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White Sands, N.M. – Android-powered smartphones will help soldiers of the future discover better trails, locate colleagues and build stronger defense -- capability that just doesn’t exist today. They'll be a permanent fixture in the United States Army, officials said.
FoxNews.com traveled to White Sands Missile Range in south central New Mexico, where soldiers are testing the Motorola ATRIX and the General Dynamics made Motorola GD300, as well other smartphones, radios and handhelds in a massive war game. In military vehicles, combat leaders used Motorola Xoom tablets to get a unique new look at soldiers’ locations.
Brigade commander Col. Daniel Pinnell said the smartphones will allow him to lead a stronger defense team.
“Before this point I had to grab a hand mic and ask 30 people to describe to me as best they can on what piece of dirt they’re on [and] what condition they’re in,” Pinnell told FoxNews.com.
Now he just takes out his smartphone and checks out the screen.
'This is one of the most important things, strategically, that this army has taken up in recent years.'
“You can basically see everybody that’s on the ground. It gives us a lot of enhancement,” said U.S. Army Specialist Jordan Michael Rotecki-Kennedy, who has been helping evaluate the GPS-like network.
Indeed, there's no other system like it in place.
A brigade, based out of Fort Bliss, Tex., is testing the devices over the next several weeks in war-like exercises in the sweltering heat, deserts and mountains of the immense White Sands range, including practice battles and counter-insurgency operations in mock-Afghan villages.
The commands are given hundreds of miles away from Fort Campbell, Ky. -- equivalent to the distance soliders would range from base during operations abroad.
On the field, they aren’t looking for bars from AT&T or Virgin Mobile. The phones, known to the Army as end-user devices, are connected by USB to a radio system that carries voice and data on a secured network.
The gadgets are far from what you'd find in a store, however much they may look the same. They work on military software called Nett Warrior developed by the Army, meaning when a soldier turns on the phone, he won't see apps or anything like a Google Maps.
Instead, the Army developed its own.
On Mar. 21, 2012, the Army launched the newest version of the Army Software Marketplace prototype, which delivers web-based and downloadable apps to all devices approved for use within the Army’s Common Operating Environment on the Army network.
“Training aids, planning tools and other apps in the Marketplace give Soldiers easy access to information we need to keep current,” said Sgt. 1st Class Nanette Williams, a member of the Army Executive Communications Team at the Pentagon.
The smartphones allow the men and women on the ground to get better visuals of their surroundings. If they run into harms way, they can send texts to other soldiers, or photos of enemies to intelligence.
“Everybody in between not only understands what the soldiers sees, but then can begin to help the soldier,” Col. Curt Hudson, spokesman for the Brigade Modernization Command, told FoxNews.com.
The Android’s batteries weigh only a quarter of a pound and last up to six hours, and a soldier can carry five of them in his pocket.
Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) is running the project series. This is the third such test to take place at White Sands Missile Range. This one has cost $60 million.
NIE has spent the last several years developing a strong communication infrastructure for the Army. The 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division of 3,800 soldiers is set to deploy to Afghanistan in fall 2013; they're spending the next several weeks testing 600 devices at White Sands.
The brigade will use the network upon deployment. Seven other deployed brigades are also expected to use the devices.
The desert, mountains and weather -- which includes sandstorms, rain, and sweltering heat -- put these soldiers in an environment very close to what they will experience in Afghanistan. It's ideal for this evaluation.
The entire range is equivalent to the size of Delaware.
U.S. Army Secretary Hon. John McHugh traveled to New Mexico to witness the integration.
“This is one of the most important things, strategically, that this army has taken up in recent years,” McHugh told FoxNews.com.
He said these exercises are no doubt taking soldiers to the next level.
“We’re not fielding something that looks good, but operationally works well on the battlefield and on the move,” McHugh added.
Soldiers say these networking devices aren’t difficult to pick up on.
“Just like the regular smartphone, you can read the [manual] all you want, but you’re going to find out more from using it,” Rotecki-Kennedy said.