Much has been written about U.S. military forces and its often surprising lack of tech in the field. Troops weren’t sporting quite the hi-tech gear we might imagine from the movies or TV. In fact, according to a National Defense Magazine 2010 article, chief military officers and other decision makers historically weren’t even running with consumer-level mobile innovations, locking horns over the communication and security issues they would bring up.
The article said that, if a commercial technology took six months to come to market, it could take as much as 10 years for it to land in soldiers’ hands. With strategic missions (not to mention people’s lives) at stake, there were a myriad of variables to consider and a lot of developing and testing to do before deployment. The military, key officers said, couldn’t just launch buggy, unfinished handsets or unsecure software. So instead, soldiers were hitting the ground packing rock-solid, but generations-old technology.
Today’s combatants, however, are swifter than ever and constantly changing the rules of engagement. And it seems that the US Army is responding by being more open to mobile technology. Last year, it ran a military app contest, spearheaded a Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications initiative to put smartphones in soldiers’ hands, and now, after assessing smartphone platforms, it has made an extremely interesting decision: The Army has built a prototype mobile device, and it selected the Android OS to power it.
The 2-lbs. device, aka the “Joint Battle Command-Platform” (JBC-P) handset, is undergoing a four-test evaluation period which is scheduled to conclude in 2012. The Army is also planning to issue a custom software development kit (SDK) — the Mobile/Handheld Computing Environment — in July for app developers (likely only defense contractors with security clearance). So far, current apps center around real-time nav and location services, include mapping and pin-pointing both hostile and friendly forces.
Wired reported on the decision, also reminding readers that this is a prototype only at this point, and that “things could change.” But, it says, Apple’s closed eco-system — which may create a no-fuss experience for its consumer-level users — isn’t exactly a good match for the American military. Though he’s a renowned iPhone lover, could you see Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli patiently waiting for Apple to perform system upgrades?
So, the pundits aren’t surprised — controlling the hardware and software would seem to be a key factor in the decision, and given the open-source nature of the platform, it was a no-brainer that the Army would indeed adapt the environment to its specific needs.
This decision brings up all sorts of questions, probably with answers most of us will never know: What sorts of apps will be developed for the JBC-P? Could there be general information and training apps in the works like BulletFlight, the renowned iOS sharp shooter app that British soldiers used in the fight against the Taliban? And what about security? Or communications network switches?
Tell us what you think: Is it high time that the military used more of today’s tech in combat? Will this be a boon or an additional security threat for our forces? And did the Army choose the right platform to begin with? Weigh in below in the comments.