Military-grade mobile devices: DARPA goes high tech in the field

For the first time in U.S. military history, foot soldiers and company support teams in Afghanistan are using specialized handheld mobile devices to access digital maps, exchange information with other troops and store mission-critical information. What began in 2011 as a way to supply soldiers with high-resolution maps on a PDA-type device eventually morphed into a suite of over 50 apps on something that now more closely resembles a mobile phone. 

The program, known as TransApps, is spearheaded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The Android-based smartphones and tablets communicate over a secure military radio network but contain several layers of security that are not reliant on network availability.

Doran Michels, DARPA's TransApps program manager, commented during a press briefing on one of the program's biggest initial obstacles. "The first thing we needed to do to modify the devices was to address strict security requirements that are inherent to taking mission content to the battlefield…and many of the approved mechanisms for securing mobile devices don't apply in a battlefield environment."

Michels went on to explain, "A lot of people tend to think that security for mobile is a given. We look at corollaries in enterprise [computing] where…we've got mobile device management. We had to develop a multi-tier solution that was very robust…and it's actually a very popular solution now that has been adopted by a number of other organizations within DOD and the federal government."

The TransApps mobile device is now in the hands of more than 3,000 soldiers. DARPA says they are working with all branches of service to find ways to put them in the hands of even more troops in the future.

For more:
- read more about how the TransApps program addressed its unique battlefield security concerns

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