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US Army to issue Droid dev kit in July

Battle-smartphones go to war in 2013

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The US Army has announced that it will soon throw open an Android dev kit allowing apps to be written for use by soldiers on a variety of combat handsets and devices.

The military Droid framework is known as Mobile/Handheld Computing Environment (CE).

"Using the Mobile /Handheld CE Product Developers Kit, we're going to allow the third-party developers to actually develop capabilities that aren't stovepiped," says Lt-Col Mark Daniels. Daniels is in charge of the Joint Battle Command-Platform (JBC-P) handheld device, which is essentially a military Droid phone: it is expected to be issued to US Army and Marine ground units from 2013.

The colonel says that the mobile/handheld CE dev kit will be released in July. Before that point the Army will develop certain core apps that will come with every handset, to include mapping, so-called Blue Force Tracking (displaying where friendly units are in order to avoid "friendly fire" incidents), TIGR map-marking and messaging. According to Daniels there will also be an address book and OpenOffice for document viewing.

"It's like when you get an iPhone and you have the Apple-made apps: the contacts, the email," says J Tyler Barton, Army app engineer. "Then other applications are free to use those apps, or to go above and beyond that."

The base software is being designed to run on a variety of different Android variants. As to hardware, the JBC-P may be either an existing government off-the-shelf unit or possibly a commercial off-the-shelf buy. It will have a "ruggedised tactical sleeve or case".

Networking will be provided by any of a variety of existing military radios: specifically named are the Joint Tactical Radio System, JTRS Soldier Radio Waveform, Netted Iridium, and the PRC 117G and PRC 152A used by the Marines. The system and its baseline apps are expected to tie in with existing vehicle-mounted and headquarters kit provided under previous command-and-control/blue-force-tracking projects,

"That's going to allow us to be interoperable across the entire family of systems, which would include the platforms, the aviation, the logistics community, the tanks, the Bradleys, the handhelds," Daniels says. ®

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