Strategy Page reports on the US Army’s Rifleman Radio project:
The U.S. Army recently conducted a successful field test of their new Rifleman Radio (RR), a 1.1 kg/2.5 pound voice/data radio for individual infantrymen. By itself, the two watt RR has a range of up to five kilometers. But it can also automatically form a mesh network, where all RRs within range of each other can pass on voice or data information. During the field tests, this was done to a range of up to 50 kilometers. The RR can also make use of an aerostat, UAV or aircraft overhead carrying a RR to act as a communications booster (to other RRs or other networks.) The mesh network enables troops to sometimes eliminate carrying a longer range (and heavier) platoon radio for the platoon leader.
The RR has just gone into production, for use as basic communications for individual troops. But in the next 5-10 years, the mesh and data (pictures, maps, at about ten times the speed of dial up Internet) capability will be phased in. During the recent field test, company commanders were able to take a video feed from a UAV, extract a single frame (basically showing where the enemy was), and transmitting this to troops using RRs.
Somewhat surprisingly, the British were pioneering this kind of kit for the troops in Afghanistan in 2002:
Six years ago, the marines bought a thousand Personal Role Radios (PRR) used by British troops since early 2002. These first saw combat use in Afghanistan later that year. The $670 radio set allows infantry to communicate with each other up to 500 meters (or three floors inside a building). The earpiece and microphone are built to fit comfortably into the combat helmet. The radio set itself, about the size and weight of a portable cassette player, hangs off the webbing gear on the chest. Two AA batteries power the radio for 24 hours. The users have 16 channels to choose from and a form of frequency hopping is used to make it very difficult to listen in on transmissions. A small, wireless, “talk” button is affixed to the soldiers weapon so that operation of the radio is hands free. The British have since adopted an improved, and more expensive, version.
Being able to communicate directly with fellow troops in combat is a huge advantage, but the weight and relative delicate nature of earlier radios meant that only platoon leaders and above were routinely provided with radios in the field (usually carried by someone else, not the commander himself).