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Capt. Tennille Scott of the Army's Mobile Applications Branch holds an Android phone, preparing to start one of dozens of ''military lifestyle'' apps the group has published for both Android and Apple devices.
Capt. Tennille Scott of the Army's Mobile Applications Branch holds an Android phone, preparing to start one of dozens of ''military lifestyle'' apps the group has published for both Android and Apple devices. (Courtesy of the U.S. Army)

WASHINGTON — A version of Android that runs on Dell devices will be approved for day-to-day use in the Defense Department by the end of December, officials said Friday.

But the department’s computer network overseers still can’t say when the Pentagon at large will get a taste of the other dominant smartphone operating system, Apple’s iOS, which powers iPhones and iPads.

Security, experts say, is the sticking point.

Currently, the only widely used smartphone that can officially be used in day-to-day operations on DOD networks is BlackBerry, which controls only about 10 percent of the general smartphone market but dominates the Pentagon and other government agencies.

But in October, the Defense Information Systems Agency, or DISA, posted guidelines for IT managers to begin pilot programs and tests with Apple and Dell Android devices.

“This doesn’t mean people can suddenly start connecting iPhones to the network,” said Tracy Sharpe, a spokeswoman for the Defense Information Systems Agency, which oversees how devices connect to the network.

It’s taken about two months to get from that point to being nearly ready to post a Security Technical Implementation Guide, or STIG, for Android. STIGs are detailed documents that instruct managers how to introduce new devices onto defense networks. So what’s the holdup with Apple?

Pentagon officials have declined to elaborate when asked for an explanation by Stars and Stripes, but mobile computing experts say part of the difficulty may lie in Apple’s tight control over the iOS software.

Android, developed by Google and other companies, is “open-source” software, meaning it can be easily configured by users — including DOD tech whizzes who want to install antivirus programs or other security measures.

But installing third-party security software is not currently possible with iPhones and iPads.

Widespread use of smartphones may be not be imminent, but when it finally comes, it will change the Pentagon just as it has changed the civilian world, where people increasingly run their lives from the touchscreens of their mobile phones, the official in charge of monitoring the latest science and technology for the Army said in an interview Friday.

“It’s having an amazing effect commercially on how we interact, and I believe we’ll see a similar kind of revolution within the military eventually,” said Scott Fish, Army chief scientist.

The Army is already doing widespread testing of prototype smartphone-like devices for use in combat, he said. The devices could change the Army’s tactics, he said.

“Formations could change,” he said. “You could see groups being a little more dispersed but still doing their same tactical jobs.”

More and more devices reaching the field will bring increased feedback from soldiers, he said, who will tell Army and commercial developers what they need, driving new innovation.

Beyond combat, tablets and smartphones could change logistics and supply, simplifying operations to move mountains of materiel.

“I would see devices like this incorporating things like bar-code readers, image analyzers, magnetic swiping capability, [radio frequency identification readers,]” he said. “Eventually propagation of that stuff into devices on the battlefield make logistical tracking much more accurate, timely and effective overall.”

carrollc@stripes.osd.mil

Twitter: @ChrisCarroll_

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