Android Smartphone Used by Army in Tactical Operations

The U.S. Army is testing the Joint Battle Command-Platform smartphone based on Google's Android operating system for field operations, including platoon location via GPS.

The U.S. Army has a new weapon to use in combat situations: a smartphone based on Google's Android operating system.

The Joint Battle Command-Platform, also known as the JBC-P Handheld, is the first Android mobile handset developed by the Army for tactical operations. The smartphone includes mapping application that leverages GPS to help soldiers navigate unfamiliar areas.

Paratroopers and other Army combat personnel are testing the JBC-P to ensure that it can execute such critical operations as alerting fellow soldiers to hostile forces and IEDs (improvised explosive devices), according to the U.S. Army blog.

Knowing where each platoon is can also help soldiers avoid friendly-fire casualties suffered in a forward area.

In addition to a mapping app, the phone will run tactical ground reporting apps, as well as critical messaging programs, an address book and the Open Office suite for document viewing.

"It's like when you get an iPhone and you have the Apple-made apps: the contacts, the email," J. Tyler Barton, an engineer with the Research, Development and Engineering Command's Command and Control Directorate, told the Army blog. "Then other applications are free to use those apps, or to go above and beyond that."

While the phone runs the open-source Android operating system, the device leverages the Department of Defense's Mobile Handheld Computing Environment to secure applications and ensure that they are interoperable with existing mission command systems.

The Army is also evaluating prototypes of the JBC-P to determine whether to use a government built model or a commercial model in a rugged tactical case. Several phone makers make ruggedized phones for military and hospital use.

Casio and Verizon Wireless, for example, just launched the G'zOne Commando, an Android 2.2 smartphone. The handset adheres to the MIL-STD-810G military standard for durability, making it suitable for harsh working environments health care, construction, retail, manufacturing and transportation.

Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade, 1St Armored Division will try out the handhelds and JBC-P software at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., in October.

Once the Army settles on the hardware and any software kinks are worked out, both the Army and the Marine Corps could use the JBC-P in 2013.

The military is one area where Apple's iPhone is unlikely to have a large presence. Clearly, the Army needs to customize the specifications for its hardware and software, which requires an open-source approach afforded by Android.

Android is currently the leading U.S. smartphone platform, accounting for 37 percent of the market, according to Nielsen.