FT. BENNING, Ga. — For the first time, the U.S. Army has used a 3G wireless network to tie various smartphones, tablets, and radio systems to a multitude of sensors and unmanned ground and air assets, pushing information down to squad and fire team leaders.

The effort is all about empowering the squad, something the service has been touting for some time now. The demonstration took place last week at the 7th annual Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment (AEWE) at Ft. Benning, Ga.

Final judgments about the technologies are premature, though a few early winners and losers stand out. The most popular of the 46 technologies tested was probably ITT’s night vision goggles, which give soldiers not only a 1X zoom capability, but also a one-flip thermal imaging mode so sensitive that it is capable of picking up the residual body heat left on a wall after someone had leaned against it, or left by recent footfalls on the ground.

Raytheon’s One Force tactical communication system was also hugely popular with the troops. It allows soldiers to take a photo with their smartphone and immediately upload it on a digital map viewable by everyone on the network, while also allowing soldiers to access feeds from UAVs on their handhelds. It also gives them the ability to do “white boarding,” or drawing on the digital maps and transmitting it across the network.

Also of interest was FLIR’s “water from air” truck, which produces 500 gal. of drinkable water a day by concentrating the humidity in the air, and the Nett Warrior system, whose texting function was popular among soldiers.

On the other side of the ledger are Northrop Grumman’s HERCM scalable 4G wireless waveform, which was abandoned following the first day after it repeatedly failed, and PSI, Inc.’s InstantEye quadrotor UAV, which crashed both days that Aviation Week viewed the exercise.

While the company-sized AEWE hasn’t received as much ink as the Army’s much larger, brigade-sized Network Integration Exercise (NIE) that takes place twice a year at Ft. Bliss, Texas, the Ft. Benning tests are intimately tied to the NIE, Col. John Wendel of the Army Program Executive Office for Integration recently told Aviation Week. He described it as a “feeder event to the NIE” that gives the Army a chance to ensure that technologies are robust enough to make it to the brigade-level exercise.