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10/21/2010
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Army Revamps Smartphone Program

Security, fragility, and power concerns are being considered in the next phase of the program, which aims to arm soldiers with mobile technology.




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The Army has slightly refocused a program aimed at equipping soldiers with smartphones to help them perform their duties in the field.

In June the Army said it was testing a variety of smartphones -- including iPhones, Palm Treos, and Droids -- as part of its Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications (CSDA) pilot program, but realized that the "task wasn't as simple as buying 1.2 million cell phones," according to a post on the federal CIO website.

The Army now is taking into consideration a host of concerns it learned during the program's testing process to refocus the program before fully deploying it.

It will still use commercially available technology for the program to keep costs down and deal with system upgrades, according to the post. Rather than settle on one device, however, the Army is aiming for a "device-agnostic" approach without dependency on one operating system.

In additional to traditional smartphones, other devices the Army has targeted for use include Apple's iPhone and iPad, Amazon's Kindle, and the Entourage Edge. The latter combines an e-book reader and tablet onto a dual-screen computer.

Security also emerged as key concern and is being taken into consideration, as is the fragility of the devices. However, the Army found during the testing process that only one phone broke.

On the latter point, Mike McCarthy, director of the mission command complex of the Future Force Integration Directorate at Fort Bliss, Texas, noted that soldiers are likely to be extra careful with their phones because the capability it gives them is something they wouldn't have otherwise, according to the post. Fort Bliss is where the testing was taking place.

Keeping the devices charged is another concern the Army needs to tackle before fully deploying them. To solve this problem, the military is experimenting with portable fuel cells and putting solar panels on soldier backpacks to eliminate the need for typical plug-in recharging, according to the post.

The scope of the program also has changed. Rather than replace legacy communications, as the Army considered with CSDA, it plans to complement existing systems -- such as Rifleman Radio -- with the technology, and fill in communications gaps where it sees fit.

The Army has been loading the devices with three types of applications soldiers might find useful -- training, administrative, and operational or tactical.

The training applications in particular have already proved to be useful, raising the scores of soldiers in the classroom at the Air Defense Center at Fort Bliss, according to the post.

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