For ground-based observers calling in fires on a target, the observer historically worked with a radio and a pair of binoculars, or a bulky laser guidance system to get the job done. But systems have become more more precise and portable over the decades.

The Army and Marine Corps are not quite down to devices smaller than smartphones; they’re closer to beefed-up binoculars or tablet-level devices. For its part, the Corps selected Northrop Grumman’s Next Generation Handheld Targeting System, or NGHTS, earlier this year with a $252 million contract to provide Marines with a new hand-held targeting device.

In late April, SemiConductor Devices announced it will provide infrared capabilities for Northrop’s targeting system. A key feature is the method of cooling components to run infrared lasers, which allows designers to build smaller devices.

The NGHTS device can rapidly acquire targets as well as use laser terminal guidance and laser spot imaging. NGHTS has high-definition infrared sensors for grid capability and accuracy at extended ranges, and users have a high-definition color display to distinguish targets.

This single piece of gear replaces at least three legacy targeting devices Marines had to carry to access all shooter platforms. Those included the portable lightweight designator rangefinder, the laser target designator and the thermal laser spot imager.

The binocular-like device has options for both wide and narrow fields of vision for day and night. A day-and-night celestial compass is also built in for better wayfinding and navigation.

Targeting isn’t tied to one type of shooter. The platform-agnostic device gives troops ways to strike targets from airborne platforms, loitering munitions, ships, and conventional and rocket artillery.

Outside of simply targeting, devices such as the Marine Air Ground Task Force Common Handheld let users spot friendly and enemy positions with real-time mapping on the battlefield. And like any smart device, Marines can share that information, relaying messages and locations to other users on the network.

The common hand-held device uses less bandwidth than previous communication platforms, meaning less power consumption. It also “talks” with other smart gear, such as the Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data System, the Command and Control Personal Computer, and the Army’s Joint Battle Command-Platform, according to a Marine Corps release.

An upgraded version of the handheld was fielded in late 2019.

The Army fielded its own device in early 2018 dubbed JETS, or Joint Effects Targeting System, made by Leonardo DRS under a $340 million contract. The man-portable, hand-held target observation, location and designation system is effective during the day and night and in all weather conditions, Army officials said.

The three-part system uses a target location module, a laser marker module and a precision azimuth vertical angle module for positioning.

That last module lets the system operate in GPS-denied or degraded environments.

Soldiers testing the device in its earlier fielding told Army Times that past setup, target acquisition and fires could take as long as 20 minutes. The new device cuts that down to only a few minutes.

The handheld portion weighs less than 6 pounds. The total system comes in at less than 17 pounds, according to Army data. And users can identify targets as far as 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) in daylight and 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) at night.

On an even smaller scale, the Army has used the Android Team Awareness Kit. It’s an Android smartphone used as the individual soldier’s tactical hub. The device aids precision targeting, navigation and data sharing through a host of applications.

The Army is now experimenting with delivering those same features in a ruggedized smartwatch, officials with Program Executive Office Soldier recently told Military Times.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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