The US military has long experimented with mobile devices for use in combat. Next week, the Army plans to conduct field trials with Apple's iPhone, Android handsets and various tablet computers.
The field trials - slated to be held in the desert - will include stress tests for a number of apps involving streaming of surveillance video and downloading real-time information from remote databases.
Although the Army is already quite experienced in the realm of the high tech, it hopes to simplify the experience with lighter devices and more powerful software.
For example, the military has already developed an app for watching full-motion video shot from a robot drone in the field .
Although the Army doesn't plan to (initially) give every soldier a smartphone, General Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff says if the trials work out, it will "buy what we need for who needs it now."
The desert trials are scheduled to take place at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and at Fort Bliss, Texas under a widespread evaluation of the Army’s current communications gear.
Soldiers of the Second Brigade Combat Team and the First Armored Division will test the smartphones during a six week trial.
Project leader Michael McCarthy says the point of the exercises is to determine if the smartphone can truly be an essential piece of equipment.
"We want to give people the right phones for the right reasons, not just give them another shiny thing to hang on their equipment carriers," he said.
McCarthy emphasized affordability as a major factor within the project because the service doesn’t want to "spend $2,500 to ruggedize a $200 phone."
Currently the Army has its eyes on Apple’s iPad and iPhone but is also testing various Google Android devices.
The Army has identified 85 apps it would like to run on the devices, some created by commercial software designers, others developed in-house. It also hopes to develop downloadable instruction manuals that can be updated on-the-fly.
During the above-mentioned trials, the military will examine alternative energy sources for powering the devices, including solar chargers and micro fuel cells.
As expected, one of the biggest barriers to adoption has been the question of mobile security.
Brendan O’Connell, head of the military-business unit for radio manufacturer Harris Corp says effective cellular networks for troops aren’t doable without "backbone communications architecture" that is both rugged and secure.
"We don't want to get anybody hurt or killed by letting information out," said Rickey Smith, of the Army Capabilities Integration Center.