Smartphones on the Battlefield

Imagine you’re a Soldier in the U.S. Army and you’re in the desert. You’re on patrol with your trusty weapon at the ready. You have plenty of water, MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) for lunch and dinner, your protective armor on and you have just made a security stop when you receive an incoming text through your headset. That’s right an incoming text message. Your commander wants a status report. So you pull out your smartphone, open an application, and send him your situation report with photos of a weapons cache you just discovered. That’s the future for every Soldier, if the U.S. Army has its way, real soon.

The U.S Army has just ended a six-week-long testing program at White Sands Missile Range, NM and  Fort Bliss, TX. Soldiers were able to test over 300 different devices for functionality, durability and ease of use. The devices sported the Android operating system, iOS and the Windows Phone OS.

The device, known as the Joint Battle Command-Platform, or JBC-P Handheld,  will be loaded with a suite of tactical operations applications. The device will have GPS, map overlays, text, photograph, and office suite applications. A Soldier will be able to send a text message to the commander with GPS coordinates of his location, a picture and status update. Not only will the Commander see it but each and every Soldier that is need of the data. All the devices will co-exist with current communication capabilities. Meaning, the infantry will still be able to talk to the tank commanders, artillery batteries or send requests to the aviation assets. All while the battalion commander watches in real time back at the command center.

The U.S. Army plans to use COTS, commercial off-the-shelf, devices. with a rugged sleeve or case.  It’s more economical and will allow the JBC-P handheld to be fielded much faster. Already the Mobile/Handheld CE Product Developers Kit has been released to allow third-party developers to be creative and develop apps for reporting and managing. In the meantime, the Army will continue to update the current apps like Blue Force tracking, mapping, tactical ground reporting, and critical messaging such as medevac and mayday requests.

In October, Soldiers from 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division will put the handhelds through the next phase of testing. The Network Integration Rehearsal at White Sands Missile Range is part of a four event series that will end in fully integrating a Brigade Combat Team at the end of 2012. The goal is to fully field the Army and Marine Corps beginning Fiscal Year 2013.

The U.S. Army already has iPhone and Android apps out on the market and it was only a matter of time that the military would see the capabilities a smartphone could have on the battlefield. Put a smartphone in the hands of today’s Soldier, and he or she will probably teach the developer a few things.  Oh, and no worries, the Army will make sure all the devices will be secure and remote wipeable.