The United States Army plans to hold desert trials next week to evaluate smartphones and tablet computers for use on the battlefield.
Apple iPhones, iPads and Google Android devices of all kinds will be part of the test, which begins Monday.
The intention behind the trials is to see if off-the-shelf devices can help deliver vital data — surveillance video, or just cloud-based instructions — to soldiers on the front lines.
Nathan Hodge reports in the Wall Street Journal:
The Army doesn’t have a plan to give every soldier a smartphone. But Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff, recently said that if the devices proved themselves in testing, the service would “buy what we need for who needs it now.”
Many of the applications the Army wants to develop—for instance, the ability to watch full-motion video shot from a drone—can already be done with equipment now in the field. The potential advantage of smartphones and tablets is their lighter weight and ease of use.
The tests will be conducted at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and Fort Bliss, Texas. They are part of a broader project to evaluate new communications equipment for military use, both from a utility standpoint and a durability one.
A few more points from the story:
- The Army wants to deploy smartphones judiciously; it’s wary of adding more weight to a soldier’s pack.
- Affordability is key; the Army doesn’t want to spend hundreds of additional dollars turning a consumer device into a military one.
- Apps using geolocation are also key: if the devices can be used to more quickly and accurately deploy medical units to a wounded soldier, they’re worth it.
- The sensor-laden handsets are also of interest because they can help a soldier navigate on the battlefield via GPS or augmented reality and verify civilians’ identities through biometric means.
- The Army is evaluating solar chargers and micro fuel cells to power and recharge devices in the field.
But security remains a critical issue. If information is in the cloud, will warfare be conducted over the airwaves, instead of on the ground? And will missile strikes on communications towers or satellites take precedence over attacks on compounds?
For the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, these are unlikely, thanks to a considerable technological gap between the foes. But if much of the technology is available off-the-shelf, it’s only a matter of time before “makeshift app” replaces “makeshift bomb” as the biggest threat to military intelligence.