Perhaps it was inevitable. With all the computing power in the palms of a critical mass of end users, commercial off the shelf (COTS) mobile devices – smartphones, tablets and small factor computing devices of various hues and types – are now also getting into the hands of warfighters, first responders, federal law enforcement personnel, covert operators, command and control operation center staffs, and many other government workers.
And as a result, the age of tactical mobility may very well be upon us – finally.
We are already seeing many examples of tactical mobility applications: Devices used for real-time health telemetry; tracking warfighters in theater; streaming video for intelligence, surveillance and recognizance missions; common operational picture (COP) software; simple document and data collaboration; forward entry devices, and many more.
What makes them significant not only is the way they enable individuals to do their jobs better and faster, but that these applications have also evolved to the point where they have, or are gaining, end-to-end encryption to ensure security and protect the integrity of the mission.
A closer look at the “Jolted Tactics” initiative managed and tested by The Joint Chiefs of Staff Assessment Division in Suffolk, Va., demonstrates how. But more on that shortly.
It’s worthy looking back at how we got here.
Who would have thought during the 1990′s that the humble replacement for the “Day Planner” or the simple email appliance would be the forerunners of devices that run complex software applications for our warfighters.”
When those of us across the federal mobile ecosystem first started out (many moons ago), “mobility” meant the Palm Pilot back in 1996. Yes…there were many other small form factor personal devices that preceded this category-creating device, but this is the one that achieved wide spread adoption as a legitimate tool within the enterprise.
At that point in time, the “killer apps” were contacts, calendar, phone numbers and basic note taking. It was the time of PIM (or Personal Information Management) and it changed the way workers did business. No longer were the days when people brought their leather bound “day planners” into meetings; now the Technorati would come with their relatively sleek Palm devices to check meeting availability and to plan out their days synched to their PC.
The next big jump came in 1999, with the introduction of RIM’s revolutionary BlackBerry device. This added email, text, and phone connectivity to the basic PIM package. The BlackBerry was, and continues to be, a ground breaking piece of technology with a solid focus on enterprise email communications – the killer app of its time, and still a much depended upon way to communicate efficiently while mobile.
The device is perhaps best known across U.S. federal government when it was one of the only communications mechanisms that worked during the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy. (This is because it relied on low-bandwidth, data-only Mobitext technology which the planes did not take down. BlackBerry has since moved from this air-interface to GSM, CDMA, LTE and other networks.)
BlackBerry was also astute at listening to U.S. Government and large enterprise requirements around data security/information assurance and was willing to work closely with Government security experts to include various pieces of functionality. Whole cottage industries spun up because of the uptake of BlackBerry, its ubiquitous use and relatively generous ideas of working and partnering with others within government and private industry.
In 2000, the Compaq Ipaq device was launched to the market. This device introduced much more computational power, a rich runtime environment and started the move into mobile connectivity of formerly desk-bound, Line of Business (LOB) applications.
For the first time, you could have a Citrix client, a Siebel client, an ESRI GIS client resident on the device that allowed for remote worker productivity. The device worked in both connected and disconnected states. You could easily program the creation of digital forms, surveys, inspections applications, and more.
The popularity of this device was really driven by the development platform which basically used off the shelf COTS tools from Microsoft and written in C+ and C# and later in .NET
But the device that really caused a sea-change in thinking, of course, was the Apple iPhone that launched in 2007. Apple took “applications” to a new level and created a critical mass of developers who wished to write to this platform.
While the iPhone is mostly known for consumer applications, it started to find its way into the enterprise mostly because of its support of Microsoft’s Exchange Active Synch (EAS) email protocol. Now, you had a device that married your Personal Information Manager, your communications and a very rich application ecosystem and which became a life style device – something that you could not live without.
Now looking ahead, perhaps it is the Linux-based Android that represents the most promising future. The reason for this lies in the open nature of the software, it’s ubiquity across multiple original design/equipment manufacturers because of Google’s licensing policies of Linux and finally because of its flexibility and power. But it’s biggest potential in the U.S. Government and much of industry lies in the promise of a security enhanced version of Android called SE Android.
All of which leads to what’s to come.
The State of Tactical Mobility Today
A terrific example of modern tactical mobility would be the “Jolted Tactics” initiative (Joint Operational Long Term Evolution Deployable) managed and tested by The Joint Chiefs of Staff Assessment Division in Suffolk, Va.
In essence, Jolted Tactics is all about providing COTS tools and technologies to our warfighters in a secure manner – no matter where they are.
Using methodically thought out test evaluation procedures and trials, Jolted Tactics seeks to deploy real time video streaming, common operational picture software, medical health telemetry and secure communications across a variety of topographical milieu.
The proposed concept includes: Lightweight, portable communication-on-demand packages that allow end users to quickly establish secure 4G wireless networks anytime, anywhere with minimal manpower, training and equipment. Commanders will have seamless C2 connectivity.
The system is designed to provide capability and maneuverability in areas with impaired or non-existent infrastructure and features, built-in geolocation with extremely accurate triangulation (from within vehicles, interior locations and with no satellite fix required) and operate in GPS-denied areas. The solution must work during high-speed vehicle operations including real-time streaming from tactical aircraft.
Each trial has at its core, the forward deployment of portable LTE networking gear by Oceus Networks. Tests are planned to ensure the security of the communications links and the effectiveness of the tactical applications that run over those secure links – down to the secure, Android based handset.
The first pilot under the Jolted Tactics umbrella is for a new Navy portable maritime C2 system led by prime contractor Oceus Networks in coordination with a number of different mobile ecosystem partners including AGIS (using the company’s LifeRing Common Operational Picture software), Reality Mobile (real time video), Adhere2Care (medical health telemetry), and others for secure Android handsets including Motorola Solutions (the company I work for).
The pilot will be conducted over the next year with the Kearsarge Expeditionary Strike Group, home ported in Norfolk, Va. Funding is being provided by multiple combat commands and others interested in the eventual deployment of secure COTS technology to make our Warfighters more efficient.
Given the demographics of smartphone users, the increasing computational power and utility of the devices – coupled with a retrenchment in government spending – many observers believe it will be inevitable that smartphones find their way into the tactical setting.
Already, the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon has taken hold across private enterprise and the government alike. How can the Department of Defense effectively stem the tide or “turn back the clock” and force new members of their (albeit unique) workforce, who have grown up on this technology, to leave their devices at home?
It’s more probable that data separation or “containerization” techniques will be employed to ensure that personal data and mission data are not intermingled. While the Information Assurance/Security challenges are formidable, the cost savings of deploying COTS devices in a tactical setting are just too great to ignore.
Back in 1982, no one would have envisioned a world in which our military would be using laptop PCs’ in rugged environments. The size of desktop PC’s alone was a determent! But then…the laptop came about, which begat smaller and sleeker devices. Moore’s Law helped propel the PC into the home and eventually the battlefield.
There’s a similar evolution taking place in mobile; now that mobile devices have become more popular for accessing the Internet than computers, there’s no reason to think that these small form factor devices will not find their way into the most demanding of situations.
Who would have thought that back during the 1990′s that the humble replacement for the “Day Planner” or the simple email appliance would be the forerunners of devices that run complex software applications for our warfighters?
The history of this industry has shown us that mobile keeps evolving and there should be no reason why this is not the case in tactical deployments of technology as well.
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the positions, strategies, or opinions of his employer, Motorola Solutions.
Randy Siegel is director of business development, mobile computing for Motorola Solutions‘ Federal Government Division and serves as chair of the Tactical Subcommittee of the National Defense Mobile Working Group (AFCEA DC). Siegel also spent 12 years with Microsoft Corp. where he oversaw Microsoft’s mobility strategy in the federal market.