Vanguard Magazine

Jun/Jul 2015

Preserving capacity, General Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff, Keys to Canadian SAR

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mobile apps for expeditionary operations s sPaCe JUNE/JULY 2015 15 Brigadier (ret'd) ted Flint is an Offer Development consultant for Inmarsat. He served a full career in the British Army that included senior appointments as Director of Defence Logistics Information, Commandant of the Defence College of Communications and Information Systems, and Signal Officer-in-Chief (Army). M ost of us use mobile apps a great deal in our day to day lives. I know, because I've just checked, that at this very moment I have 14 apps open on my phone and 31 on my tablet. And this is but a small fraction of the apps that I have downloaded to each device. Each of these apps enriches my life in some way. We use apps a lot because they are affordable, instantly avail- able, portable between different devices, and cover a huge range of different uses. They help us run our lives more smoothly, or keep us informed and entertained. Apps cost so little that if we like the look of one we can try it without risking very much. If we subsequently go off it, then we can ignore it or delete it with- out regret. Their flexibility and variety enable us respond rapidly to changes in context, require- ment or even taste and mood. These qualities have made apps phenomenally successful. From a baseline of zero in June 2008 (the month before the launch of the Apple App Store) the number of apps available to mobile phone and tablet users has increased to over a million. A survey by Flurry at the end of 2014 reported that app usage increased by 76 percent between 2013 and 2014, and that the average U.S. adult spends two hours 19 minutes per day with their head, figuratively speaking, in an app. You would think that the military, who continually struggle to procure software cheaply, flexibly and quickly, would find apps almost irresistibly attractive. Up to a point, this is true. A large number of apps has been written to support and improve every conceivable aspect of military life. There are apps for navigation, mapping, situational awareness, tracking and gun-fire location. There are interactive equipment handbooks, engineering work- books and medical diagnostics tools, training aids, recognition guides and decision support apps. This list is almost endless. Yet military apps have not yet really taken off. The reason can be traced to two challenges: security and connectivity. Proper se- curity is essential, because expeditionary commanders clearly do not wish to give the enemy an advantage by leaking information about their forces, yet if mobile devices and apps are not properly secured, this is precisely what will happen. And connectivity is fun- damental to the successful use of apps, which depend heavily on the Internet and associated cloud storage. But internet coverage is frequently limited, fragile or entirely absent in the operational theatres to which we deploy our expeditionary forces. There are signs, however, that these limitations are being overcome and that, in consequence, we are approaching a tipping point in the exploitation of military apps. Security is never absolute, and every security-related decision is a matter of balancing benefit against cost and risk. Consistent, evidence-based decisions of this kind require a framework of stan- dards, workflows and processes. No matter how strong individual security controls might be, the lack of such a framework for mobile apps has left command- ers with no reliable way to judge their adequacy. Such a framework has now been developed in the United States, as the result of a collabora- tion between the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). NIST has, through DARPA, refined an app development work- flow and toolset that means that apps are, by design, aligned with the applicable regulations and guidelines. DISA have, for their part, introduced a streamlined approvals process specifically de- signed to deal with apps. In parallel, broadband connectivity to the Internet or to private networks is now available world-wide even while on the move. Mobile L-band satellite communications, such as Inmarsat's glob- al BGAN or other L-band providers' regional IP services, provide the communications backbone from battery-operated terminals as small and light as a laptop. Off-the-shelf mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets can connect to these satellite terminals by WiFi (built in to units such as Cobham's BGAN Explorer 710). Alternatively, deploy- able small GSM cells such as SEA's Mobile Data Node can be connected to satellite terminals to generate bubbles of mobile data coverage beyond the reach of terrestrial networks. The combination of a strong framework for app security, and ubiquitous and affordable broadband communications now of- fers expeditionary commanders the prospect of exploiting the full potential of mobile apps. Will the consequent improvements in agility, affordability and speed of deployment lead to a blossoming of military innovation? Time will tell. are we approaching the tipping point?

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