The US Army wants every soldier to carry a smartphone, and thinks the move could revolutionise the way troops think and fight. This is just one example of how a ready-made solution can solve a complex military requirement.

Under the programme, dubbed Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications (CSDA), every solider would be issued with an iPhone or Android mobile phone to revolutionise battlefield tactics. While the distribution of smartphones is planned to begin in February 2011, the programme may also be extended to include eBooks and touchpads.

Smartphones are already in use in a limited capacity for very specific military applications. Now their ubiquity in civilian life could be matched on the battlefield.

Previous programmes

In September, 2009, the US Army announced it would field advanced technology able to translate the spoken word in real time to Afghanistan by the end of 2010. TransTac, or Spoken Language Communication and Translation System for Tactical Use, was designed for use by members of the 101st Airborne Division (AASLT) for the voice-to-voice translation of English to Dari or Pashto, and vice-versa.

Prototype TransTac devices take the form of a smartphone. Either each speaker has a phone and they talk normally through the device, or a single model is passed between the two users. The phone can also give usage instructions in the target language at the push of a button.

Also in 2009, Lockheed Martin demonstrated a range of advanced smartphones loaded with applications that provide situational awareness, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, biometrics and information from unmanned aerial vehicles.

Potential solutions

The multimedia nature of smartphones lends itself easily to training delivered in a multimedia format, with text, audio and video seamlessly combined. Subject exams could easily be administrated remotely and feedback collected.

Smartphones are also an exceptionally portable way of recording audio or video, which could be used to capture tactical information from the battlefield and transmit it to a command centre to report on a unit’s situation or enemy movements.

In addition, the GPS capability of smartphones means all the information gathered by the soldier carrying it can be instantly attached to a geographical position.

Civilian to military technology

Since its inception, the military has traditionally been the source of innovation that has filtered down to civilian applications. Now, the smartphone, a computing and communication device many of us carry around in our pockets, could offer a solution to dozens of everyday requirements for military personnel.

The functions a single, pocket-sized unit can carry out could only be replicated through a dozen potentially bulky and heavy separate pieces of equipment. Smartphones are also intuitive to use, in the same way that games console controllers have been used to inspire the new generation of UAV controllers.

A number of changes to standard smartphones would have to be made to make them suitable for military use. They would have to be adjusted to use the secure military bandwidth. They would need to be ruggedised. Finally, if they are lost, they would need the capability of being locked and any information on them remotely wiped in case they fall into enemy hands.

Should this programme succeed, smartphones could soon find themselves as omnipresent on the battlefield as they are on the street, in the boardroom and in the pockets of civilians.

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