LOS ANGELES â€” As a Cobra attack helicopter pilot, Marine Capt. Jim â€œHottieâ€ Carlson was running support missions above Afghanistan last summer when it occurred to him that it was taking far too long to find where U.S. troops were under attack.
â€œDo you have any idea how long it takes to find the right map, unfold it, and find where youâ€™re going? Itâ€™s agonizing,â€ he said.
Frustrated that he had to flip through dozens of maps stuffed inside his chopper, Carlson, 31, loaded the documents onto his personal iPad, enabling him to zoom in, zoom out and quickly move from one map to another.
Carlsonâ€™s brainstorm shortened the time it took to pinpoint a location from â€œthree minutes to about 30 seconds,â€ he recalled recently, and it soon helped change the way the military is thinking about warfare.
The Marines now have more than 30 iPads in cockpits across their fleet of helicopters and fighter jets.
For soldiers in the 21st century, iPads, iPhones, Androids and other smart devices could eventually be as common on the battlefield as helmets, canteens and rifles.
These devices are being tested across all branches of the military. Seeing an opportunity, software companies and defense contractors are developing mobile applications that will enable soldiers to pass along intelligence, view reconnaissance images or even pilot small drones by remote control.
This high-tech hand-held revolution, of course, opens the military up to the same problems that everybody else with a smart device faces â€” security threats and concerns about dropped service. There are concerns among military strategists about passing military secrets on a device that can easily be hacked.
In years past, the Pentagon probably would have spent billions of dollars creating its own custom devices, but modern technology offers a much cheaper alternative, said Michael McCarthy, who leads an effort by the Army to test smartphones for use on the battlefield.
The Army is using iPhones, Androids and BlackBerrys in mock wartime situations in New Mexico and Texas.
Such devices are coming in handy in simulated security raids and checkpoint stops to take pictures of Arabic writing and gather biometric data, such as fingerprints and iris scans, McCarthy said.
â€œItâ€™s all about information gathering, and tools to make the job easier,â€ he said.
The troops are also testing about 95 mobile applications, or apps, designed to help soldiers perform specific tasks with their cellphones. One app is dubbed Soldier Eyes. â€œImagine that youâ€™re dropped in an unknown location on a moonless night,â€ McCarthy said. â€œYou open this app and through its GPS coordinates, it shows you where you are. It shows you where your adjacent units are.â€
It can also provide cumulative information about the region, he said, showing how many roadside bomb attacks have occurred and when they took place.
The app is being developed by Overwatch Mobile Solutions, a subsidiary of Textron Inc., in close collaboration with the Army.