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U.S. Military Will Battle Test the iPhone

Soldiers have been using iPhones in battle zones for years, but now the U.S. military will make it official.

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This week the U.S. military said it will begin field-testing smartphones as part of its "Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications" program early next year. The first to be tested for the war zone will be iPhones and Androids.

"The day you sing on to be a soldier, you will be accessing information and knowledge in garrison and in an operational environment in a seamless manner," Mike McCarthy, director of the mission command complex of Future Force Integration Directorate at Fort Bliss, told The Army Times. "We're using smartphone technologies to lead this."

Soldiers with smartphones could view real-time intelligence and video from unmanned systems overhead, track friends and find enemies. The plan calls for deploying special readers for iPhones and Androids that would give soldiers secure access to email, contacts and calendars.

First, the military must secure the data and network before sanctioning smartphones. It also might have to create its own app store to ensure the integrity of apps. There are just a whole lot of technical issues that need to be ironed out, officials told The Army Times.

But iPhones have already been in the battle zones of Iraq and Afghanistan for a while. There's even an iPhone sniper app that attaches to a rifle and makes calculations to the target based on ballistics variables, wind direction and speed, temperature, air pressure, and other factors.

Last year the U.S. military doled out the iPod Touch to soldiers in order for them to stay electronically linked to other troops, as well as have cultural and language information at their fingertips. And voice-to-voice translation app developer Jibbigo came out with a version of its iPhone app—a translator for an Iraqi dialect of Arabic—to help soldiers in these efforts.

"We have no say in where, whether or why there is war or strife in the world, but once there is a crisis we do believe that getting people talking on the ground in the midst of it is always better than the ignorance, fear, suspicion and mistrust that comes with lack of communication," Jibbigo Founder and Carnegie Mellon University Professor Alex Waibel told CIO.com earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the iPhone has made its way into war photography as well. New York Times photographer Damon Winter used his iPhone to take pictures of soldiers in the field. Part of the reason is because soldiers are more relaxed around iPhone cameras than when a bulky professional camera is aimed their way. After all, soldiers carry smartphone cameras, too.

"Composing with the iPhone is more casual and less deliberate," Winter told the New York Times. "And the soldiers often take photos of each other with their phones, so they were more comfortable than if I had my regular camera."

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Tom at tkaneshige@cio.com.


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