Just last October, the U.S. Department of Defense approved an Android-based mobile OS for its military networks, and it’s not hard to see why.
With access to the Android ecosystem, members of the military will have access to information on their mobile tablets or PCs covering everything from high-level command and control programs to terrain data mapping.
Because Android is open source, the National Security Agency (NSA) was able to create a custom build of the OS, called Security Enhanced Android, which was certified by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) in October of last year. This build is expected to be the foundation for more, typically branch-specific iterations as tablets continue to prove their efficacy on the battlefield.
But in particular, tablets are showing great potential with two main areas of modern combat: situational awareness and remote troop management.
One of the most promising tablet uses in the military is providing soldiers the highly detailed information they need to make effective decisions in real-time. Called “situational awareness,” this kind of battlefield intelligence involves tracking enemy troop movements, terrain changes and weather updates.
Because tablets have no boot time and excellent graphic interfaces, they are better able to provide intelligence quickly. Soldiers can also use tablets to access and interact with maps, review mission briefs, study high-priority target descriptions and communicate with other squads.
The tablet form factor is a perfect tool for working while under extreme duress—like during a firefight—because it’s simple, intuitive and fast. Tablets don’t have to be placed on a flat surface, set up or plugged in. They have virtually no moving parts, either, so they can be taken out, worked on and put away in no time at all. And in a war zone, time is everything.
But some tablets are more prepared active service than others. Tablets that pass MIL-SPEC testing like the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet will have greater resilience to trauma, extreme temperatures, low pressure, humidity and other battlefield hazards, so soldiers know they can rely on them—especially when their lives depend on it.
Remote Troop Management
Tablets aren’t just for grunts in the field, though. AAI Corporation is developing a very large tablet for commanders to view battle data on and provide orders to troops. This giant tablet, two-feet by three-feet, will display all kinds of surveillance data—from enemy and friendly soldier locations, to incoming threats like tanks and rockets. By simply dragging troops to different areas of the map, a commander automatically issues a direct order. The squad will typically verify this order with an instant message—delivered on a tablet, even—before carrying it out.
The 21st Century Medic
For the past five years, army medics have used Motorola devices, but they only support a limited version of the army’s electronic health records and they’re often easily damaged by sand or dirt. Tablets have more technical power, enabling medics to view a fuller range of data—including alerts about patient allergies and the perils of mixing certain drugs. What’s more, tablets are now able to scan Common Access Cards, which contain a soldier’s entire patient record—for speedier, more accurate medical care.
With tablets, medics can even access basic laboratory, pharmacy and radiology applications. These programs give medics the ability to deliver advanced care, beyond simply administering morphine and dressing wounds.
And on the battlefield, medical service is often carried out very quickly, which makes tablets all the more attractive. Their extreme touch interactivity means that mice, keyboards and other peripherals aren’t necessary, so medics have fewer parts to lose or break. It also means that work can be done on tablets naturally and rapidly, enabling medics to assess and treat their wounded more quickly.
To learn more about how tablets advance health care, be sure to read our post on electronic health records.
If you work for the military—or just have an interest in military technology—we’d love to hear from you. How do you see the military using tablets?