The Army believes the next big weapon for soldiers in the field will be the smartphone, as it continues to evaluate smartphone technologies and software applications for military use.
Last month, the Army began issuing smartphones, network equipment and applications to some Army soldiers and is evaluating their usefulness. The Army also began developing applications internally last year and sponsored the Apps for Army challenge, which gave soldiers and Army civilians a venue to create apps.
Army officials involved in the research say they will finish cost-benefit assessments for smartphones and be able to provide recommendations to Army senior leadership over the next six to eight months, said Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center.
"Whether or not we recommend that all soldiers carry a smartphone would be sort of out in front of the conclusions," Vane said. "Though many people are already suggesting that that’s a possibility. Even I have said there’s a long-term vision here that would say if we can figure out the smart cost-beneficial way of doing this, this probably does make sense in the long run."
Last year, Army Vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli said the communication equipment the Army provides is outdated, user-unfriendly and expensive, while the iPhone is state of the art, easy to use and, by Army standards, dirt cheap.
The challenges with implementing smartphone technology are first: overcoming cultural boundaries, as military decision-makers are unfamiliar with the potential benefits of smartphones, Vane said. Second, security issues are a concern, but is something the Army can overcome, said. Plus, any smartphones the Army buys would not be able to run sensitive “battle command” applications since they would be incompatible with the phone’s operating system said a spokesperson for the Army’s CIO.
Yet the biggest impediment, however, is that smartphones must function without access to cell phone towers, which do not exist in many parts of the world where troops go.
However, Vane admitted that the biggest successes in smartphone technology for the Army are more evident in training, rather than in an operational environment.