The hippest phones on the market may prove the most effective communication tools in a warzone.
Lockheed Martin Corp. believes it can use currently available smart phones to bring reliable broadband signals to front-line soldiers who often times are left out of the intelligence loop. The company’s MONAX adapter seeks to fill these much-publicized gaps in battlefield connectivity with technology that many soldiers use at home. MONAX, a loose acronym for “mobile network access,” would allow soldiers to use technology they are familiar with to connect to a network in remote places.
Soldiers can use an iPhone or any other smart phone with MONAX. Without access to normal cell phone towers, the system picks up its signal from network infrastructure carried on aerostats, other aircraft and ground vehicles. By sliding a phone into a plastic sleeve, a soldier can connect to the network. Mission-specific applications can be added to smart phones so troops can look at maps and intelligence, as well as control unmanned aircraft.
The idea came from “the realization that back in Iraq most of the calls for fire were happening over commercial cell phones, not military radios,” said Macy Summers, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of strategic development.
“We send them over and put them in very harsh conditions … and then we give them effectively walkie-talkies and paper maps,” said Glenn Kurowski, program director for MONAX. “There is a huge divergence in what we can get as consumers and what we can get from programs of record.”
A smart phone costs about $200, and the MONAX sleeve is priced just shy of $1,000.
“You can hand it to a five-year-old, you can hand it to a grandma and they can use it pretty much without training,” Kurowski said, noting that similar devices currently used by the military cost between $3,000 and $18,000.