General Dynamics is hardly a name that comes to mind in today’s fast moving smartphone market. Inside National Security Agency circles, however, General Dynamic’s Sectera Edge smartphone — for awhile at least — had gained a reputation for its ability to make secure phone calls and access email and data on classified networks via cellular networks and Wi-Fi access points anywhere in the world.
But priced at more than $3,100 per phone, and weighing 12 ounces, and about as user friendly as its generic government name, the Secure Mobile Environment Portable Electronic Device (SME PED) was all but destined to lose its appeal as smartphone makers and application developers continued to revolutionize what smartphones could do. (Even President Obama, upon taking office, balked at using one, preferring his BlackBerry at the time.)
Recognizing that the mobile technology revolution is rewiring assumptions across the federal government, General Dynamics announced last week that it is teaming up with Samsung to deliver a new line of secure smartphones at what it described as “commercial price points.”
The new jointly-developed products “solve a number of critical issues surrounding the use of commercial smartphones by military and government personnel,” said Carol Smith, a spokesperson for General Dynamics C4 Systems, which specializes in battle proof networking and communication systems.
With the speed at which mobile technology is evolving, the GOTS approach for mobility is no longer feasible.”
The new Android-based line of devices, including the Samsung Galaxy S2 (pictured above) are designed to meet Defense Department wireless communications and network security requirements and will work on virtually all commercial cellular networks, Smith said.
Mike Guzelian vice president of Secure Voice and Data Products for General Dynamics C4 Systems said that the business agreement is important for several reasons:
“In the past, government programs were used to develop customized hardware, or government off the shelf (GOTS) products, to protect classified information. But with the speed at which mobile technology is evolving, the GOTS approach for mobility is no longer feasible.”
In addition, he said, it simply makes more sense to leverage the “familiar user interface” that commercial smartphones and tablets provide for government customers.
According to Guzelian, Samsung’s SAFE (Samsung Approved for Enterprise) suite of security features delivers “enterprise-friendly capabilities above and beyond standard Android platform features,” he said.
“The agreement between General Dynamics and Samsung will upgrade SAFE devices to provide a suite of cost-effective products that will protect a spectrum of security levels, ranging from Secret to Sensitive-But-Unclassified,” he said.
“This will enable military, as well as law enforcement, first responders and border patrol agents, to do their job easily and effectively knowing that the information they are working with is secure,” he added.