U.S. Military Focuses on Apps for War

The U.S. Army is encouraging developers to create smartphone apps for military and national security use, transforming mobile devices into a new weapon for modern warfare.

Mobile technology, like GPS, has obvious benefits. But the same features that allow civilians to check in with groups of friends, or determine the location of the nearest gas station, can be used by soldiers to communicate between combat units or locate a crucial crossroads on a map.

And the military is now looking at taking it further, exploring the new ways for soldiers opening fire on their enemies — using military apps.

The Army is hard at work developing “core” apps such as maps that display friendly fire units. Today, there are combat divisions using custom apps to coordinate attacks in field exercises. There’s even an app for war — based on a super-charged version of Google Earth’s virtual globe — that offers live images from cameras mounted on unmanned aerial drones.

“The future soldier will be able to direct fire on to the enemy using his smartphone,” said Tim Ownings, deputy program manager at Army Unmanned Aircraft System. “It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but there are already things in the laboratory to show it’ll be possible.”

A ruggedly-outfitted smartphone gives soldiers a portable and powerful tool, allowing them to respond quickly, such as when they see an enemy planting an explosive device.

To develop these so-called “Joint Battle Command-Platform” phones, the military is passing out “Mobile Computing Environment” kits to encourage third-party developers to write apps.

While the military is the prime mover of these projects, it won’t be the only one to benefit. The technologies could be used for emergency services and law enforcement as well.

Last year, defense agencies held a contest, called the “Apps for the Army” challenge, to find iPhone and Android apps for military use. The military is also in the process of creating a specialized app store.

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