would enable video streaming to smart
phones, he said.
Contracts would likely be smaller, but many defense
companies are trying to develop less-expensive weapons that
help the Pentagon save money and become more efficient.
"We're probably going to look at that. We'd be somewhat
short-sighted not to," Owings said about streaming to smart
phones, although he noted that the Army does not have a formal
requirement for such a system.
PRETTY SECURE TRANSMISSIONS POSSIBLE
Owings said new encryption advances mean that such systems
would allow "pretty darn secure" transmission of data in a very
limited area, and they would be fairly inexpensive since they
could be used with commercially available smart phones.
He said such smaller networks could complement the larger
system needed to provide communications to the entire
battlefield, and the companies are already working to get the
high level of encryption certification needed.
He said there could be moves to test such systems as part
of a larger test of the Army's various unmanned aerial systems
and networks that is planned for September 2011.
Army equipment often requires extensive training for
troops, but most recruits are already familiar with so-called
smart phones, cell phones that can receive video images and
photographs, which could reduce training costs, Owings said.
Fred Strader, chief executive officer of Textron unit
Textron Systems, said such inexpensive solutions are
particularly important given growing pressure on U.S. defense
budgets and the Pentagon's drive to "do more without more."
He said the possibility of sending video images to cell
phones has also been aided by advances that allow Textron's
unmanned aerial plane, the Shadow, to stay in the air longer.
Mark Norris, the Lockheed Martin Corp executive who
heads the airborne, maritime and fixed (AMF) portion of the
software-based Joint Tactical Radio System, said such smaller
networks would be unlikely to adversely affect the larger
Lockheed announced on Monday that it had begun integrating
the new software-based radio with the AH-64D Longbow Apache
helicopter, a key step as the company prepares to deliver the
first development version to the U.S. military in January.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa, editing by Gerald E.
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