Not content with merely soliciting bids for smartphone apps useful to the military "and the national security community more generally", the Pentagon's tech hothouse now plans something resembling a military App Store - and has unveiled plans to deploy civilian mobile coverage onto the battlefield.
In an announcement issued yesterday, DARPA added to its recent "Mobile Apps for the Military" plan by outlining a further "Transformative Apps" scheme. First on the war-boffins' shopping list is their own App Store, or something very like one:
A military apps marketplace will be created to enable rapid innovation to meet user needs based on a direct collaboration between a vibrant and highly competitive development community and involved communities of end-users.
The earlier announcement had already ruled Windows Mobile developers out of the running, stating that "initial interest will focus on apps developed on the iPhone or Android platforms". DARPA has now thrown the iPhone off the sleigh as well, specifying yesterday that "for the initial implementation, all apps should target the Android platforms".
As to what kinds of wares should be offered for the new DARPA Android war-app store, developers take note:
DARPA is seeking applications to fill a diverse set of needs, including the tactical battlefield, humanitarian missions, disaster recovery, and other mission areas. Example functionalities include command and control, reporting, mission planning, intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance, real-time collaboration, geospatial visualization, analysis, language translation, training, and logistics tracking. Special attention must be paid to the apps' user interfaces and usability functions, as well as striving towards general simplicity and ease-of-use.
One of the main snags to using many smartphone capabilities on the battlefield (or often enough in a major western city, for that matter) is lack of reliable network coverage. DARPA expect their Android developers to be sparing of bandwidth and able to cope with occasional dropouts, but even so it might seem a little worrying to have troops in combat dependent on the patchy GSM networks of Afghanistan, for instance - especially as these are occasionally menaced into shutting down by the Taliban.
DARPA, fortunately, don't expect soldiers to rely on the local cell towers. Rather, it seems, the US forces will take their own 3G coverage with them:
An affordable, robust, and secure mobile tactical network capability compatible with commercial smartphones will be developed. Infrastructure kits that allow for light-weight mobile base stations need to be easily deployed in multiple variants (e.g. for a large fixed site location, an outpost, a vehicle on-the-move or at- the-halt) and will be used to reach mobile dismounted users. The program will leverage, to the greatest extent possible, commercial components and standards and focus on demonstrating "good enough" solutions with appropriate security and functionality enhancements for tactical users. Non-developmental commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware should be favored when available.