|Home > News & Events > MITRE Publications > The MITRE Digest >|
Smart Thinking: Making Mobile Communications Work for the Warfighter
Today, it's no secret that the enemy possesses smartphones. Anywhere that the U.S. military encounters insurgents, pirates, or adversaries of any kind, it's almost certain that foes are communicating using commercially available handheld devices.
"The U.S. soldier is the most adaptive, innovative-thinking soldier in the world, but smartphone technology isn't yet part of standard-issue gear," says Robert McKee, a senior principal systems engineer in MITRE's Army Program Directorate.
In an ideal world, U.S. forces would use their mobile devices to move information securely among all branches of the military, to stay ahead—or report on—obstacles such as enemy positions, roadside bombs, and high-value targets.
Operational demands like these spurred the formation of the Government Mobile Applications Group (GMAG), an open community of interest created by MITRE. The GMAG brings together commercial companies—including Apple, Google, and Microsoft—with representatives from government, military contractors, and academia. They discuss how industry can meet the government's needs, tackle barriers to adoption, and use the most relevant technology trends. Participants in the quarterly workshops explore ways to use smartphone technology in the military and government, identifying obstacles and finding ways to field products quickly.
From Collaboration Comes Solutions
"We formed the GMAG to encourage new ways of thinking and fresh approaches," says McKee. "We want to find mobile, cutting-edge technology solutions that protect the soldiers, the data, and the network."
Clearly, the challenge of equipping soldiers at the leading edge is bigger than any one agency or company. "GMAG's focus is about services, the enterprise, and critical infrastructure, not just devices," he says.
The goal is to brainstorm on how industry can work within government requirements while developing relevant, effective apps. "This is another way a federally funded research and development center [FFRDC] can step in and make a difference," says Dave Lehman, senior vice president and chief operations officer. "We often bring multiple stakeholders to the table and help them understand the technical issues and possible solutions."
By stimulating close cooperation, the GMAG has already produced tangible results for the warfighter.
A Front-Line Technological Edge
With a few simple keystrokes, an Army commander in the field can input real-time map or battle data into his iPhone, instantly updating friendly forces in the area. This easy-to-use application for counter-insurgency (COIN) intelligence collecting, known as "COIN Collector," emerged out of GMAG collaboration.
"MITRE's role in a project like COIN Collector is to look at what technology is available to the customer, explore different approaches, build something quickly, and try it out," explains Jay Crossler, a principal software systems engineer.
COIN Collector, devised for the U.S. Army and Marines, takes advantage of commercial-off-the-shelf technology to provide a handheld capability previously missing in theater. The tool enables warfighters to collect, organize, and share data about people, places, and events instantaneously. After GMAG participants put their heads together, MITRE engineers built the prototype in only two months.
"GMAG relationships empower ideas to become reality quickly," says Crossler. "If something works, we take it forward. If it doesn't, we try something else."
Lessons learned during the development of the COIN Collector prototype included everything from proper code to what on-screen colors work best in direct sunlight. With each new two-week prototype, the efficiency and functionality of the tool increased by 10 to 20 percent. "We work closely with both our government customers and industry to make sure ideas are transferable to operations," McKee says.
Since COIN Collector was developed, it's been refined with greater security and links to classified systems. It has been used by the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, and by the Army in large field exercises.
Through the GMAG, industry learned more about another area critical to military communications—security of user authentication. "Both iPhone and Android have created solutions that let soldiers put in their public key infrastructure [PKI] cards for easy network connectivity, in a secure manner," explains McKee. "That has led to a conversation about innovative ways to secure apps themselves, not just devices."
Because of MITRE's hands-on knowledge of the mobile apps environment, MITRE helped write and guide the handheld mobile computing environment framework for the Army, with the ultimate goal of securely connecting smartphones to the DoD's overall network. A first-version implementation of this common operating environment will take place during 2012, when the Army will equip eight Brigade Combat Teams with handheld devices.
The device, called the Joint Battle Command-Platform—or the JBC-P-Handheld, is the first developed under an Army effort to create an Android-based smartphone framework and set of applications for tactical operations. MITRE developed the prototype for the framework. Because industry can freely develop applications within the government-led software environment, the Army can employ fresh ideas and leading-edge technology while still maintaining appropriate governance.
"The mobile handheld computing environment is another way MITRE is helping define the software development infrastructure," McKee says.
In fact, the success of the GMAG inspired the DoD to create its own internal cross-organization group, and then asked MITRE to steer it, based its history with the GMAG's solutions-oriented model. Moreover, another MITRE collaboration with the DoD and industry is helping to save in excess of $1.5B for terrestrial radios for all of the Army's Infantry Brigade Combat Teams.
"The new group is focused on collaboration and solutions within the DoD, among a wide swath of its organizations," says McKee. "It's a direct outgrowth of GMAG and MITRE's direction of the concept."
—by Cheryl Scaparrotta
Articles and News
Technical Papers and Presentations
Page last updated: March 19, 2012 | Top of page
Solutions That Make a Difference.®