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Here's what the US Army picked for soldier-worn tactical USB hubs

That kit ain't for chargin' your iPhone, Private!

The US Army has long sought to give its soldiers a connected-tech edge, and has finally settled on a vendor to deliver a much needed piece of hardware to connect the various smart wearables it plans to field. 

The contract was awarded to aerospace and defense firm Elbit America for some 33,000 Next Generation Hubs (NGH), a rugged wearable USB device. NGHs will serve as the control nodes for the Nett Warrior system, the US Army's latest network-connected kit for infantry troops.

According to the US Army, Nett Warrior (named for Medal of Honor recipient Colonel Robert Nett) is designed to use "commercial smart devices with tactical applications networked through the Integrated Tactical Network." Nett Warrior uses its own Tactical Assault Kit software system and applications to deliver "map-based, situational awareness" for individual soldiers and their squadmates. 

Nett Warrior is cross-platform, with apps developed for Android, Windows, Linux and web browsers. The system is designed to operate across military branches and in cooperation with the federal government and host nation partner operations, the Army said. An SDK for the platform is also available. One could imagine that opponents are lining up for a try at cracking this.

Boots on the ground

Traditionally, individual teams, squads and platoons in the field have been forced to rely on radio communications to contact HQ, receive orders and get notified of allied actions and enemy movements. Radio communications are far from reliable (this US Army vet can attest to that), and many soldiers end up in situations where the fog of war becomes so thick with confusion that allies and enemies alike become targets. 

It's even trickier for dismounted units to stay updated on allied and enemy actions - without a squared away radio man it's easy to lose track of what's happening, even over the next ridgeline. Nett Warrior and the NGH aim to address those battlefield communications shortcomings through individual integrated soldier systems.

Other Nett Warrior components connecting to the NGH could include targeting systems, laser range finding, night vision, thermal sights and even sci-fi tech like a small personal drone designed to make scouting safer. 

El Reg readers are likely familiar with at least one of the less successful hardware projects the Army has embarked on for Nett Warrior with partner Microsoft, whose HoloLens goggles have been in testing with the Army since 2018. Military use of the HoloLens was previously postponed in 2021.

As of late 2022, the HoloLens was getting poor results from Army testing, with a DoD report finding the headsets caused "mission-affecting physical impairments" including headaches, eyestrain and nausea. In January of this year, Congress eliminated funding for the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) for anything but research into a better version. 

Version 1.2 of IVAS, which separates controller and computer for easier carry by Nett warriors, is due for testing in FY 2025.

The DoD originally awarded Elbit's contract for its Next Gen Hubs in January, with the award totalling more than $25 million for thousands of the rugged USB hubs.

In its press release announcing the project, Elbit doesn't mention a monetary value for the contract, but did describe it slightly differently. It's not immediately clear whether the NGH contract has been modified since being awarded earlier in the year. We've reached out to Elbit with questions and will update this story if we hear back. ®

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