Future US soldiers may have government-issue iPhones
to go with their boots and rifles. If a new modernization plan is successful, soldiers will have their phones and service plans paid for by the Army, allowing them to communicate securely and use military apps for training as well as live intelligence data. However, securing these phones is a challenge, and Apple and Google so far have been unwilling to open up API access to their security functions.
Lieutenant General Michael Vane, the director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) suggests that the Army would issue smartphones just like any other piece of equipment a soldier receives. "One of the options," he said to the Army Times
, "is to make it a piece of equipment in a soldier's clothing bag." The Army is looking at what General Vane calls a "maintenance fee" for apps and wireless service. "If you did it that way," the general says, "the advantage would be to pay for the phone once and then you pay a maintenance fee to the soldier... and then the soldier can buy whatever iPhone, Android or hardware that he or she likes."
Smartphones are already making inroads to the military for training and operational use. An Army program called Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications is underway at Fort Leonard Wood, Fort Lee, and Fort Sill. A task force at Fort Bliss is preparing to deploy smartphones on the battlefield. In February, the Army's first brigade to receive upgrades under the brigade combat team modernization program will begin testing an array of electronic equipment. "We're looking at everything from iPads to Kindles to Nook readers to mini-projectors," Mike McCarthy, director of the mission command complex of Future Force Integration Directorate at Fort Bliss, told the Army Times. Soldiers would be able to get real-time intelligence and video from drones and satellites, and use Google Maps-like apps to identify friend and foe on the battlefield. Security is, obviously, a fundamental concern.
"We had to prove that we could make the electrons flow from one end to the other successfully," McCarthy said. "We took a little bit of license in not going over classified networks. Once it works, we can start working on the information assurance piece." This task is made more difficult by the fact that Apple and Google refused to give the government API access to their devices' security stacks. While some observers were outraged
by the refusal, others pointed out that entrusting your secrets to the government is not a guarantee of privacy. "The U.S. government leaks like a sieve," MacDailyNews
wrote. "Tool on over to WikiLeaks for proof."
Nevertheless, the push to include cutting edge technology in the military continues. "The challenge will be to work through the policy issues of sharing data and information assurance," General Vane said. "Army officials remain concerned of enemy forces hacking into the phones, but don't want that fear to paralyze the use of these phones."