In-Theater Intelligence? There's An App For That
U.S Army Soldier Equipment To Be Modernized With iPhone and Android Smartphones
With the ever reducing cost and ever increasing capability and durability of smartphone technology, U.S. Army troops could find themselves armed with an iPhone as soon as February 2011, according to a report in USA Today.
The report states that at part of its Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications (CSDA) program, the U.S Army is working on a soldier technology solution that would mean an iPhone or Android-based smartphone as a standard piece of equipment for every soldier - including picking up the tab on the monthly bill.
"One of the options potentially is to make it a piece of equipment in a soldier's clothing bag," Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, Director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) told USA Today, adding that most soldiers think this soldier modernization plan is too good to be true.
Mike McCarthy, director of the mission command complex of Future Force Integration Directorate at Fort Bliss, disagrees. McCarthy told USA Today about his vision for a digitally connected army from the ground up.
"What we're doing is fundamentally changing how soldiers access knowledge, information, training content and operational data," McCarthy said. "The day you sign on to be a soldier, you will be accessing information and knowledge in garrison and in an operational environment in a seamless manner. We're using smartphone technologies to lead this."
But it isn't only smartphones. McCarthy explained to USA Today that they were looking at everything from iPads, Kindles, and Nooks, to mini-projectors. Fortunately, the U.S. Army is planning on keeping its options open instead of signing any kind of exclusivity agreement, Rickey Smith, Director of ARCIC-Forward, told USA Today.
"We're not wedded to a specific piece of hardware. We are open to using Palm Trios, the Android, iPhone or whatever else is out there."
The Army plans to begin issuing phones, network equipment and applications to the first Army brigade to be modernized under the brigade combat team modernization program in February. That test will not be limited to smart phones but will include any electronic devices that may be useful to troops.
Realising both the cost and time saving benefits of using 'tried-and-tested' technology, much like its utilization of XBox 360 controllers, the U.S. Army also states it has no plans to develop its own devices, instead opting to make minor tweaks and making the equipment rugged enough for the field.
Of course, unlike the one-time-only purchase of a XBox controller, using mobile communications technology requires an ongoing payment plan, and figuring out a system for purchasing is still in the works. One option being considered is to give soldiers a monthly stipend to spend on minutes, data, and apps, allowing the soldiers to customize their devices to speak to their specific requirements.
"If you did it that way, the advantage would be to pay for the phone once and then you pay a maintenance fee to the soldier ... and then the soldier can buy whatever iPhone, Android or hardware that he or she likes," Vane said. "Then the challenge is just figuring out how we pay for the minutes each month."
But it's not just about paying for extra minutes; the other big question for app-based technology is that of data security. Although testing over classified networks has not been conducted yet, once these issues are addressed, access to these devices would allow soldiers to access real-time geospatial intelligence information and mapping systems in-theater.
Smartphones would enable soldiers access to real-time intelligence and video from overhead unmanned systems, and track friends and enemies on a dynamic map whilst in the battlefield, officials said.
"What we're doing is fundamentally changing how soldiers access knowledge, information, training content and operational data," McCarthy said
According to recent test results, the Army has discovered that the likelihood of soldiers collecting and sharing data radically increases when equipped with smartphones, resulting in more meaningful, up-to-date and actionable data being available, massively improving soldier management both in and away from the battlefield, back in HQ.
Vane said he wants to use the phones to collect biometrics on enemy combatants.
"Can we connect this to biometrics? Well, that's the direction we're headed," he said.
"The challenge will be to work through the policy issues of sharing data and information assurance," Vane continued. "Army officials remain concerned of enemy forces hacking into the phones, but don't want that fear to paralyze the use of these phones."
Vane told USA Today that a widespread battlefield deployment could happen as soon as 2011.
Lt. Gen. Michael Vane will be speaking on this and related topics at Soldier Technology US, 31 Jan - 3 Feb, Arlington, Virginia. To make a reservation or for the full agenda visit www.soldiertechnologyus.com or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org