Naval War College uses Russian software for iPad course material

None of the information used by students, the Navy's future leaders, is classified.

The Navy's premier institution for developing senior strategic and operational leaders started issuing students Apple iPad tablet computers equipped with GoodReader software in August 2010, unaware that the mobile app was developed and maintained by a Russian company, Good.iWare, until Nextgov reported it in February.

John Roberts, who runs the iPad pilot project at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., said he did not check the provenance of GoodReader when he decided to use the software application, a fact that "does not put me in the best possible light," he told Nextgov.

The Naval War College evaluated six PDF reader applications and chose GoodReader because of "its look and feel, capability and the fact that it was highly rated in the Apple app store," Roberts said. This, he added, should not be considered an official endorsement of GoodReader.

Asked if he might have chosen another PDF reader app if he knew GoodReader was developed in Russia, Roberts said he might have had second thoughts. The course material loaded onto iPads at the school is far different from mission-critical software used by the Air Force Special Operations Command, which planned to use GoodReader to provide mission security and read digital navigation charts, until it canceled its iPad buy last month.

Digital course information is unclassified and open source material, Roberts said. Much of the information, such as Defense Department joint doctrine publications, is readily available on the Internet. If the Naval War College put classified material on iPads, Roberts said he would conduct a more thorough examination of potential apps.

The Naval War College decided to shift its course material from paper to digital to save on printing and distribution costs, he said. This includes more than 8,000 pages of printouts and 58 books per student annually. The school has an inventory of 375 iPad 2 tablets it loans to students and another 60 iPad 1s supplied to the faculty. Students also can use their own mobile computers and readers, Roberts said, which includes Kindle digital readers from Amazon and the Xoom tablet from Motorola, which runs the Android operating system. The Naval War College is device-agnostic.

Teri Takai, the Defense Department's chief information officer, told a conference in Colorado Springs, Colo., that demand for iPads and other mobile computers continues to grow, a statement to which Roberts can attest. Roughly 85 percent of Naval War College students prefer iPads over paper for course materials, he said.