Monday, September 26, 2011

Taking iPads into battle

For soldiers in the 21st century, iPads, iPhones, Androids and other smart devices could eventually be as common on the battlefield as helmets, canteens and rifles.

These devices are being tested across all branches of the military. Seeing an opportunity, software companies and defense contractors are developing mobile applications that will enable soldiers to pass along intelligence, view reconnaissance images or even pilot small drones by remote control.

This high-tech hand-held revolution, of course, opens the military up to the same problems that everybody else with a smart device faces — security threats and concerns about dropped service. There are concerns among military strategists about passing military secrets on a device that can easily be hacked.

In years past, the Pentagon probably would have spent billions of dollars creating its own custom devices, but modern technology offers a much cheaper alternative, said Michael McCarthy, who leads an effort by the Army to test smartphones for use on the battlefield.

The Army is using iPhones, Androids and BlackBerrys in mock wartime situations in New Mexico and Texas.

Such devices are coming in handy in simulated security raids and checkpoint stops to take pictures of Arabic writing and gather biometric data, such as fingerprints and iris scans, McCarthy said.

"It's all about information gathering, and tools to make the job easier," he said.