2008: The troops want combat ready cell
phones. Simple as that. In the last decade, a generation has come of age that
expects to carry around a phone, and stay connected 24/7. Their elders have
also picked up on this convenience, to the point where the U.S. Army is
actively trying to figure out how to make this happen.
Afghanistan and Iraq, where widespread cell phone service followed in the wake
of the American invasions, many U.S. troops have bought local cell phone
service, and use these phones when on combat operations. But the troops want
more out of their phones than just instant communications. Like many business
users, military personnel see the many potential uses of "smart
phones." These are cell phones with personal computer like power, and
capabilities. About ten percent of the cell phones being shipped this year are
smart phones (the iPhone and Blackberry are two of the more popular models).
Smart phones are particularly popular with businesses, where most of them are
used. About a third of business users let their smart phone replace their
laptop at least some of the time. But many business users are pushing for smart
phones powerful enough to replace their laptops a lot more often.
where the troops want to go. Laptops have become increasingly common on the
battlefield in the past decade. But laptops, even lightweight (under five
pounds) ruggedized ones are bulky and heavy. Not the kind of stuff troops like
to haul around. As a practical matter, it's only company commanders and a few
others (like air and artillery controllers) who use laptops under fire. But
platoon leaders (and platoon sergeants) could use a smart phone with laptop
capabilities. So could squad leaders, and anyone who has to drive a truck
(armored vehicles already come equipped with lots of computers).
combination of network access and laptop quality software make a military smart
phone a very useful gadget. Add in the GPS, and you have something every
soldier would want. What the army is looking for is a smart phone that can work
off battlefield wi-fi and have sufficient encryption and ruggedness to survive
enemy efforts, and general rough use, to
shut it down. The army now has several decades of experience using seemingly
"delicate" electronics on the battlefield. There's no fear about this
anymore, especially since some troops are using cell phones in combat (although
you're not supposed to).
commanders, a military smart phone (MSP for short) has numerous advantages.
First, there's the convenience of having most of your unit data literally at
your finger tips. Status of troops, ammo, equipment and the inevitable todo
list, as well as maps and plans for future, or past, operations. Smart phones
also push data onto a phone, to keep databases and schedules updated.
Commanders love that sort of thing, as it saves them the hassle of getting
updates. And updates are a lot easier to collect with everyone connected.
Senior NCOs can much more easily poll troops by texting them to get current
status of things like ammo, sleep, food or health. Commanders like to stay on
top of these items.
The army is
in a hurry to get this working, because commercial smart phones are getting
smarter and cheaper, and a lot more troops are getting them. Today's soldier
grew up with portable electronics, and expects to find it wherever they go.
While troops like stuff like personal radio sets (which came of age in Iraq),
they also know that cell phones can do the same thing, and more. So the MSP
would simply plug into the helmet headset. The army also has to deal with
troops demand for iPod features (the most widespread "handheld
computer"). The MSP would also be able to take stills and videos, and the
troops like to carry favorite vids with them. Combining business and pleasure
is not encouraged in the military, but the MSP will be a very personal piece of
gear. It might even be able to use civilian cell networks as well, meaning that
every troop will be issued one.
might also pick an MSP operating system, like Linux, that would make it easier
for the troops to more easily write software. Then again, maybe not, given some
of the dodgy stuff that has already been
written for existing smart phones. In any event, the army knows they are
entering new territory here. But they have to do it, before someone, somewhere
else, beats them to it.