Enterprise Mobility & Connected Devices Blog

Smartphones in the Military...Challenging Traditional Development Models

VDC Research spends much of its time evaluating mobile and wireless trends in the military. One of the glaring - yet unfulfilled - needs is the demand for smaller form factor solutions to support ground soldier applications. While there are several programs underway to address this void - think for example Ground Soldier Ensemble (or now referred to as Nett Warrior) - many of these programs illustrate and expose the antiquated development and sourcing approach still so rife in the US Military. While - especially in the case of mobile and wireless solutions - much of the issue relates to the strict security mandates for wireless communications (any mobile device that connects to the military information network requires Type I encryption) many proponents are looking for a more expeditious approach to getting technology into the hands of soldiers and are increasingly debating the level of security required for specific use cases. 

Although the military is increasingly embracing COTS solutions it is still mired in its 'big green box' mentality. However, recent trends suggest a shift towards mobile solutions that are much more capable of adapting to end users' needs in the battlefield. This has as much to do with the devices deployed as it has with how the networks supporting them are designed. This is perhaps best evidenced by the increased evaluation of and attention directed towards smartphones and their relevance for military functions - whether they be training, administrative or operational. Consider, for example: 

  • US Army’s Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) recently launched Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications (CSDA) initiative. The goal is to leverage the potential of smartphone technologies to enhance soldier's effectiveness and efficiencies in administrative functions, training, leader development,  and military/operational objectives.
  • Apple’s iPod Touch already being used broadly for field applications. Applications have been developed for ballistics calculations for snipers (BulletFlightby Knight’s Armament) and Next Wave Systems have developed a location-based application that would tie available local intelligence with pictures snapped of a local landmark such as a street sign.
  • The US military is investing heavily in mobile application development training and education programs to drive innovation and development of a variety of next generation application. The US Army recently launched a "new apps" contest to support these initiatives. 
  • Several new small form factor devices designed specifically for military applications are leveraging new operating platforms such as Google's Android. These include, for example, GD-Itronix's Android-based GD3000 Military Smartphone (capable of running TiGR-Tactical Ground Reporting System)  and Raytheon's Raytheon Android Tactical System (RATS) which is a modified commercial Smartphone designed to deliver multimedia content faster to ground troops.

While remaining mindful of the critical security and encryption requirements necessary to protect ground soldier operations, the need for access to information to enable real time decision making by lower-echelon soldiers, captains and lieutenants is immense. This represents an about face to yesterday's warfare which relied more on generals and colonels making tactical decisions. Therefore the opportunity for the military to better leverage many of today's commercial mobile and wireless solutions to foster improved decision making capabilities and situational awareness among ground soldiers is immense. Moreover, the timing is ripe for a reassessment of the military's approach for developing and sourcing solutions for today's modern soldiers. 
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