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Air Force to swap 5,000 BlackBerrys for iOS devices

The Air Force has begun a shift away from BlackBerry mobile devices, announcing that it will  replace 5,000 BlackBerrys with Apple iOS devices in an initial effort to begin rolling out modernized commercial mobile technologies.

The primary motivation for the program is to provide increased productivity and capabilities and to maintain an appropriate security approach, the Air Force said. Recognizing the quick development of commercial technology, the service has begun to tap into the market while simultaneously preserving military-grade security.

"Mobile devices offer unprecedented opportunities to advance operational effectiveness," Brig. Gen. Kevin Wooton, the Air Force Space Command’s director of communications, said in an announcement. "The ultimate beneficiary of the vast mobile device capability is the warfighter."

Apple’s iOS 6 Security Technical Implementation Guide (STIG) was approved by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) in May 2013. The STIG meant that government-issued iOS 6 devices were allowed to connect to DOD networks in mobility pilot tests and could be used with the future mobile device management (MDM) framework. The STIG configuration is supplemented by the actively defended MDM system, allowing for the secure use of commercial mobile devices on official networks.

Although the Air Force did not explicitly say that it would be using DISA’s MDM software, it is likely that the devices will be centrally managed by DISA, reported Air Force Times.

The pilot tests for mobile devices began in October 2011 for Air Force Space Command, Air Mobility Command and Air Combat Command.

"The pilot tests we have run have shown positive results with the user communities," Wooton said. "However, we've only scratched the surface. As the number of users grows, we're confident our airmen will find new and innovative ways to enhance operations and job effectiveness."

For the Air Force, the number of BlackBerrys may be gradually reduced as all Air Force users will eventually be required to transition from legacy mobile devices to either an approved smartphone or tablet device, such as an iOS device. To cut costs, BlackBerrys will be shut down after being turned in, and any new BlackBerry provisions will require a waiver, Wooton said.

Earlier this year, BlackBerry’s stock was briefly boosted when DISA announced that its Mobile Implementation Plan would include 80,000 BlackBerrys, leading several news outlets to mistakenly assume that the Defense Department was ordering 80,000 new devices. The devices mentioned were actually legacy systems already included in the DOD inventory.

BlackBerry has traditionally dominated in military smartphone procurement because of its focus on security, but the military has gradually been taking steps to include Apple and Android devices.


About the Author

Joey Cheng is an editorial fellow with Defense Systems.

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