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STUTTGART, Germany — Since the inception of Web 2.0, civilian-run companies have had great success with user-created applications for mobile devices, and the Army has taken notice.

The Army is hosting Apps for the Army, an opportunity for up to 100 soldiers and civilian employees to show off programming skills for a chance at part of $30,000 in prize money. The contest, open to the first 100 people who register, runs until May 15.

“Digital natives have arrived in the Army, and what we need to do is give them an opportunity to show their skill set; show their capabilities,” said Lt. Gen. Jeff Sorenson, the Army chief information officer during a teleconference with journalist and bloggers on March 3. A digital native is someone who has grown up with digital technology such as computers, the Internet and cellular phones.

The Apps for the Army contest was inspired by a similar competition hosted by the Washington, D.C., city government called Apps for Democracy. Contestants submitted programs to give users things like real-time local news and bike routes, emulating programs like those found in Apple’s App Store and Google Apps. Army officials said they hope their own competition will spur information sharing, and reduce costs.

“I think [the D.C. government] invested some $53,000, and the results that they got in terms of the apps range somewhere between $3 (million) to $4 million,” Sorenson said. “So, you know … if we’re spending $30,000, we may get some applications here that are going to provide some efficiency in how we operate, but in many cases, it may be things that save soldiers’ lives and that, quite frankly, is priceless.”

Officials say the goal is to enhance operating procedures. The Army would like this effort to not only be an annual competition, but a continuing effort to get apps to a storefront quickly, according to Marvin Wages, Apps for the Army program manager.

To do this, the Army has met with techies at Apple to see how they run their model. One notable aspect of the Apple App store: Programs deemed useful are quickly made available to the public, often within a matter of weeks.

“In the Army, if we get anything done in two to three weeks, it’s amazing. It’s more like months,” Sorenson said.

The competition is part of the Army Software Transformation program, and offers contestants development kits for most smart phones through the Defense Information System’s cloud computing system. Participants who want to make iPhone apps will have to use their own computers, however, since the DIS computer cloud is not configured for Apple operating systems.

Winners will be announced at the LandWarNet conference in Tampa, Fla., during the first week of August.

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