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10/29/2009
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An Android App For The Military

Raytheon's mobile application for Android-based smartphones employs GPS, camera, and other real-time capabilities for use in the field.

The U.S. military could use Google Android-powered phones and tablets on the battlefield to locate targets and stay clear of danger.

Raytheon has released the Raytheon Android Tactical System (RATS) to provide soldiers and commanders with battlefield intelligence. Since the software was released a few weeks ago, the company has been in discussions with the Army about its potential use, according to Mark Bigham, Raytheon's VP of business development for defense and civil missions solutions.

Users log into RATS with a user name and password. The application lets them look at and annotate maps, communicate with and track fellow soldiers, take and send photos, and even watch streaming video from unmanned aerial vehicles.

Raytheon built RATS to address what Bigham says is a gap in the flow of information from military intelligence to soldiers in the field. With smartphones increasingly cheap and ubiquitous, the company decided to build an app that could run on a standard mobile device. It settled on Android 2.0 because of its open interfaces and standard SDK and because Android phones come with features like accelerometers, GPS, and touch screens that would appeal to soldiers, Bigham said.

The system includes mapping functionality that shows a user's the location of fellow soldiers. Touching a soldier's icon on the map or a buddy list brings up a contact dialog that can be used to call or send a message, set up a teleconference, or see the view through a colleague's camera. Users can annotate maps and photos taken with the device's camera and share that information with other users. Maps can include target location data and show users how to get from one location to another.

RATS includes a server component which runs on a laptop or server, possibly belonging to a commander at another site. The server application can track users signed into it and be used to store and share other mobile applications.

Raytheon is working to connect RATS to Distributed Common Ground System servers, which support the sharing of military intelligence. That would facilitate real-time information sharing between soldiers and military intelligence analysts. For example, when a soldier takes a photo and sends it to the DGCS server, the system would capture the latitude, longitude, compass orientation, and time, in addition to the photo.

By integrating the app with DCGS, military intelligence could find new uses in the battlefield. If a soldier were to capture an enemy combatant, for example, he could take a photo and send it to an intelligence analyst who may be able to positively identify that person based on available information.

Raytheon is developing additional applications for Android that can read license plates and analyze biometric data.

RATS works over standard 3G cellular networks. In areas where 3G's not available, the Android devices could be connected to military radios via USB cable for use over available networks, Bigham said.

Rayteon's application uses encryption and is password protected. But if it does fall into the wrong hands, a honeypot application tricks users into thinking they've been able to access valuable data, while sending location data back to commanders.



InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis on application delivery. Download the report here (registration required).

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