April 12, 2013
Sean Killian
Sean Killian
Master Marketer

With the rise in adoption, functionality and flexibility of mobile applications, the US military has begun formulating and executing plans for application usage within several branches of the armed forces. While some of these applications are standard organizational apps that enterprises have been implementing for years, others may allow the US military to continue to enhance their modern warfare arsenal through various digital means.

Current State of Modernization

Now, if we are having a conversation about the US and modern warfare we’d be remiss not to first mention unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs.) American UAVs or drones as they are often referred to, serve several functions: conservation efforts, search and rescue missions, scientific research, payload transport, energy exploration, domestic policing and armed attacks. Obviously the last two applications of the technology seem to attract the most attention and often an incredibly heated debate. But, rather than using this forum to take a stance on the use of drones related to privacy or aerial attacks on foreign soil, we will simply use unmanned aerial vehicles as a quick example of one of the largest shifts by the US military into our current, advanced technological climate.

The US military has been increasingly catering their military hardware to fit the demographic makeup of their members. Since average ages of all five branches of the armed forces are at or below the age of 30, integrating technology that individuals in this age bracket utilize on a daily basis diminishes the learning curve as new military innovations emerge. A great example is the US Army’s use of handheld controllers similar to those used in modern video gaming. The controllers, which bear striking resemblance to Microsoft’s XBOX 360 controller, are used for small unmanned aerial reconnaissance as well as ground robotic efforts (think bomb diffusal and landmine exploration.)

Implementing a Mobile Strategy

The deployment of mobile applications across the US armed forces aligns perfectly with the Department of Defense’s demographic related hardware implementation strategy. A recent study found that nearly all Millennials, the group representing individuals aged 24-32, own mobile devices and a staggering 72% own a smartphone. Since it’s members are well adept in the usage of mobile devices, in particular smartphones, the execution and training should be the simplest component of the strategy process. The first step in pushing a mobile application strategy is formulating a security policy and overall plan for deployment, and unfortunately for the US military this is no easy task.

In June of 2012, the US department of Defense unveiled it’s Mobile Device Strategy. The plan highlights the development of three main goals: develop mobile and web-based applications, improve infrastructure, and implement an overall mobile device management system. The Commercial Mobile Device Implementation Plan that was released several months later further outlined these goals. The report represents strategies that, “establish the framework to equip users and managers with mobile solutions that leverage commercial off-the-shelf products, improve functionality, decrease cost, and enable increased personal productivity.”

Last year, the US Army launched a prototype version of their own mobile app store for Android and iOS. The marketplace provides Army members with training guides, emergency response procedural documents and region specific topographical maps - to name a few applications. Lt. Susan Lawrence explained,

“The Apps Marketplace is at the center of Army efforts to radically reduce the time to deliver applications across the force. This prototype is a first step in establishing and exercising new submission and approval processes that will eventually enable Army members, organizations and third-party developers to release applications for Army-wide distribution.”

Security Concerns

Obviously with high levels of sensitive information contained within these mobile devices, security is a matter of utmost importance. Ensuring applications are not easily hacked and that devices are able to be quickly wiped of their data at a moments notice should be the primary focus in the first steps of the DOD’s strategy. Unfortunately the Army has already encountered security issues.

A recent report from the Defense Inspector General’s office found that the Army was “unaware of more than 14,000 CMDs (commercial mobile devices) used throughout the Army.” The report went on to say that these devices lacked even the most basic security precautions needed for usage - including home screen and email passwords. The report will not prevent the Army from implementing their mobile strategy, however exposing vulnerabilities in security will certainly help them and other branches who are initiating similar plans avoid similar problems going forward.

Types of Mobile Applications

Having the ability to deploy mobile applications across an entire branch of the US military is a powerful tool with almost limitless possibilities. As mentioned earlier, organizational applications exist to align policies, procedures and communications between various factions within the military. Tablet and phone applications provide individuals in the field the ability to utilize advanced mapping and enable a wide variety of GPS capabilities. These are incredibly useful applications that are easily deployed, can aid in tactical missions and could certainly have the ability to save lives. But let’s be honest, they are kind of boring - so let’s get into some of the cool futuristic stuff like teleporting through tablets and iPhones that shoot laser beams - Pew Pew Pew!

Well, maybe we’ve gotten carried away, but some mobile applications that are either currently available or in the works are quite impressive. Let’s start with a company called AOptix who was recently awarded a $3 million contract from the Pentagon to develop an application that will allow soldiers to use their iPhones to detect criminals using eye, facial, voice and fingerprint recognition. The company is able to transform your mobile device into a biometric reader using simple application software and a small hardware add on. Joey Pritikin, an AOptix vice president explained, “From an end-user perspective, it’s much, much smaller, lighter and easier to use an app-based capability than the bulky biometrics tools currently in military use. Anyone who’s used an iPhone before can pick this up and use it.”

Another application the Navy is considering targets bomb disposals utilizing mobile applications on tablets and smartphones. Today’s applications the Navy uses in their current efforts are government designed, Java based software interfaces that run on outdated, often cumbersome hardware. A complete revamping of the system will aid in mobility and provide a more efficient interface that reduces failure.

Just yesterday, Hugo Teso, a commercially trained airline pilot turned security analyst, announced that he developed an Android Application that has the ability to attack an airplane’s flight management system and make the airliner, “dance to his tune.” The application, PlaneSploit, would allow an individual from the ground to gain access to radio waves being sent between air traffic control and the aircraft. After intercepting messages, the app user would be able to send their own messages to direct the plane as they see fit. Obviously a couple government agencies that may be interested in Teso’s app would be the FAA and Department of Homeland Security - but a less obvious government entity would be the military. With new technologies emerging everyday, like the Navy’s new laser cannon plane annihilator who’s test video was released earlier this week, no concept seems off-limits.

So, what’s next as the US continues to implement their mobile strategy throughout their armed forces? As mobile capabilities continue to increase exponentially, the US military will continue to implement new strategies and further tighten security efforts. The Army is even currently training their own class of mobile developers in several bases including - Forts Gordon, Lee and Leonard Wood. Understanding the opportunity and planning ahead is the first critical step, now comes the fun part - creating innovative mobile apps that help continue to cement the US military’s place as the superpower of the present and future.