Enabling the Soldier as a sensor with operational apps

Now that the Apps for the Army is over, the next logical question is when will apps be developed for operational use on the battlefield. (Image: US Army)

Now that A4A is over, the next question is: when will apps be developed for operational use on the battlefield. (Image: US Army)

Edric Thompson is a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, located at Fort Monmouth, N.J.

There were a lot of questions during Wednesday’s Bloggers Roundtable regarding smartphones and hand-held devices. Two of the more interesting discussions involved their use in theater, and developing operational apps for hand-held devices so Soldiers can control systems and access networks during missions.

As for the former, Lt. Gen. Sorneson noted that the Army’s still looking at security and encryption concerns (which we discussed in my last post on cloud computing).

As for the latter, Sorenson said, “I think that’s an absolutely reasonable expectation.” He then referenced the assessments and work being done at Fort Bliss, Texas, and here at Fort Monmouth, N.J.

I’m surprised that there wasn’t much discussion about Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications (CSDA), which is an initiative being supported by the Army to demonstrate the technical capabilities of handheld devices, applications, and networks in a tactical environment.

The Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) advises on applications and new equipment training and support application delivery to pilot programs in its role as the lead for CSDA applications development.

In addition to assessing commercial smartphones, applications, and network infrastructure, our guys in the Command and Control Directorate have developed several handheld command and control solutions and are supporting the development and transition of two iPhone applications: COIN Collector, a counter-insurgency information collection tool, and MilSpace, a combined planning and social networking environment.

To use one of the R&D buzz phrase that I’ve been hearing lately, it’s “enabling the Soldier as a sensor.”

From an operational standpoint, that means enabling the Soldier to share and manage information with other units, across echelons, in real-time. To a certain degree, the Apps for the Army (A4A) competition adds another facet to this concept.

If there’s a need in the field and no application available, Soldiers have been known to develop it themselves – created for the unit, by the unit. Nothing wrong with a little ingenuity, but unless there’s mass distribution, it benefits that unit only.

If A4A can indeed pave the way for streamlined certification processes, it could enable and encourage the Soldier to put those ideas back into the Army so it could be shared by every Soldier.

I don’t think that’s too much of a stretch, linking those together, but I’d be interested to hear thoughts or about work being done on any of these: operational apps, cyber security for cellular technology, or real-time knowledge management for the dismounted Soldier.

In the meantime, I invite you to check out some articles that discuss the CSDA-related work being done by CERDEC Command and Control Directorate.

Be sure to follow CERDEC on Facebook and Twitter!