Contractors are adding app development to their portfolios as well, and small startups that focus solely on apps have a new customer in the Army.
As this happens, the contractors will bring more experience to the table and be able to deliver polished apps to soldiers. The increased competition could reduce the prices and time it takes to build apps for the Army.
“The commercial industry is chomping at the bit to meet our needs,” Col. Tanner said.
Raytheon is one of those contractors. The Boston-based company has been an Army contractor for a half-century and has begun building the Raytheon Advanced Tactical System, complete with 12 apps and room to add more. One of the apps lets soldiers track the locations of their friends, while another lets them share cameras with other soldiers to relay intelligence information. So far, Raytheon has two Army customers.
“That’s an important, emerging technology,” said Mark Bigham, Raytheon’s vice president of business development. “It represents a new way of doing business.”
Support from the commercial industry will help the Army keep up with demand from soldiers.
“We can’t write every app,” Col. Motes said. “We need our industry partners.”
It wouldn’t be the first time the Army reaches out to defense contractors to build mobile technology.
Right now, they’re deploying traveling wireless networks that attach to road vehicles, aircraft and even air balloons and provide connectivity in desolate regions that would otherwise be without Internet access. It’s the same technology commercial carriers like Verizon and AT&T use in their towers, said Mike McCarthy, director of the mission command complex of the Future Force Integration Directorate at Fort Bliss.
The Army is also relying on a few battery-charging breakthroughs. It is testing small generators that keep phones powered for a week rather than a few hours. When the batteries lose their charge, soldiers can replace them like printer ink cartridges.
Another option is plugging phones into solar backpacks. In July, the Army deployed the first batch of Rucksack Enhanced Portable Power Systems to Afghanistan. The 62-watt solar panel feeds off energy from the sun or even a light bulb, and then repackages it to give the phone a boost.
“We’re letting the soldiers tell us what works best for them,” Mr. McCarthy said.