A Combat Zone iPhone? Soldiers Have an App for That
In the military’s vision of future, the real trick will be getting information down to the individual soldier on the battlefield. Now the Army plans to test a smartphone for soldiers that will have mobile applications that could — in theory — access everything from technical manuals and maintenance records to maps and cultural intelligence.
In a discussion yesterday with reporters, Maj. Gen. Keith Walker, director of the Army’s Future Force Integration Directorate at Fort Bliss, Texas, said that around 200 soldiers would receive an “iPhone-like device” with digital apps installed.
Walker said the devices would have “various apps for system maintenance, instruction manuals — that we can all remotely upgrade. Also, we’re working to allow soldiers to have a distributed way of getting feedback to us on the equipment, where they can do Wikipedia-style upgrades to tactics, techniques and procedures, and comments on performance of hardware and software.”
Further down the road, Walker said he could envision tactical applications, like an app with GPS capability that could pinpoint the user’s location, or a digital tool that would allow troops to analyze terrain.
“This initiative we are moving out on,” Walker said. “We will see this happen this year.”
It’s part of a larger project called Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications. While there is not yet a definite plan to procure and field a combat iPhone, troops at Fort Bliss will experiment with the handset to test ways that some of these new technologies might actually be integrated into the force.
It’s not the only experiment underway at Fort Bliss. Soldiers of the service’s 5th Brigade, 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss are testing and evaluating pieces of the Army Brigade Combat Team Modernization plan — a more streamlined successor to the service’s now-defunct Future Combat Systems program. Other items being tested include a common controller, a Nintendo-style control that can be used to maneuver both the Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle robot and the Class I Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (affectionately known as the “flying beer keg”).
Separately, the Army has contracted with iStrategyLabs for a contest called “Apps for the Army,” or A4A. Open to soldiers and civilian employees of the Army, the contest encourages participants to think up new mobile and web apps that might be of use to soldiers. Top submissions will be announced at a conference in August; winners will receive cash prizes.
Photo: U.S. Army