'Digital rodeo' helps Army look at smart-phone apps

By Maj. Deanna BagueAugust 2, 2010

App for SA at digital rodeo
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Digital rodeo displays app
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FORT BLISS, Texas (July 30, 2010) - A "digital rodeo" took place July 28-29 as part of the Army's discovery phase of "Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications."

The CSDA pilot is exploring smart-phone applications and other technologies that might be fielded quickly to Soldiers to instantly enhance their ability and knowledge base. Developers at the digital rodeo on Fort Bliss showcased technologies applicable in both garrison and tactical environments, officials said.

"What we're looking at is being able to take advantage of the commercial industry - and it is [exploding] right now in terms of applications," said Col. Marisa Tanner, chief of Mission Command Capabilities Division, Future Force Integration Directorate.

Officials said there are four key critical parts to the CSDA platform which are the device, the applications, the infrastructure or network that has to support it and the governance and policy for security.

"The whole concept is not to replace any of the systems that are already out there in theater or already out there deployed," said John Pedroza, the deputy of technology for Mission Command Capabilities Division, Future Force Integration Directorate."The whole thing is to thicken the network and just add another line of communication, another avenue whereby information can be quickly and efficiently exchanged in the context of conducting day-to-day work and conducting different operations out there."

Two hundred Soldiers from 5th Brigade, 1st Armored Division, known as the "Army Evaluation Task Force," were issued one of several types of smart phones a few weeks ago as part of a two-phase evaluation. Michael McCarthy, the director of operations for FFID, said Soldiers received a phone with the Android, Windows Mobile or Apple operating system to promote the concept that any application can be put on any platform.

Maj. Gen. Keith Walker, the commanding general of FFID, said the purpose of the first phase is to develop a persistent learning environment where each Soldier can look at his training, maintenance and supply manuals which may change the way Soldiers access garrison administrative and training functions. The second phase is expected to begin sometime next year, said McCarthy.

"We're going to develop a second phase where we look at tactical applications that will connect the individual Soldier into the tactical network where that Soldier can see things perhaps now only a more senior commander would have access to," said Walker. "So one of the things we will be doing with the 5th Brigade, 1st Armored Division is running an exercise in the future where the individual Soldiers will have those phones and in tactical scenarios will do an evaluation - how do you employ this ' How do you organize for this' What's the proper way to train to use this'"

The goal, said Tanner, is for Soldiers to be truly connected to information and access it with ease in an austere environment or in an expeditionary mode. The Soldiers should be able to shape data at their level, according to what is critical and relevant to them, added Tanner.

Early warning on the battlefield can help save a Soldier's life, Tanner said. Putting smart-phone technology in the hands of Soldiers that can provide them situational knowledge as they are en route and while they're dismounted can increase survivability, she said.

"In combat, if they need information of a tribal chief that they've just been tasked to go engage - they have insight before they conduct the engagement," said Tanner.

This technology can enhance knowledge management, according to Tanner. The average common cell phone that has translation applications, audio, still photography and video capabilities can enable Soldiers to perform site exploitation for collecting both intelligence and information that can be distributed simultaneously, she said.

"Before, a Soldier would have to sit through a series of traffic, or wait for traffic or get back on the road to drive to get an update - we're now putting that Soldier in harm's way every time you put him back on the road in a threat environment that has an [improvised explosive device] every other block," said Tanner. "So if we could minimize that [threat] - that's huge. If you look at it - that's a counter-IED capability. The more you protect that Soldier, the more that Soldier survives."

(Maj. Deanna Bague serves with Fort Bliss Public Affairs.)