News

There’s An App For That

Want to learn how to fire a Patriot missile at something? There’s an app for that. No, seriously…there’s an app for that.

According to a press release I received last week, a company called C2 Technologies has just developed the first of what will be 7 mobile iPhone applications designed to train the U.S Army’s Patriot missile crews. The new app, which was created using the Unity 3D game development platform combines video footage of actual Patriot missile crews operating the real thing with the type of 3D animation and illustrations commonly used in video games.

The release goes on to say that when completed, the seven apps will cover all aspects of the Patriot missile system’s operation including march order and emplacement requirements for the launch station, radar, engagement control station, antenna mast group, and the electrical power plant, as well as training in the areas of missile reload and radar maintenance. In essence, everything a soldier will need to know to position and operate the missile system, all on their iPhone or laptop computer. C2 Technologies is also producing a full set of Interactive Multimedia Instructions (IMI) materials for use in a classroom environment to supplement the iPhone apps.

These new apps are being developed as part of the US Army’s Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications (CSDA) initiative, a program designed to make greater use of smartphone technology not just for administrative and training applications, but possibly for battlefield operations as well. At first glance that might seem like a good idea, but let’s think about this for a minute. What happens if these apps should fall into the wrong hands? I asked Kelly Schneider, a spokesperson for C2 Technologies, if there is a way to prevent that from happening, and this is what she said.

“I cannot fully answer this question because of the security of the application, but I can tell you that several steps have been taken to be sure the device does not fall into the wrong hands. For instance, the app is not available for public distribution, it will not be available via the iTunes store, and it will be a limited distribution to particular device id’s [sic].”

Well that’s reassuring. But as we all know cell phones are easy devices to lose or steal, and the iPhone is far from hacker-proof. And not to sound cynical, but if the security-sensitive US government couldn’t prevent thousands of its most secret documents from being stolen and uploaded to WikiLeaks, losing control of a few iPhone apps should be a piece of cake.

Whether you agree with their current strategy or not, I suppose there’s something to be said for the military’s progressive attitude about using things like smartphone technology and social media to advance their cause in the war on terror. Let’s face it, they haven’t had much success tracking Osama Bin Laden on the ground; maybe they’ll have better luck following him on Facebook.