Dec. 15, 2010— -- For many Americans, the smartphone is a constant source of intel on daily life, from tracking the whereabouts of friends and family to navigating city streets and finding the best price at the mall.
And as early as this spring, the U.S. Army could make iPhones, Androids, Blackberrys and similar devices standard-issue communication and intelligence-gathering tools on the front lines of the world's most dangerous battlefields.
"This is a profound and fundamental change about how soldiers will be able to access and share information," said Michael McCarthy, director of the mission command complex of the Army's Future Force Integration Directorate at Fort Bliss, Texas.
Troops with smartphones will be able to use text messages to more closely coordinate with their peers in the field and commanders at remote locations. They'll also be able to stream real-time surveillance video from overhead drones to more effectively target the enemy, among other advantages, McCarthy said.
While the Army is still ironing out the details of a budget for the program, the benefits are expected to come at a relatively low cost to the military -- and taxpayers -- since the technology is commercially available and doesn't require significant investment for research and development.
The "Connecting Soldiers with Digital Applications" initiative began more than a year ago but is now several months ahead of schedule, officials say. Tactical field tests with the smartphone technology have moved to advanced stages.
In the most recent exercise last week, a company-size Army unit used iPhones while running a simulated checkpoint, conducting tactical raids, and practicing local security sweeps.