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Taking iPads into battle

Phones and other smart devices are being tested across all branches of the military. Seeing an opportunity, software firms and defense contractors are developing apps that will enable soldiers to pass along intelligence, view reconnaissance images or even pilot small drones by remote control.

September 25, 2011|By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times

In the coming years, defense giant Raytheon Co. anticipates that the app market will be huge. The company, famous for building 2,000-pound bunker-busting bombs and Tomahawk cruise missiles, will unveil an online store called Appsmart this year where military apps can be bought.

"We think that within three years there will be a major move in the military toward fielding mobile handsets," said Mark A. Bigham, Raytheon's vice president of business development for defense and civil mission solutions. "We hope Appsmart will play an important role in that initiative."

Commercial apps typically sell for a couple of dollars because they often sell by the millions. With far fewer made, military apps are expected to be more expensive and could sell for as much as $500 apiece, Bigham said.

The company has developed the Raytheon Advanced Tactical System, software that enables troops to share sensitive information on smartphones. It has also developed more than 20 apps. "There's a lot of companies large and small vying for this marketplace," he said.

Harris Corp. of Melbourne, Fla., has developed a miniature cell tower mounted on a Humvee that provides cell coverage to remote areas with patchy or nonexistent service. The system, named KnightHawk, generates connectivity by providing network signals for up to a three-mile radius.

"Troops aren't typically dropped in an area where AT&T and Verizon have coverage," said Edward J. Zoiss, Harris' vice president of advanced programs and technology. "That's where Harris comes in."

The company, which also makes military radios, believes that the services will use smart devices at the front lines in battle, and that KnightHawk will provide coverage. Harris has also developed an app called Eyes-on-Target that enables troops to share streaming video on their phones — rather than use radios and hand and arm signals.

Even drone aircraft may get a boost from these phones. Students at MIT and researchers at Boeing Co. have demonstrated that a person can fly miniature drones with an iPhone.

Imagine a soldier pulling a drone out of a backpack and then controlling it to see inaccessible spots on the battlefield, said Boeing technician Joshua Downs. "It is applications such as this that are helping to move the technology forward."

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