Military helicopters landing in a field

Connected Battlefield Vehicles: Why Choosing the Right Docking Solutions Matters

December 13, 2022

When purchasing devices for the connected battlefield, military procurers look for phones and tablets with the spec and durability (ruggedness) required for even the toughest environments. However, they should ask an important question when searching for fit-for-purpose tech: can it be used efficiently and safely in military vehicles such as armoured carriers, tanks and helicopters?

To answer this question, they will require suitable vehicle docking mounts – typically with charging solutions – that allow personnel to safely store, charge and use devices on the move. Addressing this issue is crucial because:

  • An unmounted tablet can be lost or stolen
  • A tablet on a sub-par cradle might lack the ‘grab and go’ functionality required in fast-paced military environments
  • Poor charging functionality can render a device useless

Consider safety too. Just as you wouldn’t operate a hand held mobile device when driving a car, so military personnel shouldn’t use an unmounted tablet in an aircraft, truck or tank. It can cause distraction and, if dropped, potentially even jam in a vehicle’s controls. This, among many other human factors, must be considered when choosing mobile devices so that your teams can interact safely with new technology.

A Jackal 2 connected battlefield vehicle speeding across a terrain
Jackal 2 image by Cpl Ian Forsyth RLC | © UK MOD / Crown Copyright 2009. Used under Open Government Licence

Here’s some questions military procurers should ask to ensure they make the right decisions when purchasing vehicle docking solutions. Addressing these points can help ensure there will be no need for a second round of procurement to fix mistakes made the first time around.

Is the vehicle docking mount rugged?

Your mount must be purpose-built for harsh and demanding environments, and hold the device in place under extreme vibration and stress. Look out for industry-standard rugged ratings. The dock should be water-and-dust resistant to an ingress protection rating of IP55 and meet rugged standards as per ML-STD-810G. Find out more about these specifications here.

Is it high performance?

Consider all of the following essential:

  • The cradle withstands bumps and sharply turning vehicles while keeping the device steady (crucial for navigation)
  • A grab-and-go design allows for quick one-handed docking and undocking
  • A barrel-style keylock holds the device securely in place
  • A robust charging mechanism and POGO pins that survive rough handling
Zebra Technologies L10 Vehicle Dock is a great choice for connected battlefield vehicles
Zebra Technologies’ L10 Vehicle Dock is rugged but lightweight. It withstands bumps and turns of the road whilst keeping the tablet steady for navigational use.

Will you require bespoke integration?

Do you have very specific requirements for your vehicle docking mounts? If so, you may need to look beyond commercially available products and collaborate with experienced engineers to develop a tailormade solution. Similarly, if you require MIL-DTL-38999 connectors or need to undertake STANAG 4569 testing, you should consult with a rugged device specialist with experience in military applications.

Is it ergonomic?

Specifically, does the mounting cradle look and feel like a dock soldiers use in their civilian lives? The more familiar the technology, the easier it will be to use fast and efficiently. Familiarity is often considered when choosing operating systems – it’s why we recommend the ubiquitous Android platform. But it’s also something that should be considered when assessing every add-on.

Is it backwards/forwards compatible?

COTS phones and tablets have a limited shelf life – sometimes as little as two years. So, if you need to upgrade a fleet of devices, does that mean you’ll need to replace vehicle mounting solutions too, to meet new specifications? The answer, from a budgetary point of view, must always be no. You should research to ensure your chosen device manufacturer provides forwards compatibility to the replacement device with add-ons such as vehicle mounts.

You may also decide to invest in rugged devices that have a longer life, perhaps as much as 10 years. This will also help to ensure you are not drawn into regular rounds of costly procurement.

For over 10 years, Nuffield Technologies has worked in partnership with defence organisations to deliver vehicle-mounted and handheld rugged mobile PC solutions for today’s digitally enabled militaries.

We can help you procure rugged COTS-based devices suitable for any mission, and deliver tailored services to mount devices to your fleet of vehicles according to your exact specifications.

Talk to a military rugged device expert now.

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