After challenging its forces to develop software applications for service members at home and abroad, the Army now wants to see what industry can offer.
The Army plans to build up its selection of smart-phone software next year by expanding participation in its “Apps for the Army” challenge, the Army’s chief information officer Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson said this week at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual convention in Washington, D.C.
The initial program took place this past spring and resulted in the creation of 53 web applications by Army soldiers and civilians. Many of the applications were created for Google’s Android smart phone, and more than 20 of those “apps” have been tested and certified. Contest winners included software that allows soldiers to monitor their psychological health over a certain period using a visual analogue rating scale. Another application helps troops navigating to a location to input obstacles and threats on to a map to calculate the best route.
“We’ll give industry 30 days to show us what you have, we’ll get that evaluated, determine results and award contracts,” Sorenson said.
Smart-phone technology is attracting Army investment as the service aims to bring data to soldiers on front lines. The service wants to create a common operating environment for troops who can “plug and play” no matter where they are, Sorenson said.
The Army may be able to achieve many of its network goals by “manifesting what is taking place with Apple and the iPhone and Google and the Android,” Sorenson said.
Industry is hearing the message loud and clear. At this week’s conference, the exhibition floor featured several systems using smart phones to bring the Internet to soldiers in theater.
Textron Systems demonstrated FASTCOM, an end-to-end communication system that uses network infrastructure installed on a drone or other platform to deliver secure connectivity to nearby smart phones. Textron also has created a smart phone solution for military investigation and analysis called SoldierEyes.
Lockheed Martin has a similar system called MONAX, which allows soldiers to slide a phone into a plastic sleeve wired to pick up a network signal.
The ability to take applications and data all the way from a post, camp or station to the battlefield is not as easy as it may sound, said Col. John B. Morrison Jr., director of LandWarNet/Battle Command.
“Building a network is sort of like a Rubik’s cube,” he said, adding that the Army is doing a great job of providing network support at forward operating bases. “Now what we want to do is extend that network outside the wire and bring our soldiers into the network,” Morrison said.
Today as soldiers travel, move around and deploy, connecting to the network changes everywhere they go. Their e-mail addresses and phone numbers change, as well as their access. Sorenson called it “a Kabuki dance.”
The Army wants to make that connection to the network seamless, transparent and easy from any location. It will be like carrying a Blackberry, Sorenson said, so that wherever soldiers go, they will have one way of connecting to the network.