It has been reported since late 2010 that the United States Army was rapidly pursuing plans to deploy smartphones to combat troops sometime this year. Preliminary tests involved subjecting the iPhone 4, Android devices such as prototypes of the 4G phone Samsung Exhibit, and smartphones running on mobile Windows 7 to realistic combat conditions to see how well they performed. Phones using the Microsoft operating system have not moved past trial time due to limitations in device variety, while Android is favored by many for its ability to be customized. Yet the whole reason the military is interested in smartphone technology is due to the device’s relative cheapness in combination with its ability to be used effectively in combat situations. Judging by the latter specific definition, it seems that Apple’s iPhone is leading the pack in providing the U.S. military with reliable connectivity to command and beyond.
Say Goodbye to SATCOM Thanks to iPhone
For years, the military’s premier communications technology had been via high-end satellite connections. This has been the mainstay of communications during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It even played a significant role as recently as the Libyan bombings conducted by European-led NATO forces. Yet it’s an incredibly costly technology, one that the military must constantly pay a hefty price to keep up-to-date. Due to mounting pressures to reduce spending during a time when the government’s books are strained, the military sees a way to cut a tremendous cost from their budget through the use of smartphones.
One of the more common costly expenses of SATCOM technology were the replacement of 160-lb. satellite terminal boxes used by combat troops. Coolfire Solutions recently made good on a contract with the military by providing our troops with a cost-effective alternative to the SATCOM terminal: the 6-lb. Scout Observer. At the core of the device, which can be used to find raw satellite signals to use for contact instead of streaming to main lines, is an iPhone 4. Think of it like a cassette in relation to a boombox: you place the iPhone into a front-mounted chamber with a closed top. Instead of providing music, the iPhone provides the Scout Observer with its powerful GPS signal to essentially convert their combined into a spectrum analyzer.
The iPhone is Not Without its Enemies
Despite the iPhone’s allure when it comes to providing the necessary punch for combat communications, the U.S. Army is still interested in all possible smartphone options. As mentioned earlier, devices that use the Android are heavily favored by many Army insiders who like the idea of being able to alter the operating system at-will. This in some ways reflects an overall sense of looming corporatism over the function of the United States military: many don’t like the fact that such a sensitive aspect of operations as combat communications could be entrusted in the hands of a consumer-based company. They see Android as a reasonable alternative, despite the fact that not only have companies been responsible for military manufacturing since the dawn of time, but also that Android’s maker Google is one of the largest tech corporations the world has ever seen.
Apple Technology May Dominate Department of Defense Due to HP Tablet Defeat
Despite the Army’s current focus on the small, cheap, and above-all rugged combat-fitted iPhones, Apple’s segue into Army supply may come due to the prevalence of the iPad in the tablet market. Tablets will undoubtedly be the technological go-to device of the future. The ability for combat troops to access battle plans, top-level command, and keep in constant real-time visual and data-provided communications, will be a vital feature in the military operations that have yet to come. It was reported by BGR that army testing smartphones and tablets for combat in July that in addition to the iPad, the Army was testing HP tablets. As HP’s recent corporate self-destruction has demonstrated, the iPad may very well be the only viable tablet option the Army will have in the years to come.
The Army likes options with the software, which is why many experts claims they will ultimately lean toward Android technology. But ask any combat veteran and they will tell you: it’s all about the hardware. When it comes to Apple and the Army, it looks like the technological priorities seem to be in the same place.