This One Thing Is Our Military’s New Secret Weapon. And You Have It, Too.

This One Thing Is Our Military’s New Secret Weapon. And You Have It, Too.

The U.S. military plans to leverage smartphones and other mobile devices in future military operations, suggesting soldiers will soon rely heavily on handsets in the field.

The Defense Department’s seven-page Mobile Device Strategy document pledges to make full use of the latest mobile devices, apps and wireless infrastructure, placing greater emphasis on the technology and tweaking existing guidelines to maximize effectiveness.

Beyond the BlackBerry

First and foremost, the Pentagon plans to let recruits use Apple and Google phones in addition to aging BlackBerry handsets. The military uses 250,000 RIM devices, making it the company’s single biggest customer. But iPhones and Androids now outpace BlackBerrys, forcing the DoD to embrace the changing market.

Army and Marine corps members have been testing Apple and Google smartphones in military exercises for some time, using them to text, send GPS locations and file in-field reports. IPhones and Android models do well even during tests in desert conditions, suggesting they are appropriate for use in arid battle zones.

IPads, too, are increasingly useful in battle, as they now allow soldiers to guide drones using specialized software.

Boosting Military Apps

Along with planning to sanction handsets and tablets for such uses, the DoD’s Mobile Device Strategy aims to certify and organize the growing number of Army, Navy and Air Force apps already in existence.

Among the many military apps now in testing is a Taliban-tracking program called Tactical NAV, which traces enemy fire to its originating location. Tactical NAV is one of many soldier-created apps that the Army now includes in its Mobile Applications Branch.

The special unit built an Army Marketplace to attract developers, hoping this move will spawn more battle-ready mobile programs.

Going High-Speed

The Mobile Device Strategy also highlights the importance of supporting Wi-Fi and 4G networks, which are indispensable for information exchange in the digital age.

The Army is working to strengthen communication networks by creating devices like the “cell tower in a suitcase.” This gear lives up to its name, providing limited wireless access in remote places where service is unreliable or unsecured. Also, U.K. contractor BAE Systems made a wearable military antenna last year to help troops communicate more effectively during missions. The antenna fits into a user’s clothing and allows him to transmit video and radio signals from a helmet-mounted camera as well.

Beyond Gadgets

From improving wireless networks to promoting apps and cutting-edge handsets and tablets, the DoD’s Mobile Device Strategy appears poised to revolutionize warfare.

“This strategy is not simply about embracing the newest technology — it is about keeping the DoD workforce relevant in an era when information and cyberspace play a critical role in mission success,” explained Teri Takai, the Pentagon’s chief information officer.

Takai’s observation underlines the growing importance of mobile technology as a communication, research and development tool for the military. Mobile tech may also be key to recruiting new soldiers who are eager to test out battlefield devices and apps.

“These young soldiers grew up with this technology, they’re very familiar with it. They’re very comfortable with it,” added Army chief Michael McCarthy, who led last year’s iPhone and Android testing operations in New Mexico.

Potential Problems

Despite its prevalence, however, using mobile technology in a military context provokes questions about security. Hackers have already cracked the Pentagon along with numerous U.S. defense contractors, suggesting they will not hesitate to hack soldiers’ phones as well.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is attempting to tackle this problem by hiring security firm Invincea to protect combatants’ handsets. The company is using its $21 million DARPA grant to prevent malware and viruses from attacking soldiers’ phones while they use various mobile applications.

Invincea’s involvement suggests the military may need to invest more heavily in security before approving handsets and tablets for official use. Despite this difficulty, however, the Mobile Device Strategy is a step in the right direction since it aims to give the military the digital boost it needs.

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