The Defense Department has reportedly chosen Android to develop a smartphone framework and a suite of applications for use in tactical operations by the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps.
The Defense Department's Software Engineering Directorate is currently working on a two-pound device called the Joint Battle Command-Platform (or JBC-P Handheld)-- in essence a military-grade Android smartphone. Apps to be used on the device will allow soldiers to locate friendly forces, exchange "critical messaging" and other important tasks.
A prototype is currently being used by soldiers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In a practice military scenario, Spc. Hao Bui demonstrated one of the uses of the device by pulling out the JBC-P Handheld smartphone from his uniform and entering the information of an "enemy" into an app, immediately transmitting warning graphics to his buddies and higher headquarters.
"If we see an enemy up front, we could put it in the GPS system," said Spc. Hao Bui, a member of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division. "Even though they (fellow Soldiers) can't see it, you can mark it for them."
Strangely enough, the military is going to allow external third parties to develop applications for the government-owned Android network (known as Mobile /Handheld Computing Environment) by releasing the development kit for free to the industry in July. By allowing this, the government can leverage fresh ideas and technology on a government-led, "disciplined" software environment.
"All of the research dollars are out there in the commercial market. All of the best minds are at work in these companies to produce these smartphones and this software," said Lt. Col. Mark Daniels, product manager for JBC-P. "We don't want to rehash that, we want to leverage it. We want to take advantage of it and get it out to the Soldier in a structured fashion, so it can be implemented in a way that is secure and useful at the same time."
However, the Army is currently refining its own suite of Mission Command Apps which include mapping, blue force tracking, Tactical Ground Reporting and more. There's also a baseline suite of supporting apps like an address book and Open Office for document viewing.
Right now the government is still trying to determine if a commercial off-the-shelf smartphone in a rugged tactical sleeve will be ideal for the final JBC-P Handheld device, or a government-off-the-shelf model. Either way, the software is designed to run on a variety of Android platforms. "We're trying to set this program up so that it can rapidly adapt and maintain relevance to the current warfighting generation," Daniels said.
According to an article on the Army's website, soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division will also try out the handhelds and JBC-P software during the Network Integration Rehearsal at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., in October. The Network Integration Rehearsal is part of a series of four events leading to executing a fully integrated Brigade Combat Team Network Evaluation at the end of 2012.