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Army Develops Android-Based Framework For Battlefield Ops 80

Posted by Soulskill
from the smart-phones-and-smart-bombs dept.
gabbo529 writes "The United States Army is developing an Android-based smartphone framework and suite of applications for tactical operations. With the marriage between technology and military continuing to strengthen, more soldiers are getting phones for on-the-field operations. Already, the military has developed the Joint Battle Command-Platform, or JBC-P Handheld, which has an app that can be used to mark warning signals to future soldiers."
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Army Develops Android-Based Framework For Battlefield Ops

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  • FTA

    "Using the Mobile /Handheld CE Product Developers Kit, we're going to allow the third-party developers to actually develop capabilities that aren't stovepiped,"

    So who are the 3rd parties? Anyone notice an upward trend in the hiring of android devs in the defense sector?

    I'm at least hoping this gives private citizens more of a "voice" in how their military operates. Hell, just have an idea submission form on the website and let the contractors worry about the development.

  • Question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rlp (11898) on Friday April 22, 2011 @10:39AM (#35906422)

    Question for those who know about such things - wouldn't the RF emissions from a phone of the battlefield give away information about troop locations and deployment?

    • Re:Question (Score:4, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday April 22, 2011 @10:54AM (#35906566) Homepage Journal

      Without commenting on any military technology I don't understand anyway, it is theoretically possible to do relatively narrow-beam communications to a repeater in the sky, e.g. a satellite or an AWACS. But most of the time the bad guys know nominally where we are, and since we mostly bomb poor people with a pretty lousy military they wouldn't have the technology to figure out where individuals are and target them... yet. I'd guess these systems actually do just use broadcast communications but it's simply not an issue... yet.

    • Re:Question (Score:4, Insightful)

      by couchslug (175151) on Friday April 22, 2011 @10:59AM (#35906634)

      Modern battlefields are saturated with RF. If required for stealth ops in nation-state war equipment can be turned off.

      In non-nation-state war ease of communication and the very short value of most data make convenient comms useful.

    • Re:Question (Score:4, Interesting)

      by DrgnDancer (137700) on Friday April 22, 2011 @11:09AM (#35906726) Homepage

      My guess is that the tactical versions of all of this will use a frequency hoping radio in the "phone" and a dedicated military tower infrastructure with encryption. We already have the equivalent of mobile cell towers that can be put up or dropped in thirty minutes or so. There's almost certainly a lot more to this than a few Android apps, but using Android as the base OS on the portable soldier carried device will save a lot of development work.

      Write drivers for the Android kernel that abstract away the specialty radio hardware, and suddenly you can do secure tactical communication software development using the same tools that make Angry Birds. better still this stuff can be tested, proof of concepted, even trained on back in the US using cheap commercial hardware, then put on ruggedized equipment with more secure radio hardware in theater.

      • Re:Question (Score:4, Funny)

        by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday April 22, 2011 @11:16AM (#35906796) Homepage
        Angry Birds could be the basis of one fantastic mortar app.
        • by blair1q (305137)

          Unless the mortar is a 5-meter slingshot (yes, someone's done the math assuming earth gravity, and those birds are about 1.5 meters in diameter), it's not.

      • by mcrbids (148650)

        My guess is that the tactical versions of all of this will use a frequency hoping radio in the "phone" and a dedicated military tower infrastructure with encryption.

        Why would this be necessary, or even useful? Why not just layer the encryption on top of an already-well-tested-and-deployed protocol like CDMA?

        It's a vastly different world, nowadays. Virtually everywhere, civilian communications networks vastly outperform strictly military networks in ubiquity, reliability, and low cost. You can be sure as any

        • Because you can't rely on the civilian network being there, or being effective. In Iraq we got fair to middling voice coverage on personal cell phones from Iraqna but as far as I know their data service capabilities were extremely spotty. This was also inside the main American camp and very close to Baghdad, I'm told that on conveys, or out in the country, even voice service was spotty. Granted this was a few years ago, during the worst of the insurgency; and before widespread data adoption even here in

    • by alen (225700)

      there are already thousands of radios, gps units and other RF devices on the battlefield. the plusses of this are too much to ignore.

      20 years ago if a unit made contact with an enemy they would radio to their next level HQ and so on and so on. with this you plot the location on the map and the data is available to everyone. also reduces radio chatter and frees up the radio networks for important traffic.

      same with orders. no need to talk on the radio with a lot of static. just send the orders digitally

    • by rickb928 (945187)

      Yes, the modern battlefield is saturated with RF. EW operations now include cellphone and GPS manipulation, so you can safely assume that if we want to listen in on Al Queda cell calls in Afghanistan, we can. And probably triangulate the phone location at least as well as Apple can with a stock iPhone & IOS4(?).

      But a battle-ready smartphone doesn't need to be limited to conventional spectrum. And with a decent encrypted radio, such as is being used already, communications can be relatively safe. Rel

    • by Jonner (189691)

      Yeah, that's the reason troops never have RF devices currently. Hand signals and carrier pigeons are good enough.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Yes and no. Modern military radios use spread spectrum and encryption to make them hard to locate and hard to listen in on. Now the rest of this is just off the cuff and some historical information. There are several ways make it even more secure. For on thing is forward units could choose to transmit only when they absolutely need to. They would listen and not talk. To keep say a head quarters secret you could have several transmitter sites linked to the HQ by cable or fiber. They can take out one transmit

  • by Tanlis (304135) on Friday April 22, 2011 @10:42AM (#35906454)

    While out in the field with the Android phone and the new apps...

    Sergeant: Private! Check to see if any other patrols have left any warning signals near here.

    Private: Ok Sarge!

    5 minutes later...

    Sergeant: Private! What's taking so long? Are there any damn warnings?!?!

    Private: Ohh! Sorry Sarge. I had to wait for the ad for Angry Birds Rio to finish loading and then I decided to download to it.

    Sergeant: Gomer!!!

    • by Nerdfest (867930)
      With the use of the phones as controllers for drones, Angry Birds could become a much more interesting game.
  • To the general public. Search for developer FA53 on the market.

    https://market.android.com/search?q=FA53&so=1&c=apps [android.com]

    • One of these things is not like the others... The Small Catechism? Strange thing for a military app maker to produce... Also strange that anyone would want it in an app... most copies are smaller than a phone.

      (Small Catechism is a book written by Martin Luther for Confirmation students (basically early-teen Sunday school))

      • This is true. The developer (a student in the 25A Functional Area 53 (IT) officer's course) is not an Army developer, but is working on apps to show they can be of use to the Army. I know that I've use the PT app on more than one occasion and have looked at the others. There is a small group of the students who do the programming. My guess is that the main owner of FA53 is a Lutheran and thus wanted that published. Probably should have used a different account, but I'm not worried about it.

  • so... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Friday April 22, 2011 @11:09AM (#35906732)
    So Google will be tracking all of our military assets as well as our citizens? Awesome.
  • I guess this is another club that has fallen for the Google "open" claims for Android. On the other hand, Google is a US company, so an internal intelligence leak might not be a big problem.

    Quality move to base yourself on a platform whose vendor makes money with taking data from you - try to run Android features without a (totally unnecessary) login to a Google account.. That'll be mighty funny when they go into theater and log in "Google has just added Wave 2 - activate Y/N?". Or launch bomb: 22000 amm

    • by Jonner (189691)

      The Google account login is only necessary for specific applications (especially the Google ones of course), not for the Android platform. The platform (not including the apps) is available under Free and Open Source licenses and can therefore be customized to use or not use any services desired. The US military has their own worldwide data networks and communications infrastructure, so it would be stupid for them to rely on any Google services.

      • by cheros (223479)

        The first problem is the Free and Open [theregister.co.uk] claim. The second problem is that Google, like Facebook, grew up on the wave of privacy violations committed under the guise of anti-terror measures - you could say it's in the corporate DNA. The third problem is that Google hasn't exactly done much to engender trust by breaking privacy laws in various ways in many countries as if the law doesn't apply to them (the WiFi data grabbing, Streetview issue) - it exposed the "do no evil" for the BS it was. It is a shame,

        • by Jonner (189691)

          The Register article you reference is talking about Android 3.0 and there is no indication that's what the Army does or intends to use. That seems very unlikely, since Android 3.0 is supposedly intended only for tablets. Though it's unclear when or if Android 3.0 will be released as Free and Open Source software, 2.x versions are actually unconditionally Open Source [android.com].

          I wouldn't try to dispute any of your complaints about Google's use of data. However, I think that's unrelated to this issue because the Army d

          • So, you're saying that any smartphone platform the DOD uses should be developed solely by them with no outside help from companies or any FLOSS development community.

            No, that's NOT what I said. I said they should remain in full control, which is actually more likely with FLOSS sourced code. What they need to do is take code, freeze it so it can be audited end to end, and then roll in updates after audit. I would actually disagree with the DoD brewing their own because it takes time to build up the requi

            • by Jonner (189691)

              Though the details are slim at this point what you describe seems a likely scenario. We'll have to wait until the release of the Army's distribution of Android to see what they did with it and get some idea of how they'll manage it.

  • on unhardened, consumer technology. What a wonderful idea. America will only attack the poor, weak, and defenseless but that doesn't mean America will not be attacked but a nearer military equal. Of course in this case, even some poor, weak and defenseless chap that just so happened to take a few classes in electrical engineering before joining the intifada.
    • by Jonner (189691)

      From the article:

      The Army is whether or not a commercial made phone or government off the shelf model is more appropriate.

      As poorly written as that is, it sounds like the Army is considering using their own phone designs. I'm sure they're capable of designing hardened devices that can run Android if they need to. The Army has used hardened PC hardware for a long time.

      • by Rich0 (548339)

        Makes sense, although count on those phones being plenty expensive.

        I know somebody who works for a government contractor and they told me a story they heard about some army meeting with a cell phone manufacturer. The army promised that if they tailored a phone to their specs they'd buy 100k of them. The manufacturer told them that they didn't deal with such small quantities. The army was apparently shocked, not realizing the true scale of consumer hardware manufacture.

        Likewise he had stories of meetings

        • by Jonner (189691)

          I certainly agree that both the commercial and military approaches have tradeoffs and are appropriate for different situations. It sounds like the Army is trying to standardize on a software platform just as they did with ammunition. Just as 7.62x51mm NATO ammunition can be used in an M-24 sniper rilfe, M-240 machine gun, or M-134 minigun, the Army could use their Android distribution on HTC or Motorola phones or their own designs.

        • Makes sense, although count on those phones being plenty expensive

          Have you SEEN our defense budget? Do you see any of these "smaller government" morons clamoring for a smaller defense budget?

          Cost will not be an issue.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Except they aren't.

      But you keep coming up with reason to poo poo any article.

      Cause we don't have enough people like you already~

      • Except they are--presently, and "not sure" for the future.

        The Mobile /Handheld CE development kit will be released in July of this year. The Army is whether or not a commercial made phone or government off the shelf model is more appropriate. Regardless, the Army says, the software development kit will be designed for a variety of Android based systems.

        "I saw the ability when a soldier is wounded to take a picture of the wound and to pass that to the doctors, so that medics can make sure that they are treating the soldier in the appropriate way, given the wound that he has received. So there are many, many applications of this,"

        McCarthy said that to date, the project has been run on shoestring budget, and he'd like to keep it that way. Defense contractors have provided him with proposals that would requrre the expenditure "of a lot of money," he said, but he does not want to pursue proposals that would transform a $200 commercial gadget into a $2,400 Army-unique phone. from [nextgov.com]

        more...

        I'm not certain if the you you speak of is directed targeted at me or what you perceive to be people like me, but really, I think there's a benefit to people thinking critically and trying to not simply believe the marketing without due consideration and proper knowledge.

  • by psyph3r (785014)
    "Looks like i got a text alert about a warning ahea"...shhhhuck...boom head shot! That's what you get for looking at your phone while playing modern warfare
  • Disclaimer: I'm not in any way affiliated with Palantir.

    Palantir Mobile [palantirtech.com]

    My bet? It's to use more of this. Seriously seeing Palantir Mobile in action is bloody freakin awesome.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just to get some solid information out there to counter the "hurr durr soldiers playing angry birds" stuff. The Army has been planning how to utilize mobile devices for a while. Implementing everything takes a lot of time, however, because of bureaucratic regulations. (Anyone who's worked corporate IT has an idea.) It's basically a three-phase plan, which is pretty much forked into separate projects at this point.
    Phase 1- Develop mobile apps/webapps for unclassified material. (As mentioned above, search the

  • ... I really wish you hadn't sent those launch codes to the guys in the silos...

    • by blair1q (305137)

      Too bad they're not iOS based, too. Now when the alien invasion starts, we won't be able to upload our virus to them.

  • Because to be useful as a tactical tool, it's going to need to be hyper-rugged, and I can stop treating my smartphone like a robin's egg.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Dear god I hope someone considered the chances of such devices falling into enemy hands. They better be encrypted to all jesus christ and back, with failsafe passwords in case troops get caught and forced to give up passwords for the devices (maybe with some good counter-intel).

    • by brit74 (831798)

      with failsafe passwords in case troops get caught

      Maybe a real password that gives someone access to the device, and a fake password that gives partial access to the device (to make it look like the real password was given) and alerts HQ that the device has been captured - which allows them to feed false information to the device, turns on the camera and microphone so HQ can listen, and also consider rescuing the soldier(s).

  • I hope that they ban these phones from installing any non-approved apps, among other restrictions. With no screening process for Google Market apps, we could see a virus that spreads quickly throughout the military network (think stuxnet) disguised as "AWESOME WALLPAPERS!" or "ANGRY BIRDS CHEAT APP."
  • ... that there's an App for that.

  • There are some significant omissions in this article. First, the phones don't have any cellular connectivity. There are no friendly base stations out in Afghanistan. The phones are being provided backhaul via a wired connection to a JTRS radio. In fact, it's likely that the wireless modems on the phones would be disabled for real deployment. What's exciting is that the radios are a huge improvement over what soldiers have today. Android simply provides them with a framework for display devices. Depending o

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