IOS, Android or 5.56mm

iPhone-Night-Vision-Adapter-03

To what degree are open-source portable devices outstripping the capabilities of dedicated military portable electronics?

We are already seeing Android and Apple IOS devices being used for training or mission support roles, how long before they start seeing action on the front line?

Benefits of iPad use in military training, and any learning experience for that matter, is a decrease in the amount of classroom time required when using the right app for the situation, decreases in costs associated with publishing training materials, and the mobility the iPad offers can transfer learning to any environment.

Where these devices win out is their open architecture and huge installed base that creates a vibrant ecosystem of peripheral manufacturers and software developers, the pace of change is stunning. They aren’t hardened against EMP, have rugged connectors or generally speaking, tough enough, but how long before someone takes a smartphone and cocoons it in a MilStd 810/DefStan 00-35 case.

Oh, already done

The US armed forces are predictably at the cutting edge and not afraid to try things, even if they don’t always work. They have carried out a number of trials using Android and IOS devices in a more combat-oriented role, rather than in the support functions like training, information or maintenance but results have been mixed. Raytheon have even developed a complete system, RATS and I think everyone remembers the headlines from the ‘sniper app’

Coolfire Solutions have developed a satellite terminal that uses an iPhone. Special Forces have something called TactSA and gucciest of all, how about a night vision iPhone?

The US Army seems to be moving away from IOS devices but the USAF is said to be seriously considering issuing all flight crew with iPads for mapping, mission planning and documentation.

Recent US Army trials using Motorola Acrtrix and General Dynamics/Motorola GD300 have said to be extremely promising, contrasting with the hugely expensive efforts using bespoke hardware on both sides of the Atlantic that have gone before. The military GD300 is being produced by Itronix, the well-established manufacturer of rugged computing equipment and now owned by General Dynamics.

The UK has a number of dismounted soldier modernisation programmes such as Future Infantry Soldier Technology (FIST) but these have recently concentrated on operation in Afghanistan, weapons and sighting equipment for example. The earlier BOWMAN/FIST integration trials did not end well and the wearable computer more or less consigned to the round filing cabinet after huge sums were expended on it.

Towards the end of last year, the US trials resulted in some harsh criticism

Nett Warrior was so flawed it might well end up getting American soldiers hurt or killed if put into the field, five soldiers told me

But things move on and this piece from Fox News today shows progress is being made, the US Army even has its own App marketplace!

Training aids, planning tools and other apps in the Marketplace give Soldiers easy access to information we need to keep current

But instead of these glamorous ‘combat’ applications the potential advantages and cost savings, particularly in the mundane but costly areas of documentation, mapping, maintenance and training are massive.

There are many obstacles of course, especially when dealing with areas where information assurance, reliability and security are critical but these will be overcome, of that, it seems assured although access to bandwidth might be a significant problem before we even get to information assurance and security.

This article is very interesting, examining the potential of smart devices in simulation and training, a huge cost across all three services.

It is early days though and how long before we see every soldier, sailor or airman issued with a tablet device at the same time they get their uniform?

Does the MoD have a coherent strategy to address this potential are are we still taking tentative steps and adopting a wait and see attitude?

Will we ever get to this.

Close air support, there’s an app for that.

Interesting times ahead.

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