Army wants smart phone solution that can keep pace with mobile computing advances

Army leaders understand that time is short as the service prepares for a fourth round of testing how new technologies can securely fit into its tactical data network, a leader of the effort said.
"We only have one opportunity to do things the right way," Mike McCarthy, operations director of the Army’s Brigade Modernization Command’s Mission Command Complex, said at the Sept. 18 Defense Systems Summit.
Nearly 4,000 soldiers of the 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, will conduct the latest semi-annual Network Integration Evaluation in October and November at Ft. Bliss, Texas, the Army announced. The process is in part designed to find ways of integrating smart phones and other mobile devices into Army networks without compromising security.
The NIE is a fast-track process aimed at getting ahead of rapidly changing technologies before they become obsolete. But it hasn't kept pace with the troops' demands for mobile computing -- soldiers have for years now been bringing their own personal smart phones and tablets onto battlefields in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.
The devices don't just allow troops to keep in touch with their families; they also give them tactical advantages. For example, an iPhone equipped with a video camera can capture valuable intelligence about enemy positions and transmit it in real time, or document evidence of war crimes.
But those devices, which usually are connected to local commercial networks, can also pose serious security threats. Army officials have repeatedly warned soldiers about the danger of posting geotagged photos from smartphones on Facebook and other social media, citing an example from 2007 when insurgents in Iraq were able to extract the Global Positioning System information and use it to destroy four AH-64 Apache helicopters in a mortar attack.
It's McCarthy's job to ensure the NIE process gets ahead of the demand curve and finds a way for soldiers to have their devices while the Army gets the data security it needs for effective operations. He said he's open to any solution that meets those criteria, regardless of whether it's adapted from IOS, Android, Blackberry or some other system that hasn't yet been marketed.
"I'm not hung up on whether it's a hardware or software solution. I just want a solution that works," he said. "We want to make sure that every dime that we spend on this effort has a return for the Army."

About the Author

Charles Hoskinson is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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