Army looks to Kindles, iPads and smart phones for the battlefield

To keep the power flowing to the handheld devices, the service also is experimenting with new lightweight solar and fuel cell systems that provide hours of energy.

The Army is testing this month some popular consumer technology products, including smart phones, Kindle e-book readers and iPad tablet computers, to see how they work on the battlefield.

The tech gadgets rely on a never-ending supply of energy, so the service also is experimenting with alternative power sources such as fuel cells and solar panels, said Mike McCarthy, director of the mission command complex of the Future Force Integration Directorate at Fort Bliss in Texas.

The consumer products will not replace standard systems such as the broadband radios the Army is testing at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

McCarthy bought a Kindle, six Apple iPads and an Entourage Edge, which incorporates an e-book reader and a tablet into a dual-screen computer, to see how the retail products could be used on the battlefield. He said the devices could serve as electronic manuals for Army standard battlefield systems, including broadband radios and unmanned sensors systems.

Currently, soldiers use printed manuals. Every time a system is reprogrammed or revised, the Army has to print new instructions to distribute to soldiers. But the service could easily update the e-manuals and push the changes out instantly over a network, McCarthy said.

Combat networks in the future could include battlefield cellular systems, and the Army is using Nextel's cellular service, a division of Sprint, to blanket the 350 square miles where testing is taking place at White Sands.

Since it might not have access to commercial cellular networks in combat, the Army plans to test later this year the Monax wireless network Lockheed Martin Corp. manufactures, which supports smart-phone operations over military networks.

The integration directorate also will test short-range cellular systems xG Technology Inc. developed.

To keep batteries charged, the directorate is experimenting with solar cells that attach to a backpack and provide three hours of power for every one hour of sunlight exposure. It also is testing fuel cells that provide continuous power and weigh just ounces compared with standard Army batteries that weigh a few pounds.

The directorate fielded 149 i1 Push-to-Talk phones from Motorola, which run on Google's Android operating system, as well as 53 Touch Pro2s from vendor HTC, which run on Windows Mobile software. With these phones soldiers can quickly choose to use chat as their key communications mode, Tanner noted.

Final test results, which will be available in December, will be forwarded up the Army's chain of command for further evaluation.

Carol Wortman, acting director of the Army Architecture Integration Center said during a Government Executive training webinar on Tuesday that smart phones have strong backing from top commanders, including Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the vice chief of staff, who is an avid iPhone user.