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Vendredi, 16 Septembre 2011 17:00

iPads Now Helping Marines Unleash Hell

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iPads Now Helping Marines Unleash Hell

When Marines are in a firefight in Afghanistan and need back up, they call in helicopters to blast the enemy from the sky. Sounds simple enough, but it’s not — according to current standard operating procedures for close-air strikes, ground troops radio coordinates to a pilot who then has to rifle through 60 to 80 pounds of maps to find the building he’s supposed to hit. Radio signals cut out, coordinates get jumbled and, even with half a grown man’s weight in maps in the cockpit, sometimes the pilot doesn’t have a detailed image of the target area. But this may all change soon.

The Marines recently took a baby step towards a more efficient future when the 3rd Aircraft Wing bought 32 iPads. The total purchase — not quite $20,000 worth of tablets and accessories, according to Defense News — was merely “a hiccup in the grand scheme of defense spending,” a former deputy G-3 for operations pointed out. But it could be a crucial advance in aerial warfare.

Capt. Jim Carlson, a Cobra pilot in a Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA), is responsible for piquing the interest of his higher-ups. He was annoyed with the current communication system so he decided to mess around with his personal iPad, which he discovered could be digitally linked to troops on the ground. All 80 cartographical pounds could be easily uploaded to the device and manipulated like any other map app — broad area maps hyperlinked to detailed sections.

The brass was wary when they first heard what Carlson and his fellow pilots were up to at Camp Bastion in Helmand province. They weren’t sure if a commercial product was secure enough to handle in-combat transmissions (though only non-classified maps were being stored on the devices). But about a year later, the brass appears to be on-board — at least on a trial-basis — and the commanding officer of HMLA-267 told Defense News that iPads have sped up communications by about 15 minutes during close-air missions. Now ground and air can simply confirm they are fingering the same building on their tablet and fire.

Tablets are not new on the military scene — air controllers have been using them for several years now. But these devices are the dinosaurs of the evolutionary timeline of tablets. Military officials have been pushing for the incorporation of updated smart devices in combat situations, but no real progress has been made as of yet. Maybe the Marines’ $20,000-gamble will be a first victory.

If iPads are as effective in aerial strikes as hoped, it’s easy to imagine that helicopters will soon be fitted with tablets or, more likely, a similar system will be mounted on their control panels.

The innovation curve would likely be pretty steep in the military tablet realm just as it is in the consumer market. Software developers have already come up with a variety of apps geared toward military efficacy, including a few that can differentiate friendlies from insurgents, and Darpa is hard at work on a way to keep smart devices powered-up during lengthy missions.

It’s nice to know the military is learning to navigate with devices and apps like the ones my friends and I use to zero in on, say, a coffee shop we’ve never been to. Now we just have to make sure the Department of Defense restricts access to Angry Birds and Pocket Frogs during missions.

Photo: Cpl Rashaun X. James USMC


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