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Smart phones increase 'SPOT' reporting in Army evaluations

June 10, 2011

By Kris Osborn

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 10, 2011) -- The Army is finding the use of smart-phone devices such as an Android or iPhone leads to an increase in "SPOT" reports, wherein Soldiers share tactically relevant information across the force in real-time, service officials said.

Through a series of ongoing evaluations called "Connecting Soldiers to Digital Apps" -- an initiative which places smart phones and PDA-like devices in the hands of Soldiers in mock combat operational scenarios -- Army officials are learning that sharing data, images and even video instantaneously can potentially provide a tactical advantage on the battlefield.

"Think of mission command," said Rickey Smith, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center - Forward. "Part of what we have to have shared is understanding. This is another way for the individual Soldier to send something back to his squad leader or fellow squad members."

Soldiers that went through mock-combat exercises with mobile smart devices achieved as much as a 40-percent increase in "SPOT" reporting, which included taking photographs and sharing data within their formation.

"As much as possible, this ability go get information in real-time horizontally and vertically is important," Smith said. "A smart phone is a camera, it is a voice communication device, and it provides chat text. You can send or receive photos graphics and videos."

During evaluations, Soldiers have been able to take pictures and send them back to headquarters, or speed up the pace of a MEDEVAC by providing location information quickly, he added.

In addition, the Army has had success running situational awareness Battle Command applications on smart phones such as Joint Battle Command - Platform, a next-generation force-tracking program able to show locations of friendly forces.

The Army is now conducting cost-benefit analyses of the use of various smart phones and applications. Some of the applications involve the use of icons and maps with key location-related information, Smith said.

At the same time, there are information assurance challenges with the use of smart phones, Smith explained. "You don't want to use a device that might give away your locations to a potential enemy."

The Army's CSDA initiative is considering various types of encryption-and other methods, designed to mitigate these concerns, Smith said.

With this in mind, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has Soldiers in Afghanistan using a smart phone/PDA-type device which translates Pashtu into English and vice versa. However, the "phone" function on this device is turned off, for now, so as to mitigate security risks, Smith explained.

Another option being explored is the use of portable cell-towers able to establish a mobile, ad-hoc cell network for deployed forces. This technique creates a mobile "hot spot" which can be extended by adding nodes to the network.

As part of these evaluations, the Army is assessing whether ad-hoc mobile cell networks can successfully integrate with an existing tactical network, which includes software-programmable radios, satellites and other communications technology.

The CSDA initiative is also having success in using smart devices for training materials, which can be pulled down and used by students at the place and time of the student's choice, Smith said.

Documents like the Army "Blue Book" instruction manual for new Soldiers, military police basic officer courses and Patriot missile launcher crewmen courses are using smart phone applications.

"We can postulate a future where smart devices are with every Soldier," Smith said. "We are thinking in terms of capability. The real key is whether the benefit outweighs the cost."

(Chris Osborn writes for the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology)

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