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Department of Defense mobile plan revealed; panned by troops

updated 06:36 pm EST, Tue February 26, 2013

Questions about implementation, old hardware linger

The Pentagon has issued a memorandum on Tuesday which, in theory, will ultimately enable the Department of Defense's (DoD) smartphone users to quickly share classified and protected data -- using the latest commercial off the shelf (COTS) technologies. The "device agnostic" plan relayed by DoD officials is intended to make things easier for users and boost classified data security at the same time, but Electronista has learned that the implementation is likely to be anything but smooth.

Currently, the DoD has over 600,000 users of smartphones and tablets, with nearly a million devices in everyday use, not including personal devices provided by service members and civilian employees accessing unclassified networks. The DoD expects eight million devices in service in the next three years. Most devices used to handle the higher levels of classified information have been modified by contractors, often increasing the cost by a factor of four or more, such as iPads modified by CACI.

DoD deputy chief information officer Major General Robert Wheeler calls the plan "reliable, secure and flexible enough to keep up with the fast-changing technologies of today." He claims that the plan will enable rapid communication and information sharing all the way from the Joint Chiefs of Staff down to soldiers on the battlefield to access information applicable to relevant tasks, and "need to know" while still maintaining accountability for the information.

The plan is intended to "align the various mobile devices, pilots and initiatives across the department under common objectives to ensure the war fighter benefits from these activities," said Teri Takai, the Pentagon's chief information officer. "This is not simply about embracing the newest technology -- it is about keeping the department's workforce relevant in an era when information accessibility and cybersecurity play a critical role in missions." she added.

Existing solutions across services and commands are often piecemeal, with little commonality. As it stands, it is nearly impossible to repurpose a device that can access one secure network onto another, or even declassify a device, and allow it to access an unclassified network, as it has been "polluted" by access to secure data. Some technologically-advanced commands have location-based access to servers, with data automatically purged when a device leaves either a GPS-designated area or an area defined by Bluetooth or other radio-frequency markers. On the other hand, some commands still rely on fast Ethernet (10/100) wired networks with Windows NT-based servers and clients built nearly two decades ago.

Statistics gathered from devices deployed by the DoD show 470,000 BlackBerry devices in use, none of which use the new BlackBerry 10 operating system. These devices are expected to be incompatible with any new program, with the new operating system still being evaluated by security mavens at the Pentagon and other commands. AppleInsider was told by Lt. Col. Damien Pickart that the replacement won't be exclusive to Apple, Android, or BlackBerry 10 devices. "It won't be a shotgun approach, where everyone gets the same apps and devices," said Pickart. "The key takeaway is that it's a multi-vendor solution. We will have a DoD-wide device management system and a DoD-wide app storefront."

Electronista spoke with some of the enlisted personnel and officers who would be doing the work behind the implementation, and they felt that the vast range of technology ages across the military would be a major impediment to the program, adding complexity and cost. "How do you make an iPad work with a Pentium II? The brass has no idea how this is going to work, and they're waving the magic wand and asking for contractors to solve the problem," one source told us.

Another officer with over ten years of service in the Army and four tours in combat roles said that "this has nothing to do with 'troops in the field,' and everything to do with the [senior officers] in charge getting the gadgets they want with no regard to how it's all going to work."



By Electronista Staff
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Comments

  1. Inkling

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 07-25-06

    Too much,

    It's easy to suspect that, like their high-end fighter aircraft, the military hierarchy is attempting to do far too much. The result is likely to be the usual cost overruns and failed objectives.

    During the Gulf War, the military was forced to buy commercial GPSs and during the Iraqi war they used business-grade ICOM handheld radios. Both worked quite well for their intended purpose. Maybe they should do the same here. Quite a few people in the military don't need an iPhone equivalent that costs over $2000 and does less.

    Keep in mind that the WWII Jeep, renowned for its ruggedness, was actually built on the cheap with sleeve bearings and a designed life of 15,000 miles, about how long the US Army figured one might drive fighting from Normandy to Berlin.

    The state of the art in mobile devices is changing far too quickly for the slow military procurement process to keep up. By the time a device meets an elaborate set of specs, it's likely to be years behind the technological curve.

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