It's not often you hear a defense contractor promoting "consumer" devices such as the iPad, but in the last few weeks, military manufacturer Harris Corporation has been pitching to journalists the iPad's utility in the battlefield. The iPad is used to to send video of what the drones see, present real-time tactical maps, and analyze that information to direct military engagements, as well as to act as a communications and command console.
Harris sells communications gear: portable 3G and Wi-Fi setups that let the military create battlefield "bubble" networks when and where needed. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan apparently winding down, I suspect its public marketing effort is meant to entice police and other first responders to consider using its gear in situations like the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, as well as the northern Japanese earthquake and tsunami a few months ago.
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Such "bubble" networks are not new, though it's clear that they've become much more important to today's military to keep troops, drones, reconnaissance systems, and the like all linked together for the increasingly technological, networked methods of warfare practiced by the U.S. military. What does seem to be new is the portability of such gear; it's designed to be set up by pretty much anyone, notes John Delay, chief architect of emerging business solutions, so it can be used more often and in more places.
But the iPad? That's new -- in the past, very expensive custom devices would have been created to handle the battlefield communications, view the reconnaissance images, and direct the drones. And they certainly didn't have the battery life or light weight of an iPad, which are both major advantages in the battlefield.
Of course, those custom devices cost tens of thousands of dollars each, whereas a top-of-the-line iPad 2 costs $830. The military can afford to stockpile lots of iPads at that price, replacing any damaged in the battlefield easily and making them available to many more troops. Plus, an increasing number of troops -- who tend to be younger and technologically adept -- are familiar with them and with smartphones, helping speed critical training.