Smartphones become part of defence strategy
By Kevin Deal, vice President, aerospace and defence, IFS North America
We all know that smartphones have had a massive impact on our everyday lives, but mobile technology is also waking waves in Aerospace and Defence (A&D).
It's strange to think how for mobile phones have come in such a short space of time. The now wafer-thin smartphones so many of us use have processing capabilities comparable to those of laptops, but it wasn't that long ago when a 'mobile' phone was the kind that had to be hooked into a car to work.
Pushing mobile boundariesFrom phone swipe payments to high speed video streaming, new technology is constantly pushing the boundaries of what we can expect from our phones. And, in a reverse of the normal pattern of technology innovation, a development driven by consumers is set to have an important impact on aerospace and defence (A&D).
Given how smartphones are becoming an increasingly significant part of public life, this isn't especially surprising. We might soon be able to vote in national elections from our smartphones after Estonia became the first country to accept phone votes last year. The question of when voting by phone will be common practice was one that was asked during the recent US Presidential election, particularly in Florida, where voters reported queuing outside polling stations for hours.
At the same time, the public sector is increasingly developing the benefits of mobile apps, a good example being David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, who is currently trialling an app with real time data on industry issues designed by the Government to assist him in the process of governing.
Giving defence the edgeWith mobile apps making such a splash in so many areas of public life, could they provide an edge in defence? The US Department of Defence (DoD)certainly seem to think so; the Pentagon has already tested new mobile technology during its biannual Network Integration Evaluation and is likely to use network-ready smartphones as part of the mission in Afghanistan next year.
Defence departments are beginning to realise the potential smartphones could have in military communications. In May, the US DoD released its Mobile Defence Strategy, with the objective of creating 'a highly mobile workforce equipped with secure access to information and computing power anywhere at any time for greater mission effectiveness'.
The strategy pointed out that the advantages to using mobile app technology in the field were potentially huge, including the ability for personnel to access mission-critical information in the field, a more agile response to a changing tactical situation. The DoD, the General Services HeatherMcLeanistration and NASA are all building online app stores where users can find and download mobile tools to assist in their work.
Similarly, the UK's Ministry of Defence has developed smartphone apps to provide an alternative to computer-based personnel training, as well as developing its G-Cloud strategy for cloud computing technology, and this summer, the Australian Government put out a request to industry leaders for information on the viability of providing secure smartphones and tablet computers for military use.
Companies within the A&D industry have embraced the potential of mobile apps technology. One example is IFS' own Flight Log App, which tracks critical information on the user's air and land assets. A synchronised and consolidated flight log, including flight details, disruptions, faults and crew associated with the flight, and pre- or post-flight inspections, can now be in the hands of those on the front lines.
Simply having that information in one place enables maintenance to be effectively planned for an entire fleet of aircraft, transports or armoured vehicles, cutting time spent on HeatherMcLeanistration tasks drastically.
Mobile in theatres of warSecurity is obviously of paramount importance in A&D. During the advent of smartphones a couple of years ago, defence departments were understandably wary of allowing their use in theatres of war.
The US DoD initially banned the use of social media on them over concerns that sensitive tactical information could be leaked. Since that time, improved training on the proper and safe use of smartphones, be it for personal or professional use, has created a breed of secure military mobile users, to the point where the DoD felt comfortable enough to drop the ban.
And, alongside increasingly sophisticated security and encryption techniques being developed by ministries and defence departments around the world, smartphones are increasingly appearing to be secure modern communication defence assets.
Recently, the Pentagon ended its long-standing exclusive contract to Research in Motion (RIM), the developers of the BlackBerry, to allow the use of iOS, Windows and Android smartphones in defence operations. The new arrangement is being coupled with a plan to encrypt up to eight million devices, from Android phones to iPads, and prepare them for secure use by DoD personnel.
Just as the Ministry of Defence, DoD and companies such as IFS are designing smartphone apps for military use, defence communications have come a long way from the time of carrier pigeons and telegraph poles; now, communication can be instantaneous, detailed and accurate, and readily optimised for the war fighter.
By ensuring that critical information can be accessed by the troops on the ground at any time and in any place, the A&D industry can provide a real and meaningful step towards a more agile military.
IFS North America develops, supplies, and implements IFS Applications, a component-based extended ERP suite built on SOA technology.