A Smart Phone for Every Soldier?

Lured by the promise of rapid updates, easily adaptable software and the ubiquity of cell phone technology, the Army is preparing to offer a smart phone to every soldier. This decision comes after almost a year of Army testing of phones to see how they can best be used and best made secure. In addition to supplying phones, the Army may pay for their cell phone service

Lured by the promise of rapid updates, easily adaptable software and the ubiquity of cell phone technology, the Army is preparing to offer a smart phone to every soldier.

This decision comes after almost a year of Army testing of phones to see how they can best be used and best made secure. My colleagues at Defense News, Joe Gould and Mike Hoffman, wrote about the latest twist in the Army’s love affair with smart phones. (See Vice Chief of Staff Chiarelli’s repeated and persistent references to his own iPhone, as well as the Army Apps contest and other recent developments.

In addition to supplying every soldier, the Army is likely to pay for the cell phone service, the authors write.

“‘To most soldiers, it sounds almost too good to be true, but it’s real,’ said Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center. He said the Army would issue these smart phones just like any other piece of equipment a soldier receives.

“One of the options, potentially, is to make it a piece of equipment in a soldier’s clothing bag,’ Vane said.”

And here’s what they say are the Army’s next steps:

“The Army plans to roll out wireless Common Access Card readers for the iPhone in January and for Android phones in April. This would give soldiers secure access to their e-mail, contacts and calendars. At war, smart phones would let soldiers view real-time intelligence, video from unmanned systems overhead and track friends and enemies on a dynamic map, officials said.”

But one thing struck me while reading the article. All the quotes are from people who write requirements. There are none from people who buy stuff or from people who create budgets. I spoke with an Army source familiar with the effort who offered this cautionary note: “The next step is putting a procurement and resourcing plan together to manage an effort that large.” Imagine the rules governing cell phone bills! Imagine the complexities of setting up networks in places like Afghanistan. Will the Army build a specialty like the Civil War’s Military Telegraph service?

Imagine what a bonanza this could be for Apple, Google and some global cell phone companies. Any bets that a Karzai crony suddenly wins the cell phone contracts in Afghanistan?