Army tests electronic, updatable manuals for the field

The Army is testing a variety of applications and devices, including a Kindle, six iPads and an Entourage Edge, as potential platforms for battlefield systems manuals.

The military is fast testing and adopting a range of mobile devices for soldiers in the field, including smart phones, iPads and e-book readers.

The latest possible application: manuals for standard battlefield systems, including broadband radios and unmanned sensor systems.

Mike McCarthy, director of the Future Force Integration Directorate's Mission Command Complex at Fort Bliss, Texas, is testing a Kindle, six Apple iPads and an Entourage Edge, a dual-screen e-book and tablet PC, to see how they would fare as replacements for manuals on the battlefield, NextGov reported. Results will be available in December and will be evaluated at that time.

The devices would not replace standard systems such as the broadband radios the Army is testing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, according to NextGov.

One potential benefit could be instant updates to a manual if a system is reprogrammed or revised, reducing distribution time and paper, McCarthy said.

Simultaneously, the Army will also test alternative energy sources such as fuel cells and solar panels for handling the devices’ power needs. The solar cells would be attached to a backpack and provide three hours of power for every hour of sunlight. The fuel cells would provide continuous power at a much lighter weight than standard Army batteries because the cells weigh a few ounces rather than a few pounds.

Later this year, Army officials intend to test Monax, a wireless network developed by Lockheed Martin for soldiers who don't have access to commercial cellular networks, and short-range cellular systems developed by xG Technology, NextGov reports. The Army is using cellular service from Nextel, a division of Sprint, for its broadband radio testing at White Sands.

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Sorenson, the Army's CIO, said Apps for the Army, the service’s first-ever application development challenge, demonstrated the growing use of Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android operating systems and a new, faster technology acquisition process, which has traditionally been lengthy and involved, GCN reported last month.

The Army and some of the other services, including the Marine Corps, are considering hosting other contests and are in discussions to collaborate with commercial developers. Additionally, the Army could deploy smart phones to soldiers in the field as soon as next year, Sorenson said.

As part of that potential deployment, the Army has begun a preliminary study to determine if smart phones are effective in delivering training material to new recruits. According to Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, the Army’s top officer in charge of basic training, the handheld devices are intended for use during basic training and during soldiers’ service careers as a learning tool. Hertling told Defense Tech that the Army has issued a battalion’s worth of iPhones to new trainees.

The iPhone effort is affiliated with Apps for the Army, whose goal is to develop a variety of applications that can be loaded onto soldiers’ smart phones. At the end of the summer, GCN reported that the Army had announced the top five winning applications: a physical training program, a telehealth mood tracker, a disaster relief application, a movement projection tool for mapping routes and a program to provide information to prospective soldiers.

Of the 15 winning applications, 10 were built using Android, a software stack for mobile devices that includes an operating system, middleware and key applications. The other five applications were built for the iPhone platform.

However, the use of commercial mobile devices is not without risks. Civilian and military 3G iPads were recently hacked, reported Gawker and GCN in June. The New York Times reported that hackers could potentially determine a device's location.