The Marine Corps announced this fiscal year they'll receive smartphones for faster, easier and more accurate fire support, the service said in a release.

Forward observers, air controllers and joint terminal attack controllers will receive an upgraded Target Handoff System (THS), which is a portable system designed for use by dismounted Marines to locate targets, pinpoint GPS coordinates and call for close-air support facilitated through secure digital communications. The system includes a laser range finder, video downlink receiver and a combat net radio, according to the Marine Corps, and the upgrade enables forces to more precisely coordinate fire support missions to minimize collateral damage.

"Our current THS, though capable, needed to be smaller and lighter to better support dismounted operations," said Capt. Jesse Hume, THS version 2 project officer for Marine Corps Systems Command. "With the new version, Marines will obtain a lightweight device equipped to provide immediate situational awareness on where friendly and enemy locations are, and the ability to hand off target data to fire support to get quick effects on the battlefield."

The Marines are pushing for greater mobility and capability at the tactical edge driven largely by emerging threats. "It starts with setting the scene on why the Marine Corps needs [mobility]. And you might think this is a foolish question. It’s not a foolish question. People ask me all the time: Who is driving you to do that? The enemy is driving me to do that because the enemy gets a vote," Brig. Gen. Dennis Crall, director of C4 and the Marine Corps' chief information officer, said earlier this month at the annual C5ISR Summit in Charleston, South Carolina. "The enemy doesn’t come to my battlefield at my time and choosing, I normally go to the enemy’s battlefield to meet that enemy.

"And those areas, by the way, are changing. Battlefields look a little different than they did in some of the more classic, romantic wars that many of us study. And so this adversary is fighting in ways that challenge us, that make us mobile."

Crall also described how the tactical edge for the Marines is likely an area without reach back capability or "rudimentary services," yet they still need information to flow in order to fight. "Tactical edges are not created equal. Tactical edge for the Marine Corps is not the far side of the base or the other side of the [post exchange]," he said.

Leveraging commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) smartphones, THS version 2 reduces the entire system weight from about 20 pounds to 10 pounds.

Using COTS products eliminates costs involved in investing in proprietary hardware, decreasing the time it takes to equip Marines with new tech, said assistant engineer for THS Matthew Bolen. "With the new commercial products, THS V.2 will be half the price of the previous system, while incorporating the speed of current advancements in handheld technology and encryption," he noted.

"THS V.2 provides embedded, real-time tactical information with ground combat element units down to the squad or platoon level," Gunnery Sgt. Nicholas Tock, THS operations chief, said. "If we are on patrol and we take contact from machine guns in a tree line, a satellite that passes over once every few hours is not going to help an infantry unit kill that target. THS V.2 is for that close combat."

"Start Guide is an intuitive app that goes through setup procedures, troubleshooting procedures and many other quick-reference materials," Chuck Schuster, Marine Corps Systems Command's liaison to the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, said regarding the Smart Guide feature that provides step-by-step tutorials. "This is the first time to our knowledge that a feature like this has been pre-installed on a system for Marines."

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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