How many of you are Luddites like me that don’t have a smart phone? I strongly suspect I’m in a real minority. Smart phones are such an integral part of so many of our lives that folks feel like they are missing a limb if they don’t have theirs with them.
In fact, there’s a long article this morning in the Army Times that says the Army is looking at issuing each soldier a smart phone.
FORT GORDON, Ga. — The Army wants to issue every soldier an iPhone or Android cell phone — it could be a soldier’s choice.
And to top it off, the Army wants to pay your monthly phone bill.
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.
Woohoo! But wait, there’s more. The article talks a lot about how troops in garrison stateside are already using smart phones, but I’m more interested in the warfighter applications that are just over the horizon.
A unit deployed to Afghanistan in November with the phones loaded with Raytheon’s Advanced Tactical System to test the software, said Bigham, of Raytheon. The company expects to receive feedback in December.
Companies have also built apps that display video from unmanned aerial vehicles overhead, read words spoken in English into any language the soldier chooses, or — with the so-called “augmented reality” app called Soldier Eyes — let soldiers see information overlaid on what their smart-phone’s camera sees.
“If another unit knows of IEDs, that info can be downloaded directly onto the cell phone,” said Staff Sgt. Isaiah Marquez, an infantry squad leader with the Army Evaluation Task Force who tested the app. “Then the other unit can tell exactly where the IED is supposed to be by looking through the camera on the phone. As you pan around, it will show you where they are.”
I especially like the “Soldier’s Eyes” idea. If nothing else, it can be a very quick and handy way to navigate from checkpoint to checkpoint on a patrol route. Currently, night land navigation, even with a GPS system, is challenging. But if you have your navigation checkpoints input into your phone, and quickly holding it up shows you the direction and distance to the next checkpoint, it will be much easier.
To be sure, there are a lot of challenges ahead that will have to be addressed before this tool can be truly another arrow in the warrior’s quiver. Networking issues are nothing to sneeze at, but more importantly, how do you keep this data secure? In the age of WikiLeaks, we’ve seen how badly compromised communications can hurt our forces. In addition, what seems like a simple idea can quickly become a bloated monstrosity. As my guest author and commo expert Craig Swain had to say when I emailed him:
The problem is that being an “Army” thing, something simple will become something complex. Starts out as, “just get a smart phone.” Then the intel people say, “but make it secure.” Then the chemical corps says, “it must have a bio/chem protective housing, CARC paint, and EMP hardening.” The ordnance rep will demand that the phone survive -50 degree temps concurrent with a fall from the Sears Tower. The Infantry-Armor rep will insist the interface be so intuitive that “a caveman can use it.” And finally the Signal corps will shoot themselves and add in the requirement to interface with all legacy systems in the network, to include the WANG wordprocessor.
In the end, the device will weigh 200 pounds and have a range of 90 feet. Everything about the device will be classed as “durable/recoverable,” requiring a hand receipt at least ten pages long. And the overlays you think are great will be an additional issue item, that is only obtained through class IX using some obscure NSN.
My cynicism knows no bounds.
I’m not quite as cynical as him, but I know what he means here.
What about you guys? What “killer” apps would you like to take to war?