Army seriously considers deploying smartphones to troops
The U.S. Army appears poised to adopt commercial smartphones in a big way, according to Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, head of the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC), who spoke on the topic during a recent podcast.
Vane said that ARCIC is in the process of conducting eight different smartphone pilots, and those results should be ready for review in the next six to eight months. The goal is to determine whether smartphone use makes sense for training and operational activities.
“Our first step was to focus on the institution and delivery of training content in accordance with the way the youth of today are learning, which is significantly different than 10 or 20 years ago,” Vane said. He said that the majority of pilot programs have focused on training, but the operational aspect also proved to be popular enough that ARCIC now is focused equally on training and operational uses of smartphones. “We have several commanders asking for the same capabilities to deploy with them in combat,” Vane said.
Whether ARCIC recommends that all soldiers carry a smartphone is another story, Vane said, but he sees a long-term vision that involves their use in a big way. The cost-benefit analysis will determine how many soldiers will get smartphones, and to whom they will be given.
Vane said that the Army already has prepared a requirements document for the purchase of commercial smart phones on a two-year cycle. The document also aims to avoid standardizing on a single operating system or hardware.
Interestingly, Vane said that the Army could utilize commercial networks around the world for connectivity for numerous operations. “Over 70% of countries worldwide are developing 3G networks where the population density is significant,” Vane said. “If we are operating around urban areas, why not take advantage of the commercial infrastructure around the world? We are demonstrating that in our various pilots.”
For areas where commercial networks don’t reach, ARCIC is experimenting with ad-hoc networking, Vane said.
Of course, security is a concern on commercial infrastructure, but Vane said that solutions are being developed that could solve problems concerning information assurance. But he conceded that the benefits might outweigh the risks in some situations, especially when soldiers are faced with enemies who are carrying more advanced smart phones.
“There are solutions out there that are promising and look like they could solve the problem, but there is a risk decision associated with information assurance,” Vane said. “Reducing the risk is what we are experimenting with in the pilots, but there may be a risk worth taking when it comes to perishable battlefield data.”