Electronic Weapons: Commandos Prefer iPhone

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July 28, 2016: U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) is going to adopt some iPhones to use in the field instead of the Android (usually Samsun) phones that have been standard for years. This is because the special software (ATAK and military grade security) that turns a civilian cellphone into a military one has been adapted to work on the iPhone. SOCOM noted that ATAK on an iPhone 6S was much faster and reliable than on the Samsung Android phones. Samsung, a South Korean company, is looking into the problem, especially since Samsung supplies ATAK equipped cell phones to the South Korean military.

ATAK (Android Tactical Assault Kit) has been in use since 2010 and there is now a civilian version available. ATAK is a collection of aps aimed at the needs of soldiers and people operating in rural areas. ATAK capabilities include: Online and offline mapping (with a fast rendering engine), Web Browser, JavaScript, Collaborative mapping, Location marking, sharing, history, Chat, file sharing, photo sharing, video sharing, streaming, navigation (on foot, in vehicles), Altitude profiling between locations, Cell phone tools, WiFi, civilian radio controls, Skydiving tool (w/winds for better prediction), Hunting, Fishing, Ornithology, Wildlife Site Survey. In addition the military version contains a Site Survey Tool, Targeting, precise geo-location, Runway Survey Tools, Military radio controls, messages and interface. All this is in addition to special apps that some countries develop for their armed forces.

Ever since the “smart phone” first appeared in 2005 the American military has been working on a “combat cell phone” and after several special bits of software were developed these devices are now widely used, especially by SOCOM operators. It was in 2012 that the U.S. Department of Defense received a military grade version of the Android smart phone operating system (SE Android). In 2013 the American NSA (National Security Agency) has released many of these new security features for use in civilian versions of Android. Initially, all NSA wanted to do was create a version of the cell phone/tablet Android operating system suitable for combat use. SE (Security Enhanced) Android is based on a SE Linux that the NSA developed in 2000. NSA has been active for decades in "hardening" PC operating systems. Since Android is based on Linux, the NSA had a head start in creating SE Android and updating the new version of Android with better security for all users.

With most of the smart phones out there running Android, the NSA saw a national security interest in obtaining better security for the Android operating system. While the SE Android has features only the military needs (or would use) many of the basic security elements of SE Android are extremely useful for all Android users. Most of the security features for the latest (4.3) version of Android were originally developed for SE Linux years before the first smart phones showed up. Meanwhile Apple kept the iPhone competitive with more secure versions of IOS (iPhone operating system).

“SE Android” was the last key element the U.S. Army needs to move commercial smart phones and tablets onto the battlefield. The troops have been clamoring for a combat smart phone and in 2011 the army began field testing the Atrix smart phone and Galaxy tablet. Both use Android and are designated as NWEUD (Nett Warrior End-User Device) by the military. When SE Android was combined with ATAK there was finally a combat cell phone the troops found useful enough to use in combat zones.

"Nett Warrior" (after Medal of Honor winner Robert Nett) will drop the wearable computer and replace it with a smart phone/tablet version (NWEUD). What makes this possible is SE Android, which provides the security (enemy eavesdropping, hacking, and such) against problems that plague commercial cell phones and tablets. Earlier attempts to create smart phone capabilities for combat troops produced a 2.3 kg (5 pound) wearable (and networked) computer with an eyepiece for the display and a handheld (or worn on the arm) input device (keyboard). This wearable computer integrated radio, GPS, and 16 GB of storage for maps, pictures, or whatever. Troops found the system too heavy and not as easy to use as a smart phone or tablet. Soldiers and marines know that most smart phones can do the same job as Nett Warrior, and now the army agrees and has been testing Atrix and Galaxy to see how commercial designs can be used to replace the older NWEUD prototypes. The army tested 1,700 Atrix smart phones and was satisfied with the functionality of a combat smart phone using SE Android. Then the army tested the Samsung Galaxy Note II because users have indicated that this would be even more useful for troops than Atrix. The army wants to be able to move quickly to introduce new smart phone models, if only because the improvements in this area are both substantial and frequent. And most troops know their smart phone tech pretty well. Apparently the army was not quick enough in adapting their military grade cell phone software to operate on the latest hardware. That was one reason for creating an IOS version of ATAK and other military software.

Over half a century of studies have discovered what an infantryman needs to be more effective. They need to know where they are, quickly. Having a poor idea of where you are has long been one of the main shortcomings of armored vehicles. Armored vehicle crews tend to be cut off from this while inside their vehicle, where they are even more easily disoriented. When the shooting starts even the vehicle commander, instead of standing up with his head outside the turret, often ducks back inside to stay alive. Infantry aren't much better off. Although they can see their surroundings they are often crouching behind something. When getting shot at standing up to look around is not much of an option.

Troops in combat had some unique problems keeping smart phones operational. For one thing, there’s the problem of providing a reliable signal. But that’s long been a problem and there are a lot of new solutions that will work with a smart phone. Then there’s the need for encryption. Again, that’s another problem handled by SE Android and IOS. Gradually military grade cell phone software that could work with digital military communications systems that create the equivalent of a cell phone signal. Once the troops got their hands on this they were eager to use it. Now, like most cell phone users, they want faster and more reliable apps.

 


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