For years, Army mobile phones came in one variety — BlackBerry — but the Defense Department in 2014 plans to catch up with the mobile revolution by offering Android, iOS and Windows mobile devices too.
The plan is to add 100,000 devices by October, and as many as 300,000 within three years.
“There’s chocolate, vanilla and strawberry in the ice cream store, pick the flavor you want,” the Army CIO/G-6’s mobility lead, Rick Walsh, told Army Times. “It’s not just vanilla anymore.”
The move, which is part of the Defense Department’s device agnostic mobile strategy, means soldiers with government-issued smartphones will have access to a broader array of apps and capabilities, while competition among the manufacturers of these devices is expected to drive down costs, Walsh said.
DoD next year will deploy a mobile applications store and mobile device management software for Apple, Samsung Galaxy (which run Android) and other devices.
BlackBerry dominated the government market because it conformed to the federal information processing standards. But the government has sought ways to incorporate Apple as its user-friendly products devour the lion’s share of the consumer market.
“We’re not moving away from BlackBerry per se, we’re opening up to additional brands,” Walsh said. “There are still 84,000 BlackBerry devices across the DoD, so BlackBerry is not going away. Having said that, we are in a position today where we want to embrace new technology, new capabilities.”
Army commanders will have the discretion to select and authorize their own devices, but their organizations must also foot the bill for the equipment and cellular services.
“It’s what you would call an appetite suppressant,” Walsh said. “Not ‘everybody gets an iPhone’ because it costs money. Your boss needs to say ‘Rick really needs an iPhone to do his job and I’m willing to pay for it.’”
In July, the Defense Information Systems Agency announced a $16 million contract award to Digital Management Inc. for mobile device management and a mobile application store.
Through DMI, companies Fixmo and MobileIron will provide secure “containers” on mobile devices and mobile device management software that would allow administrators to monitor and control them.
“It’s the same controls as on the BlackBerry but implemented differently,” Walsh said. “A lock, but a different kind of lock, and the same type of controls, but implemented differently.”
Walsh said the monitoring procedures have not been decided but Android and iOS devices will store sensitive information in the secure container, or “crypto-box,” on the device. Ten failed logins will wipe the device or the contents of the container.
As with BlackBerrys, users will need a Common Access Card sled to use the device.
For security reasons, the devices may not be fully enabled with benefits such as GPS or Apple’s digital assistant software Siri, Walsh said. The management software will ensure the device is in compliance with security guidelines.
“If there’s something on the commercial side that introduces a risk on the DoD side we cannot mitigate, we won’t let you use it,” Walsh said. “At the same time, we don’t want to reduce the device so that it just becomes a telephone.”
DISA’s goal is to have 25,000 devices fielded across DoD by March and 100,000 users by the end of this fiscal year with the potential to scale up to 300,000 devices over the three-year contract.
In January, DISA and the Army will reach initial capability, with plans to add new capabilities every month, Walsh said. The two have between 50 to 100 applications in review.
DISA will have a mobile app vetting process to evaluate apps for security, compliance and interoperability, Walsh said. The agency and the Army have a reciprocity agreement, but whether there will be an Army-branded store, and how it will operate is as yet undetermined. Walsh envisions a partition for each of the services, but sharing of apps across DoD.
“Think of DISA as the provider of Fair Oaks Mall; they own the mall but not the stores inside the mall,” Walsh said. “I, as the Army, want one of those stores.”
The app payment model also is unclear as the military and the companies reconcile the commercial user-based model and government’s traditional purchasing model.
Walsh said he predicts for the Army an explosion of choice and capabilities, lower costs and eventually a cloud-based environment in which mobile devices replace desktop computers.
“I would only have an iPhone or Galaxy device that I would put into a docking station to access my work off the server, and when I leave, I go out the door with a laptop with a phone in it,” Walsh said. “Pretty cool, huh?”
Staff writer Nicole Blake-Johnson contributed to this report.