Army begins mobile phone experiments

Army begins mobile phone experiments

Funny coincidence: The same day Steve Jobs and his top Apple lieutenants are set to announce their latest batch of wonder-products, the Army is beginning its latest experiment with smartphones on the battlefield. As the WSJ’s Nathan Hodge reports, the Army has dialed back its ambitions a bit — its leaders are emphasizing this is a test, and they don’t necessarily want to buy a phone for every soldier. Still, the Army would love to network up all its soldiers and vehicles with relatively cheap devices and software, and the wireless industry, no doubt, would love to sell it all that stuff.

Wrote Hodge:

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 take place at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and at neighboring Fort Bliss, Texas, as part of a wider Army evaluation of a range of communications gear. During the six-week event, soldiers of the Second Brigade Combat Team, First Armored Division, will see if the equipment holds up in rugged desert conditions.

Michael McCarthy, one of the Army’s project leaders, said the point of smartphone testing is to see what works and what doesn’t. “We want to give people the right phones for the right reasons, not just give them another shiny thing to hang on their equipment carriers,” he said.

Army officials say the devices need to be relatively affordable, perhaps costing a few hundred dollars each, depending on the model. The service doesn’t want to “spend $2,500 to ruggedize a $200 phone,” Mr. McCarthy said.

In theory, smartphones could eventually become common tools for troops, with software customized for each unit or mission. The Army, for instance, is testing apps that could expedite the treatment of soldiers wounded in combat. In the coming exercise, the service will evaluate several apps that help speed requests for medical evacuation by relaying the exact location of an injured soldier, with touch-screen menus to fill in crucial information such as the patient’s name, health status and type of injury.

Another app, called “SoldierEyes,” turns a smartphone into a sort of battlefield navigation device. In addition to displaying a digital map, it features an “augmented reality” mode that enables the user to flip on the camera and scan the horizon. Digital markers pop up on the screen, displaying the direction and distance to objectives on the battlefield.

Here’s where Steve’s ears perk up:

The Army is experimenting with Apple Inc. devices such as the iPhone and iPad, but is also trying devices built around Google Inc.‘s Android operating system. All told, the Army has identified around 85 digital apps for testing, some created by commercial software designers, and some developed in-house by soldiers. The service is also developing downloadable apps to substitute for bulky instruction manuals that need constant updating, often at considerable cost.

But the Army could have some big challenges when — or if — it decides to try to field all this stuff in an actual shooting war. It could be in a position where it has to deploy with its own cellular network infrastructure, meaning towers, cables and computers, which sounds potentially complicated and expensive.

And it will need to figure out some way to protect all this data zipping back and forth, especially if troops are using their devices full time. The Army battle network might be encrypted, but if Sgt. Hardtack uses his iPhone in Afghanistan to upload sensitive intel, then brings it home, what happens if it gets lost or stolen? Or, in this post-Wikileaks era, what if Sarge might want to deliberately share what he has on it?



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Eh, the networking portion would not be THAT hard IMO. There’s already battlefield-capable NIPR and SIPR networks on vehicles; they’re run over satellite networks, along with SVOIP phones in the new Caiman commo vehicles. Not to mention the MASSIVE FBCB2/BFT network with something like 160,000 individual systems on the network. That’s nearly one for every four soldiers; I don’t see why a sat-based smartphone system wouldn’t be possible with that accomplished.

I look forward to “Angry Birds” being rewritten to act as the user interface for indirect fire support.

Use Linksys routers which the android system hooks up to just find. The super encryption (freeware) is already available and will easily stand up to military specs. Put a Linksys router in a bird or even a balloon will a 1 meter antenna and you will have a signal for miles. Your soldiers will have android phones w/ a mapping program that will show where everyone else who is on the network is (there is already an app for that). Also give them the ability to designate points on their mapping program that will feed targets back to arty and HQ. Each phone can also be turned into its own router so that if a soldier is outside of the signal from the main router, but within range of a nearby soldier, it will route the info to HQ via the other soldier and to another until it is within range of the main router (up to 3 times in theory).

This is all off the shelf and could equip a company in under $10,000. It could be set up in a weekend with a trip to radio shack, assuming you already have the weather balloon. P.S. — the router can be ‘militarized’ by taking the mother board out of its original shell and put in a $15 phone box that is found outside every house with a land line. If the balloon goes down, the router can bounce off the ground and still probably be good. If not, you grab the backup since these routers and boxes go for about $80 a piece.

Yea sure if the entire purpose of every defense contract wasn’t to shuffle as much cash to a contractor as possible.

These systems will never be deployed, the axe is coming down far to fast for them to survive.

There are two issues that the Army has to confront. The first is the security of the network — it has to meet NSA encryption standards and so far there is zero discussion of that. Next, what is the transport layer that these phones will operate on? It can’t be any local network because you can’t trust infrastructure you don’t control. That leaves bringing it with you — but the Army isn’t talking about how they plan to do that. Finally, they absolutely will have to ruggedize any COTS product but don’t want to talk about that.

I think it will be quite straight forward for the army to deploy its own cellular network based on commercial technology. There are already a lot of military truck or trailer mounted quick-deployable masts used for signals, electronic warfare etc. You could easily fit a cellular station in one with minimal modification, and then use commercial extremely high frequency line of sight datalinks to connect to other similar stations or satellites. Many commercial base stations also use data links instead of fixed cables, so all the technology is ready and waiting to be plugged in.

The data security issues are not being discussed because they are so trivial. The phones could be locked to use only the army’s own network and configured to send all data encrypted. Most tactical data will become irrelevant in a matter of hours, so any foreign governments will be wasting their time if they use brute force . Mobile phones also transmit with far less power than military radios, so they will be more difficult to intercept from long distances.

There are already commercially available devices that connect a sattelite to an iphone. The one I bought cost $150. If you control the sattelites used, you control the network.

The army smart phone is a fantasy project. You just have to see the posts here to see how enthused people are about replacing existing networks for no added capability. It’s the same folks who buy new iphones when they change the case color.

You forgot about the most important part. The pipes are not present and not integrated. No pipes, no need to have a security conversation. WiFi is one thing, bandwidth availability and QoS is another.

This is all BS some general wanting everyone to have a communicater like in STAR TREK because he is a clotheset trekky. About the onlything impressive I have seen come out of all this tech stuff is SWITCHBLADE which for those of you not aware of it is a small man packed combo drone/cruise missile that weighs 45lbs with two birds — sets up in seconds — has video in the nose — launch it over a hill — spot the bad guys and blow them up. (that is the kind of stuff our guys need and they should be expediting– not phones)

That makes it even easier. Just hook up the stations to the network and have them communicate together with the same higher level software defined transportation layer as used in the commercial equivalents.

Missions generally last how long? How are you going to charge all those devices? Activate you GPS and constantly have a map up and see how long that phone battery lasts in your iphone or android. Not to mention that they are testing multiple apps. Expected battery life running GPS, maps and several other apps…2–6 hours depending on their functions. And last I checked there aren’t too many cigarette lighter or 120/240V plug-ins in an MRAP (by my count 2 inside and 2 outside on the newer MAXPROs). Modifications of MRAPs or any other military vehicle likely aren’t cheap.

how is that goning with 240 -.5mw

Because the Army isn’t going to “remake” these phones, they’re going to use them “as is”. That means the network can’t be sat-based, the Army would have to either use the cell phone system that’s already in country, or bring their own.

Not all that difficult, BUT commercial mobile technology is not built for military use. It would be easily jammed and would be problematic from a security perspective if the host nation had an operating cellular system. This is just off the top of my head, so I’m sure there are other challenges that would need to be addressed such as the displays being very difficult to read in sun light, etc…

Yes, this is all very “cool”, but do you really think putting a Linksys router on a balloon and using that for military/combat operations is a good idea?

Easy and cheap does not mean reliable, tough, all weather, etc… I was a compan commander in the Army, and I think there’s a niche for smartphones and tablets in the DoD, but to try to turn WiFi into a primary communication channel at the soldier level needs to be throught through a whole lot more than this.

Sure, but any tatical usage of these devices is going to be very limited anyway. Also, it’s obvious you haven’t done much work with the DoD in regards to data security. To say the data security issues of a newly proposed communication system are “trivial” demonstrates you don’t have much of an understanding about those requirements.

Once again, you’re over simplifying the discussion. One of the reasons the Army is looking at smartphones is because they think they can do something with them cheap and fast. DoD SATCOM usually operates at capacity to the extent additional bandwidth is leased from commercial carriers for large deployments. That means there isn’t unused satellite BW waiting for someone to use with a $150 add on to their iPhone, which means the DoD would need more satellites for this type of solution to work. Well, guess what, satellites are VERY expensive to design, launch and operate.

That’s not exactly the case. The Army, and the other Services, have all identified use cases and niches that smartphones and tablets may work very well in. Why are you equating the folks writing these posts to the decision makers in the Services?

BTW, these devices bring all kinds of new capabilities to the users. Clearly you’re not well aquainted with standard DoD communication systems.

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