Army sees smart phones as force multipliers

Friday - 1/21/2011, 9:40am EST

Michael Vane, director, Army Capabilities Integration Center, U.S. Army

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

More often than not, technology developed for the military eventually finds its way into general use. Now, the Army is conducting pilot tests on how to take smart phones from practical to tactical.

Lt. Gen. Michael Vane is one of the Army's top leaders trying to bring technology to the battlefield. The director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center details how smart phones will assist soldiers.

Vane told Federal News Radio, the Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications (CSDA) program has set up eight pilots over the past year or so looking at using smart phone in three categories: new training approaches, use in an operational environment, and updating and sharing information at a reduced cost.

The phones have been sent with soldiers to the battlefield disconnected from the network "so far," said Vane. Two of the pilots have been completed. Once the other six are done, the Army will start looking at costs.

Advantages in training, said Vane, have been quickly apparent. By including training materials, the younger soldiers have immediate access to what needs to be learned and aren't slowed down by learning how to learn.

When they pick up a new piece of equipment, they don't read the instruction manual. They rapidly go to the piece of equipment, the smart phone, and if it's intuitive on that smart phone, they learn how to operate it through a combination of interaction with the machine and recognizing the icons. That basic philosophy of learning is a different way of learning than some of us who are in our 40s or 50s have grown up learning.

As for use in the operational environment, according to ArmyTimes, soldiers with smart phones are more likely to collect data and share it. Col. Marisa Tanner, chief of the doctrine, organization, operational architecture and threat division at Future Force Integration Directorate said, "If you look at every soldier as being a sensor, and give them a handheld that has eight or nine sensors, that's a force multiplier."

Looking at the costs of putting smart phones in the hands of every soldier, said Vane, may not be as obvious as you would think. For example, said Vane, how much it costs to buy a small cell phone may present a "significant cost difference" from large radio. "If we can even get a year and a half's use out of a small radio for a fraction of the cost of a larger radio, there may be a business case there as well even if they don't last the typical 10, 15 years."

The idea is for the plan to be financially "neutral," according to Vane, so it would be paid for from another program that it might displace, like the cost of disseminating training information, or the bigger, more expensive radios that they could augment.

And, of course, if it isn't secure, using a smart phone wouldn't even be worth considering on the battlefield. But, Vane cautioned, security is sometimes seen as only in the transmissions "instead of looking at the problem a little bit differently and recognizing what we're really interested in securing is the data." Data that's classified can be moved to secured networks that are already in place.

Vane said he expects the pilots in progress to be completed in three to four months. "Hopefully by the end of the summer, we'll have gotten to the senior leadership a set of criteria that allows them to make decisions."

This story is part of Federal News Radio's daily DoD Report. For more defense news, click here.