Military smartphone

    How do you imagine modern promising military developments? Crawler-mounted combat robots breaking bones polished by winds into dust; urban drones piercing low gray skies at high speed; exoskeleton soldiers with miniguns; neon laboratories buried in ancient rock formations - this is our approximate associative series, composed of popular science news, science fiction films and scandalous articles (“the military is hiding a terrible secret!”).

    It is generally accepted that the military is carefully hiding from the public the development of the cutting edge of science. That in the secret laboratories of the Motherland, the hardware of the future is created, working on trouble-free software. Space exploration, the advent of the Internet, the introduction of new composite materials - all this is a consequence of the arms race. Transnational corporations can only envy the successes (and budgets) of the military.

    It is all the more interesting to learn how the situation is with advanced technologies in the army of the most potential enemy. The troops need “smartphones of a special category,” but can such “technologies” come in handy for “ordinary” customers as well?

    Battlefield Call

    We are used to good, fast, convenient smartphones. They are available to almost everyone. But if you are a soldier sent to the war zone, then forget about the usual applications, LTE-communications and other joys of civilization. The American military leadership rightly feared that soldiers using ordinary smartphones would seriously violate security requirements (and be distracted by built-in games) and instructed the DARPA agency to create adapted versions of “civilian gadgets”.

    It’s not news that DARPA - the hero of many articles on Habré - is engaged in a huge number of applied research in which the development of weapons does not play the most important role. However, the attempt to put publicly available mobile technologies on the track of serving the god of war is a new interesting trend.

    Walkie-talkies and paper cards are used in the army of any country in the world. This combination of tools has long been outdated morally, and this is a problem that needs to be solved. And if you think that it is enough to replace the walkie-talkie and the card with any physically ultra-protected smartphone, then you are mistaken. DARPA spent several years building the foundation for an application ecosystem called Transformative Apps (TransApps). This is a kind of application store for the military, which contains programs designed to work in an unsafe environment and in the absence of reliable communications.

    Devices on the smartphone market have one common significant drawback - network dependency. As soon as the network disappears, you have in your hands an expensive calculator with a flashlight function. Such a situation is unacceptable in the conditions of real hostilities, where the absence of any kind of communication is a common occurrence. Even if the cellular infrastructure survives during the hostilities, communication signals will be intercepted by the enemy.

    Work with cards in real time, exchange information (even just call each other), control a combat drone - all this can be done from a regular smartphone, if you have a secure network that can be used in the most remote places or cities destroyed by war.

    No need to create a military smartphone from scratch, you can take any “civilian” device as a basis. The question is how to connect it. When civilian networks cannot be trusted, the military will be forced to deploy secure networks on the fly. And TransApp already has a system that the military can connect to for communication. Even in the event that the fighter is out of range of the network, all applications will retain their functionality.

    Field work

    The DARPA cellular network uses modified mobile military radio stations encrypting the signal as base cells. In addition, technologies have been developed to replace vulnerable communication nodes: a set of timing & inertial measurement unit devices consists of six inertial measuring sensors (3 gyroscopes and 3 accelerometers) and one high-precision clock generator that allows tracking the movement of an object in the absence of a GPS signal.

    DARPA is even developing a thermal imager that can be integrated into a smartphone, but the military gadget is for the most part a rethinking of commonly available commercial technologies based on popular smartphone models and the Android operating system.

    DARPA engineers admitted that they have a liking for the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. The soldier has a smartphone in a special box-pouch, which is attached to the front of the body armor. Thanks to this mount, both hands remain free, and at the same time, the display remains in sight. On the reverse side, an additional battery is installed, which allows you to power the device for a week.

    Why Samsung? The military tried to make their own smartphone, but the attempts were unsuccessful. “Patriotic” devices could not compete with products that won the hearts of millions of people in the consumer market. The TransApp team has compiled a short list of smartphones and tablets, suitable for the tasks and amenable to the necessary modifications. The devices were tested in conditions as close as possible to combat. As a result, the choice fell on Samsung.

    Army app store

    Unfortunately, we know very little about applications for a military smartphone. When it comes to a system that is designed to control drones to accurately determine the positions of terrorists based on cellular network signals, the military becomes terribly secretive. Journalists who tested military smartphones note that applications often look like modified versions of “civilian software” that can work without a network.

    The map shows all units involved in the special operation, starting with the FBI and ending with the fire service.

    So, plugins have been added to the regular Google Maps, allowing you to display additional information - from the mission plan to the location of the drones. The TransHeat app saves the soldier’s movement history and shows unexplored and potentially dangerous areas on the map. The PLI application synchronizes the movement data of various units to avoid casualties from friendly fire.

    In the SmartTRIAGE application for medical care, you need to click on a human figure, select symptoms and get a treatment plan.

    How do you like this: a ballistic calculator for snipers, a reference guide for weapons and ammunition, a program for compiling mission reports. GammaPix measures radiation levels, and SmartTRIAGE helps physicians help with injuries and other health problems on the battlefield.

    Soldiers have their own “analogue” of Facebook. There is a function for adding notes, as well as sorting by groups: good, bad, friends, UN team, local residents. For new recruits, the ability to get such functionality in a regular Samsung Galaxy is an important step in quickly adapting to army conditions.

    Of course, smartphones must withstand high temperatures, be protected from dust, and if necessary, self-destruct by remote command from the headquarters. But without a developed ecosystem of applications created by a development team in a style that is more reminiscent of a startup than a defense department, all technological innovations would be useless. That’s why the U.S. Department of Defense is blindly looking at the use of Google and Samsung technologies. If the environment is convenient for both developers and end users, then everyone will benefit from the use of civilian mobile technologies.

    In a globalized world, various institutions, whether it be a transnational corporation or a military ministry, inevitably serve the common goal of technology development. Already, TransApp programs save lives, are used by the presidential guard and some fire departments. The ideas embodied in this system (profitable exchange of information with other devices within reach, maintaining full functionality without access to a network, working in extreme conditions) will be reflected in the public application market.

    In conclusion, I want to say a few words about the moral side of the issue. It depends on us whether the technology will save lives or take them away - after all, it is not the smartphone itself, but the person who launches the rockets or calls the ambulance. Therefore, this article, in fact, is not about how a smartphone is put at the service of the god of war. We want to believe that among the TransApp developers there is a spirit of entrepreneurship, that they have an innovative world view, and everything that they create will ultimately serve the good and not the detriment of anyone.

    Prepared according to the « Inside the Military's secretive the Smartphone Program »

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